Posted by: Brian Musser | July 14, 2016

Permission Evangelism

Presented at Drexel Students For Christ Large Group June 23, 2016

Tonight is going to be a little bit different. I am going to try something. I’ve only done this once be before and it was only with 4 people that time but we’ll see how it goes. I’m not so much going to preach as I am going to teach. It is going to require a whole lot of audience participation. A lot of tonight will be a “choose your own adventure.” What I share will be greatly dependent upon what you all ask me to share.

So since we are in a lecture hall on a university and I am teaching let me be overly up front about what I hope us to learn tonight. I want us to begin to wrestle with the idea that a “witness” is something we are not something we do. Acts: 1:8 says we will be witnesses not just that we will sometimes go witnessing. I want to introduce to you an idea, strategy, or tool called permission evangelism that will help you intentionally share the Gospel in the midst of your everyday life. I will model this method of evangelism by sharing my testimony tonight in response to your questions. You’ll be given 4 questions that will help you develop your own story using this model.

To begin let’s look at 1 Peter 3:13 – 17 concentrating on verse 15.
13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (1 Peter 3:13–17). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

This was written during a time of persecution when it was not as prudent for the church to be as over the top public with their proselytizing as they were previously. There is freedom in sharing the Gospel. With just a quick study of Jesus’ life here on earth we will see that He engaged people with the truth in many different ways. Some He approached and dove into the spiritual conversation rather forcefully. Others he allowed to come to him. There were those who were looking for a physical need to be met. There were those who were antagonistic. There were those who were just encountered in the process of everyday life. There were even who it seemed He tried to talk out of it. There is no one way the master used when talking to people about the truth. He changed based on personal, situational and social circumstances. He never compromised the truth but contextualized it. This is just one way to share your faith that might help.

But first in order to share the Gospel, you need to know the Gospel. Do you know the Gospel? Do you know it personally? Verse 15 says “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy” and later it talks about “the hope that is in you.” Have you made a confession of Christ as your Lord and Savior so that through His death your sins can be forgiven and through His resurrection you can have new life? You can’t share what you don’t know.

Secondly, in order to share the Gospel, you need to know the Gospel. Verse 15 says “always being prepared.” Do you know the Gospel well enough to explain it to someone else? Have you prepared, studied, thought through, written down, learned, memorized the Gospel so well that you can express it with ease? These years at Drexel you should definitely learn how to study. Have you applied some of those study methods to learning the Gospel?

“Anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you…” We can draw several interesting conclusions from this phrase. Our hope should public enough that others notice. Our hope should be different enough that others are interested and curious. We should be the type of people that others ask questions about our lives. Are you living your life in such a way that others don’t understand it? Donald Miller once wrote something like, “nobody is interested in a story about someone saving money to buy a Volvo.” How has the hope that you have changed your life?

This is where permission evangelism comes in. Permission Evangelism is a book by Michael Simpson. (I have done an in depth review of his book previously on this site.)  Michael Simpson is a business man who saw parallels between Permission Marketing and some of the ways Jesus engages others with the truth. I read this book very early on as a campus minister and it has helped shape a lot of what I do at Drexel. There are 4 basic questions you need to answer for permission evangelism.

1) What parts of my life do others find interesting? You can get an idea of this by paying attention to the questions you are always answering.
2) How has God, my faith, my spirituality been involved in these areas?
3) How can I answer these questions in such a way that hints at a deep and meaningful answer below the surface but doesn’t overload someone who is uninterested?
4) How can I naturally transition from a spiritual conversation about this area of my life to an even deeper conversation about the Gospel?

I think the best way to better explain this concept is to demonstrate it with my personal life and story. So how many of you know me well enough to have had me tell you a story about my life in a conversation? And how many of you have had the privilege of our conversations going deeper than you expected them too? And how many of you felt like it was a natural and normal conversation? Yep, a lot of that has to do with permission evangelism.

This is how the rest of the night is going to go. I am going to give an introductory paragraph or two about myself that will hopefully chocked full of interesting things that you might want me to expand on. After my introduction I’ll just start answering your questions. A couple guidelines:

1) Ask real questions. Ask about something that you are generally curious about. Don’t ask a questions that you think is trying to set me up in some way or another. Don’t try to ask some random question that is trying to trip me up either.
2) First question can be about anything I said but after that let’s try to keep things building off of the previous questions if possible.
3) I know many of you but I don’t know everybody by name so when you ask your first question give me your name and where you are from.
4) Don’t be shy. Ask a question. Don’t be afraid to ask a real question or hard question. Take this time to not only see permission evangelism at work but also to get to know me a little better.

So I am Brian Musser, I am the Baptist Campus Minister at Drexel University. I specifically work for approximately 150 different churches in the Philly area which worship in over 20 different languages on a Sunday morning. They have sent me to Drexel to be their liaison on campus. I try to be a conduit between the churches in Philly with the folks here at Drexel. I have been doing this for 11 years. I know that date specifically because two days after I officially became the Baptist Campus Minister at Drexel, my wife Jennifer gave birth to our only daughter Julianna. Before becoming this I had a job that many people might see as somewhat different. I was a laboratory manager at Drexel College of Medicine for 4 years and before that I worked at a contract Pharmaceutical lab doing mean things to little animals. I actually only have a B.S. in Biology from Messiah College but I am a published author in the Journal of Neurovirology. But the transition from Biology into ministry wasn’t as abrupt as it sounds. Immediately after college I served as an intern with a campus minister in Guadalajara, Mexico for 4 months and then as an associate pastor at the church I grew up in for 2 years working mostly with youth and young adults. But it is ironic that the kid who because of an early childhood sickness had to go through speech therapy for years now makes a living talking to people. Besides Guadalajara, I have had the opportunity to help with ministry in New Orleans; Montreal; Belfast, Ireland; Lusaka, Zambia; and Port Au Prince, Haiti. Even if it all ended today I can truly say that I have had an amazing life.

Posted by: Brian Musser | July 12, 2016

A Missional Re-definition of Compassion.

Presented at Christ Community Church of Philadelphia on June 5,2016

I remember the words my grandmother said to me right before I went off to college. “Remember to always look out for number one.” I remember them because at that moment I realized that I totally disagree with that statement. Now I’m not trying to scold my grandmother saying she was wrong and needed to change. Her sentiments behind what she said were out of love and she just wanted me to take care and look out for people trying to take advantage of me. It wasn’t what she meant that rubbed me the wrong way. It was the words of that statement. For the next couple minutes we are going to look at the idea of Christian compassion through the lens of Daniel’s priestly prayer in verses 9:4 – 19 but before we get there I want to spend a moment in

Philippians 2:4-8 (NIV)
4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. 5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!

Sometimes it seems that we have a very limited view of God and the availability of God’s blessings. We act as if God has this ladle and is serving his blessings out of a big metal pot at the closest soup kitchen. And we are all beggars in line waiting to be served. The only problem is that we think God might run out of soup. The question “will there be enough to feed everyone” goes through our heads and eats at us. So in the line we start jockeying for position. We create the reasons why we are more deserving of God’s blessing than those people over there. We start comparing our spiritual resume with that of those in front of us and behind us. We rehearse arguments that if God only had one more ladle left why we should be the one to get God’s blessings and not anyone else. This is a very small God. And it makes us very small followers of a very small God. “Remember to always look out for number one.”

But this is not the way of Christ. Christ sacrificed himself for others, for us. And this should not be the way of Christ followers. We should have the mindset of Christ putting others interests in front of our own. Christ died for us so we should be willing to live like he lived for others.

It is one thing to be the Messiah, the Son of God, and the Savior of the world and to sacrifice yourself for the salvation of humanity. It is something different to be you and me. What does it look like for you and me to live our lives like Christ in sacrificial love of others? I think Daniel’s prayer gives us one handle on that picture.

For answers to this question we are going to look at a particular passage of Scripture found in Daniel 9. This is a prayer uttered by Daniel for his people the Israelites. We often think of the Israelites as God’s chosen people and they are but I want to remind you that at this time this is a people so disobedient to God that He has chosen to send them into exile. He has chosen to punish them through the Babylonians because of their sins. I’m going to read it in full stopping from time to time to make some commentary.
Daniel 9:4-19 (New International Version)

4 I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed:
       “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with all who love him and obey his commands, 5 we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. 6 We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes and our fathers, and to all the people of the land.  7 “Lord, you are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame—the men of Judah and people of Jerusalem and all Israel, both near and far, in all the countries where you have scattered us because of our unfaithfulness to you. 8 O LORD, we and our kings, our princes and our fathers are covered with shame because we have sinned against you. 9 The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him; 10 we have not obeyed the LORD our God or kept the laws he gave us through his servants the prophets. 11 All Israel has transgressed your law and turned away, refusing to obey you.
       “Therefore the curses and sworn judgments written in the Law of Moses, the servant of God, have been poured out on us, because we have sinned against you. 12 You have fulfilled the words spoken against us and against our rulers by bringing upon us great disaster. Under the whole heaven nothing has ever been done like what has been done to Jerusalem. 13 Just as it is written in the Law of Moses, all this disaster has come upon us, yet we have not sought the favor of the LORD our God by turning from our sins and giving attention to your truth. 14 The LORD did not hesitate to bring the disaster upon us, for the LORD our God is righteous in everything he does; yet we have not obeyed him.

Did you notice how many times Daniel uses the first person plural when referring to the sins of the Israelites? Daniel intentionally, willingly, freely and deliberately accepts the sin of his people as his own. From a human perspective he did not necessarily have to do this. He was taken captive into Babylon as a man probably in his late teens. He could have easily distanced himself from the sins that Israel had committed in the land because of his young age when he went into exile. He could have prayed about what they did back then. He chose not to. He chose to accept moral responsibility for the sins of his people. Also, in scripture Daniel is one of the few people not directly implicated in any sin. He is pictured as a morally righteous person. He is shown as someone who is willing to do the right thing for God no matter how it will affect him. The story about Daniel and the lion’s den is a prime example of this. He could have separated himself from them by his upright and righteous life.

Instead Daniel through his pray becomes one with his people. Their sin is his sin. Their suffering is his suffering. Their punishment is his punishment. Harold A. Sevener says, “Never once does Daniel exclude himself from the sins of the nation. Never once does he blame the people, while claiming to be exempt from their sin problem.” Often we try to define us and them in the most beneficial way for us. We try to use the categories of us and them to limit the guilt we have.

Allow me to illustrate. 91% of outsiders to Christianity between the ages of 16 to 29 label Christianity as anti-homosexual. Sexual morals are important to us and they should be but sometimes we present them to the exclusion of persons. 91% of outsiders don’t think that we are for “family values.” 91% think we are against the homosexual. We have created an “us versus them” mentality. Peter, age 34, says, “Many people in the gay community don’t seem to have issues with Jesus but rather with those claiming to represent him today. It’s very much an ‘us-versus-them’ mentality, as if a war has been declared. Of course each side thinks the other fired the opening shot.” We should openly talk about sex outside of marriage being a sin. That is a good thing to talk about. But how will a homosexual ever come to Christ if we do it in a way that creates the idea that Christ’s representatives here on this earth, Christians, are his/her mortal enemy? How will he/she ever come to know the life changing grace available through Christ if we are afraid of being contaminated by his/her sin? By the way we don’t have to worry about someone else’s sin condemning us. We already have enough sin of our own to condemn us and even if it did

Christ’s grace is sufficient for that, too. God’s blessings can never run out.
Then how does it look when we are defined within society by screaming a certain set of moral values and then Catholic priests get on the news for abusing children and then a Mormon compound is taken into federal custody? To the outsider this is the pinnacle of hypocrisy. Our typical response is to isolate ourselves from the moral guilt by saying “Catholics are not real Christians” and “Mormonism is a cult.” While this has validity within these walls to an outsider it looks like political waffling, name calling, blame shifting and trying to weasel out of trouble. How does it look when we are always condemning other people’s sins and always justifying our own? This may not be what we think we are doing but is it what it looks like we are doing?

Instead of trying to remove himself from guilt, Daniel accepts full responsibility for the sin of his people. As Americans, Evangelicals, Protestants, Christians are there sins that we need to truly own? Who are our people and do we as a people have a collective, moral guilt? Is slavery still an issue? Do we owe something to Native Americans? Japanese Americans? The Jewish people? Muslims? Women? The unborn? Quite often as Christians we try to separate ourselves from the sins of others. We claim that we had no part in slavery. My family wasn’t even here yet but I still choose to identify with a group of people who at one time were responsible. We claim that we had nothing to do with the Crusades. We claim that abortion is their problem and not ours but have we created a culture that makes unplanned pregnancies shameful? We claim that we are not sexual abusers but have we helped in creating a society where men can take advantage of women? We claim that homosexuality is not our issue but theirs. We distance ourselves so that the stink of their guilt doesn’t rub off on us. If Christ acted like the church acts he may have never left heaven.

15 “Now, O Lord our God, who brought your people out of Egypt with a mighty hand and who made for yourself a name that endures to this day, we have sinned, we have done wrong. 16 O Lord, in keeping with all your righteous acts, turn away your anger and your wrath from Jerusalem, your city, your holy hill. Our sins and the iniquities of our fathers have made Jerusalem and your people an object of scorn to all those around us. 17 Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant. For your sake, O Lord, look with favor on your desolate sanctuary. 18 Give ear, O God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears your Name. We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. 19 O Lord, listen! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, hear and act! For your sake, O my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.”

Daniel then turns in his prayer to petition God for grace and mercy for his people. God’s deliverance in the past gives Daniel hope for deliverance in the future. God has shown himself to be merciful in the past so we can expect him to be merciful in the future. God has shown himself to be a gracious and loving God. We can trust in him to be gracious and loving once more. Daniel does not demand that God fulfill his prophecy. Daniel does not claim that he has any right to be heard or any special knowledge of God’s will. Daniel merely and meekly petitions for mercy. His petition for mercy is not based on merit at all. No one, not even Daniel, deserves the mercy of God but everyone can request it. In so doing Daniel becomes like Christ. In accepting the sins of his people as his own and asking for mercy he models Christ. The grace that is available to Daniel and through Daniel to his people is only available because of Christ. And the amazing thing is that God will never run out of His Grace. An infinite God has an infinite amount of Grace available. It doesn’t matter where we are in line. There will always be enough.

Allow me to read to you a quote from Watchman Nee, a Chinese Christian from the beginning of the 20th Century. Nothing has done greater damage to our Christian testimony than our trying to be right and demanding right of others. We become preoccupied with what is and what is not right. We ask ourselves, “Have we been justly or unjustly treated?” and we think thus to vindicate our actions. But that is not our standard. The whole question for us is one of cross-bearing. You ask me, “Is it right for someone to strike my cheek?” I reply, “Of course not! But the question is, do you only want to be right?” As Christians our standard of living can never be “right or wrong,” but the Cross. The principle of the Cross is our principle of conduct. Praise God that He makes His sun to shine on the evil and the good. With Him it is a question of His grace and not of right or wrong.

Watchman Nee goes on to illustrate his point with a story. A brother in South China had a rice field in the middle of a hill. In time of drought he used a water-wheel, worked by a tread-mill, to lift water from the irrigation stream into his field. His neighbor had two fields below his, and, one night, made a breach in the dividing bank and drained off all his water. When the brother repaired the breached and pumped in more water his neighbor did the same thing again, and this was repeated three or four times. So he consulted his brethren, “I have tried to be patient and not to retaliate,” he said, “but is it right?” After they had prayed together about it, one of them replied, “If we only try to do the right thing, surely we are very poor Christians. We have to do something more than what is right.” The brother was much impressed. Next morning he pumped water for the two fields below, and in the afternoon pumped water for his own field. After that the water stayed in his field. His neighbor was so amazed at his action that he began to inquire the reason, and in the course of time he too became a Christian.

Let’s take a step back and see this story replayed on a cosmic scale. The Trinity eternally existed in a perfect community, a Holy symphony of us. You have the Father who intimately and passionately and completely loves the Son and the Spirit. Then you have the Son who is perfectly united in love with the Father and the Spirit. Then you have the Spirit who dwells in an eternal Holy relationship with both the Father and the Son. Three persons so completely united in an eternal loving relationship that they are truly one being. The Trinity is the true definition of community. They are the true definition of an “us.” This Trinity creates. This Trinity creates humanity to be in their image. Part of this image was to be in relationship with God; however, because of sin we have severed that relationship. We have become unlike God. We have destroyed relationships. If God is an eternal community of loving relationships, that is the Trinity, and we are the destroyer of relationships, that makes us completely and totally unlike God. The destruction of our relationship with the Trinity has created a true “us versus them.”

From a human perspective God had every right to sever all ties with us. He could have easily chosen to distance himself from us. He would be just to allow us to eternally exist separated from Him. He doesn’t want His holiness to get contaminated by our sin. He doesn’t want His perfection to become infected with our guilt. But this is not the God I serve. The Trinity intentionally, willingly, freely, and deliberately sends Jesus directly into our mess. God becomes man. He lives a perfect human life. He suffers enormous human suffering. He takes on all our human sin and human guilt. On the cross Jesus stinks of the worst of humanity. He dies an atrocious human death. Then three days later he is resurrected into new life. Making his life our model, his death our atonement and his resurrection our hope. Through Jesus, the community of the Trinity missionally leaves heaven and sacrificially becomes human so that He can redemptively restore us to a right relationship with him. As humans this is our God, our savior and our redeemer. You don’t make Jesus Lord. You don’t make Jesus your savior and redeemer. He is the only Lord and the only savior and the only redeemer humanity will ever know. He is God coming into our situation and atoning for our sin so that we can get back right with God. The question is not is Jesus your savior. The question is have you admitted that you need a savior and have accepted him as the only savior you could possibly have. While we were enemies with God Christ died for us. In order for us to be like Christ who are our enemies that we need to die for?

Let’s now turn our attention back to Daniel. Because Daniel knew the grace of God he was able look at his community with grace filled eyes. He wasn’t worried about their sin contaminating him. He was able to be Christ-like and enter into his community and pray the grace of God into their lives. My question for each of you individually and as a church corporately; what communities are you intentionally reaching into to redeem with the grace of God through Jesus Christ. I would like to see the church defined as a people not by the community that sits within these walls but defined by the community outside of these walls that we are intentionally, willingly, freely, deliberately and sacrificially investing ourselves into for the grace of God. Even if we have enemies, Christ died for his enemies and we are trying to be like Christ.

When we see the homeless in our community they are our homeless. What would you want someone to do for you if you were homeless? Go and do it. When we see broken families in our communities they are our families. How would you want the church to treat you if your family was in tatters? Go and treat others that way. When we see single mothers in our community those are our mothers, or our sisters or our daughters. When there is financial greed in our community it is our own sin. When there is sexual sin in our community it affects us as if it were our own sexual sin. Treat those who live a sinful sexual life style as you want Christ to treat you when you are acting sinfully. When there is evil and pain in our community it should be our evil and our pain. There is no “us versus them.” We missionally, sacrificially and redemptively enter into the sin that is all around us as “little Christs,” as Christians. Often as Christians we talk about acting lovingly toward our neighbor, toward the lost. But I don’t want you to act lovingly toward them. I want you to flat out just truly love them. Love them as Christ loved you.

The final question we have to answer is who our community is. Who is God directly calling us to minister to? Who is God calling us to minister to individually and who is God calling us to minister to corporately? It is the question that was asked of Jesus so long ago; “Who is my neighbor?” I cannot answer that for each of you but let me share one conversation with you that I had with a Methodist Minister at Drexel. This minister says to me, “I really feel like I’m neglecting my community and my church because I spend so much time here on this campus with the students.” My reply was, “I know exactly what you are talking about so much so that I have just completely accepted Drexel as my community that I am going to intentionally invest in.” I think each one of us will personally have a different community in which we will invest ourselves into for the sake of the kingdom of God. For some it will be children, others students, others the homeless. For some it will be a geographic location like their street or their apartment building. For others it will be a life situation, pregnant teenagers, or football players, or homosexuals. Ethnic groups are a possibility as well. Religions and worldviews are another category. Then as a body, as a church, you also need to answer this question on a corporate scale. Who is the community, who are the communities that God has called ________________ to minister to? Who are you ministering to locally, regionally, nationally, internationally? Like I said before I pray that someday our community is not defined by who sits inside these walls but by the lives we touch outside of these walls.

Posted by: Brian Musser | July 12, 2016

A Safe Place to Ask Questions

Presented at LifeSong Christian Church on May 22,2016

As the Baptist Campus Minister at Drexel University I have the unique privilege to work with individuals who are in a very specific time of their lives. I work with young adults. Early adulthood is significantly different than any other life stage. What does it mean to be a young adult? How are young adults distinct from any other age group? Hopefully, a better understanding of who young adults are will allow us as the church to reach into their lives and minister to them. The question I am most interested in is: what type of place does the church need to be to connect with young adults? Although, I work mostly with college students I am intentionally discussing young adults on broader terms. This includes college students but is true for those who have chosen not to attend college and have gone straight into the work force, signed-up for the military or are on a different journey than university life.

To begin let’s look at two ages that we definitively know are not young adults: an eight year old and a forty year old.

⦁ What does an eight year old girl think about boys?
⦁ What does a forty year old woman think about men?
⦁ When you ask an eight year old boy about what they are going to do with their life, what kind of answers do you expect?
⦁ What kind of answers would you get from a forty year old man?
⦁ When an eight year old girl is somewhere they do not want to be how do they handle the situation?
⦁ When a forty year old woman does not like her surroundings what does she do?
⦁ How does an eight year old boy decide to spend his allowance?
⦁ How does a forty year old man make a financial decision?
⦁ How does an eight year old girl figure out what is true?
⦁ How about a forty year old woman?

The answers to those questions should be different. If they are not, that would be a sign that something is wrong. There is a maturing process that happens over time in our lives. In childhood we are childish. That is the way it should be. We act like children. When we are adults we tend to be more mature. If everything in the growing up process happens well we act like grown-ups. That is also the way it should be.

Part of this growing up process is being a young adult. Some scholars have referred to it as “developing adulthood” or “emerging adulthood.” I would define it as the time in life when a person is in the process of answering several key questions in their life that will determine their path for the foreseeable future. Young adulthood is defined by the questions. In some of us it can begin as early as 16. In others it can linger until we are well into our 30’s. Some individuals stagnate in this process and may never fully emerge as full adults. Others may feel trapped in the process and sense that they have not successfully answered the questions. And then there are some that will cruise through the questions without difficulty arriving at a sense of being grown-up well in advance of their peers. Finally, some may avoid the necessary questions all together and remain childish.
Let’s look at one specific passage that will show Jesus at work answering and asking questions in community to disciple young adults.

Matthew 19:16 – 30 (NIV)
16 Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”
In the parallel passage in Luke this person is identified as a ruler. Later in this passage we learn that he is rich and young. Jesus has created an atmosphere where this man asks this question.
17 “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”
Jesus responds with a probing question that was designed to take the conversation deeper. I’m not sure the young man noticed this question. In a specific answer to the man’s question Jesus gives a very common and mundane answer.
18 “Which ones?” he inquired.
Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, 19 honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Jesus again gives a common answer quoting the Old Testament giving the second half of the 10 commandments and summing them up with love your neighbor as yourself.
20 “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”
I find the combination of religious conceit and uncertainty fascinating in this statement. He is both conceited in his religiosity but also desperate in his need. If we take this rich young ruler at face value, we would consider him a good church kid. Think about that. Even the young adults who grew up in church and are still hanging out in our services are going through the same questioning phase that all young adults do.
21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Being a young adult is about the questions.

⦁ Who do I really want to become?
⦁ How do I navigate personal and professional life?
⦁ How do I work toward undefined goals?
⦁ Will someone love me?
⦁ Can I be more than one type of person at the same time?
⦁ Who will be there for me?
⦁ Why is the world so screwed up?
⦁ What do I have to do to fit into my culture? Do I want to try that hard?
⦁ What about sex?
⦁ Do my actions really make a difference?
⦁ Do I need friends?
⦁ Do I want to be married? Why? To whom?
⦁ What responsibilities do I have to my community?
⦁ Is God asking anything of me? Do I have to answer?
⦁ What is the meaning of money? How much is enough?
⦁ Is there a master plan?
⦁ What should I do for work?
⦁ How have I been hurt? Will I ever really heal?
⦁ What do I want the future to look like—for me, for others, for my planet?
⦁ What is my religion? Do I need one?
⦁ What are my real talents, preferences, skills, and longings? How do they all work together?
⦁ When do I feel most alive?
⦁ Where can I be creative?
⦁ What am I vulnerable to?
⦁ What are my fears?
⦁ Am I being unjust?
⦁ Am I responsible to help solve the world’s problems?
⦁ Will I always be stereotyped?
⦁ What do I really want to learn?
⦁ Do I want to bring children into the world?
⦁ How do I discern what is trustworthy?
⦁ How do I know what I know?
⦁ Where do I want to put my stake in the ground?
⦁ Where do I want to invest my life?

Tim Elmore in Leveraging Your Influence: Impacting College Students for Christ says that there are five categories of questions that young adults are figuring out as they navigate maturity. These categories are:
1) TRUTH – What is true? Who should I trust? Religion, worldview, authority, certainty
2) LOVE – Who do I love? Who is going to love me? Relationships, family, friends, society
3) HOME – Where am I comfortable? What do I need? Location, roots, adventure
4) PURPOSE – Where should I invest my limited resources? What should I be doing? Career, education, achievement, ambition
5) Value – How should I live my life? What is the “Good Life?” Morals, lifestyle, satisfaction

So now if young adulthood is about asking and answering questions what type of place must the church be in order to connect to young adults?

It must be a place where it is safe to ask questions. It must be a place where questions are encouraged. It must be a place where thoughtful answers are able to be developed. And if we not only want to connect with young adults but we want to be ahead of the curve it must be the place where we engage young adults with the questions that they need to be asking. What would this kind of place look like?

I think scripture gives us a clear picture of such a place.

⦁ Luke 11:1 (NIV) One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”
⦁ Matthew 13:10 (NIV) The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”
⦁ Acts 1:6 (NIV) Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
⦁ John 9:2 (NIV) His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
⦁ Matthew 17:18-19 (NIV) Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed at that moment. Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”
⦁ Matthew 18:1 (NIV) At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
⦁ Matthew 18:21 (NIV) Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

Jesus’ disciples asked him all sorts of questions. They felt safe to do so. They had an idea that they were going to get an answer. Sometimes it wasn’t the answer they expected. Their questions prompted some of the best recorded learning times in Scripture. Jesus accepted and answered their questions. He taught them through the questions they were already asking.

Are you a person that has developed relationships with others and especially with young adults that creates space for them to ask you important questions? Is this a church that has intentionally created space for people to ask questions? Do you give good answers to the important questions? If our goal as Christians is to be like Christ and Christ taught the disciples, who were young adults, through the questions they asked him, is doing the same part of being like Christ?

Mentor young adults through their questions.  

Allow me to ask a couple of questions that I want you to think about for the rest of the morning.
⦁ How many of you have close friendships with people who are 10 years older or younger than you?
⦁ Why do we only typically form relationships with those around our same age?

I would challenge you to purposely seek out a relationship with a young adult where you can mentor them through the questions they are already asking. As a church, I would challenge you to develop some sort of process that connects adult mentors with young adult mentees. It does not need to be a formal program with tons of numbers but those young adults that have been entrusted to you by God should be mentored. If there are none then pray toward that end.

In America there exists a gap between generations. We have many social scientists working hard to identify and name these generations. Some have entitled them builder, boomer, gen X, millennials, civil rights, power generation, hip hop, iY and the list goes on. Our culture is built to create and cater to different generations. In our education system we are segregated via age and conditioned to be most comfortable relating mostly to those in our same age bracket. Our education system has prioritized age in a way that is unique throughout the history of humanity. Throughout our school years we are quarantined into groups strictly based on our ages and conditioned to relate to and converse with only those who are in the same age bracket as us. We are trained to be most comfortable when we are with folks that were all born in the same year. Establishing connections across generations is not a skill that our culture has prepared us to do.

In our media and arts we have entire channels that are dedicated to specific ages. Can you name a television show where the cast is not mostly within the same generation? Most of our American institutions are perfectly fine with the way we separate ourselves according to age. We are now in a culture that this has always been the norm. Every one of us has gone through our state mandated education process which was established in 1920’s. Every one of us is part of a specifically identified generation that is distinct from the others.

But then we turn to Scripture. In Deuteronomy 6:4 – 7 we see families responsible for passing on the faith to the following generations. From Proverbs 22:6 we are encouraged to train our children. Through Titus 2 and 1 Timothy 5 we see that the church is supposed to have multiple generations within it. Scripture assumes that the Christian faith will cause us to relate across generations. Scripture even implores us to relate across generations. I would suggest that the church is the only major institution in American culture that has an imperative to be multi-generational. This creates a problem. Our culture is generationally isolated. The church must reach across generations. Young folks must relate to their elders. And the older folks must relate to the younger. This means that as the church tries to do this it will be doing something that is counter-cultural. Counter-cultural things tend to be hard, awkward unnatural, weird. In order to do them we must be intentional. It will not happen naturally. We must be willing to learn. We will not be good at it in the beginning. We must willing to step outside of our cultural comfort zone.

However; Jesus wasn’t just reactionary in how He taught through questions. At times those around Him weren’t asking questions or weren’t asking the right questions.

23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

Then turning to his disciples he makes a couple statements that force a question. In the Jewish worldview material blessings always meant God’s favor. If you had stuff it was because God blessed you. Since God blessed you it was safe to assume that you were right with God. Since you had stuff and were right with God it was right to assume you would be in the kingdom of God. Jesus does not let His disciples remain comfortable in these assumptions.
25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”
26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
27 Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”
Which of Elmore’s categories are included in the disciples’ questions and Jesus’ answer?

28 Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife[c] or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.

In Scripture Jesus asks more questions than He was asked.

⦁ Matthew 6:27 (NIV) Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
⦁ Matthew 15:3 (NIV) Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?”
⦁ Matthew 16:13-15 (NIV) When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” … “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
⦁ Luke 6:46 (NIV) “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?
⦁ Luke 10:36 (NIV) “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
⦁ John 5:44 (NIV) How can you believe since you accept glory from one another but do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?
⦁ John 21:16a (NIV) Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

He wanted to make others think through what they believed and how they lived. He not only answered questions. Jesus forced his followers to deal with questions. The church needs to be the place that encourages young adults to ask the questions that really matter. We need to be the place that actively engages young adults with important issues making it so that they cannot ignore them.
Challenge young adults to ask the right questions.
If we look at Jesus’ ministry on earth most of his time is spent discipling his followers and especially investing in the lives of the twelve. Those twelve disciples were young adults. They were young adults by age. Their questions were young adult questions. Jesus engaged them through their questions and forced them to deal with even deeper ones. They were thinking through the same categories that young adults think through. Jesus’ method of discipling the twelve was to create a place where questions were allowed, encourage these questions and force questions. This is how Jesus did ministry on earth.
To do ministry like Christ it is important to minister to young adults through their questions.
Can you imagine a place like this where young adults come together in community and process the questions that they are working through? Can you imagine if this group of young adults was being taught and mentored by individual adult church folk and/or the entire congregation? Can you imagine if this group was not only finding good answers to questions that society was making them ask but were forced to deal with the questions that Scripture raises? Can you imagine if the church was the place that was producing the most mature and well-developed adults because we were intentionally investing in the questioning process that young adults go through? Can you imagine if we were so good at it that the world noticed?

Posted by: Brian Musser | July 12, 2016

The Gospel

Presented at Campus Wide Worship on Drexel’s Campus on May 12, 2016

So this is campus wide worship.  This an event where several of the Christian student organizations come together and worship in as public of a place on campus that we can find (weather permitting).  Jesus as he is praying to God the Father in John 17:21 says “that all of them (them being followers of Christ) may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.  May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”  There is something powerful that happens when followers of Jesus come together.  Christians coming together as one, which we are doing here tonight, helps the world understand who Jesus is in a very special way.

Allow me a few minutes to make explicit what we mean when we say we are Christians.  That can be a confusing word and a sometimes overused word.  What does it mean to be a follower of Christ?  It is something that you have to choose.  You aren’t born a Christian.  You aren’t a Christian because your parents are or because you are an American or because you go certain places and don’t do certain things.  At some point in your life you have to make a decision to identify with Christ.  You have to choose to follow him.  It doesn’t just happen.  Romans 10:9 and 10 says “That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.”

Do you believe that Jesus rose from the dead?  There is good and substantial first person testimonial evidence that Jesus of Nazareth lived, died and rose again.  Many credible witnesses saw all three of these events and went on record saying that the Jesus who died is the same one who rose.  Do you believe it?  If you don’t I would love to talk to you afterwards about why you should or give you some convincing things to read and watch about the factual resurrection of Jesus.  I have become absolutely convinced (that as a rapper I know has said) Jesus “tasted death and shook it off.”

But for those of us who believe that Jesus’ resurrection happened, the question is what does it mean?  Simply put my definition of Christianity is a 2,000 year process of figuring out everything that the life, death and resurrection of Jesus means.  And there is 2,000 years’ worth of meaning behind it but let me give you some of the highlights.

Since Jesus rose from the dead we should pay attention to his teachings.  We should study what he said, taught and did.  Jesus, the one who beat death, taught that there is a God who created everything including and especially humanity.  That includes you.  That includes me.  He taught that humanity was morally accountable to this God who created us.  He taught that we have done things that have separated ourselves from God.  The religious word for this is sin.

Allow me to describe sin to you this way.  Sin is when we do something to hurt, damage or destroy something or more importantly someone that God created.  God is not only our creator, God is also our protector.  That means when I do something that hurts you, I not only hurt you but I have now put myself in an antagonistic position with the God that created and protects you.  God becomes your ally and my enemy in that moment.  But the same is true when you sin against me.  That means that God needs to separate himself from you and protect me from you.  The same is also true when we do something that damages ourselves.  When we lie to each other.  When we purposely say things to hurt one another.  When I hoard up resources for my future prosperity instead of meeting your immediate needs. Guys, when you are online looking at images, creating a market for those who are trafficking our mothers, sisters and daughters into sexual slavery.  Ladies, when you belittle another’s humanity because of the size or shape or style of someone in competition for the attraction of someone else.  When we label one another with easy and shallow hashtags so that we can justify our hatred of those who are different than us.  When we do these things we not only hurt each other but we separate ourselves from God.

Think about the worst thing that ever happened to you.  Do you have it in mind?  Can you imagine how it would feel if God didn’t care about your pain and was still buddies with the person that did that to you?  Now think about the worst thing you have ever done.  Can you imagine God laughing that off?  When we do things that hurt, damage or destroy each other it also damages our relationship with God.  This is what sin is and this is why sin separates us from God.

But this was not acceptable to God.  God was not satisfied to allow us to remain separated.  Therefore God the Father sends God the Son to live, die and rise again.  Jesus lived a perfect life without sin so that his death could atone for our evil and his resurrection could restore our relationship with God.  When we identify with Jesus, when we become Christians, when we confess Jesus as Lord, his death becomes our death.  We die to our sins.  Those things that we have done that separate us from God die with us and with Jesus.  And then on the other side of our deaths in Christ through his resurrection we can have a new life, a restored relationship with God as new creations.  Jesus’ death can become our death so that Jesus’ resurrection can become our resurrection.

Through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus we can have a restored relationship with God.  We can have new life.  We can be saved.  This new life starts the very moment you decide to call Jesus your Lord.  The words don’t really mean much if your heart and mind and will don’t truly believe them.  But if you confess Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead you shall be saved.

Just as I did over 35 years ago and just as Congyu described to us earlier, many of us here have made this commitment.  We are followers of Jesus.  We are Christians.  If you are not please consider doing so.  You will never regret it.  Take time right now to talk to someone who you know is a Christian and get them to explain it to you in greater detail.  If you are a Christian who is willing and able to explain to someone how to become one would you stand for a moment?  If you are not a Christian and are considering the choice please look around and see if someone you know and would be comfortable talking to is standing.  Go to them right now.  Just do it.  If you are embarrassed then wait until we are singing again.  If you don’t know anyone else here you can talk to me.  If I am too scary looking find someone else who doesn’t look as intimidating.

As our worship leaders come forward, let’s all stand.  Those of us who are Christians stand with me and sing to our Lord.  Those of us who aren’t join us and pay attention to our songs.  Those of you who are somewhere in between, who are considering use this time to figure things out, to ask questions, to talk to your friends.

Posted by: Brian Musser | July 12, 2016

Translating the Gospel

Presented at the Vietnamese Baptist Church of Philadelphia on May 1, 2016

If we know the Gospel perfectly we might still miscommunicate it if we don’t know the audience. Sometimes I don’t think we understand the importance of cultural relevance in actually communicating the Gospel. I’m not saying that if we want more people to like us or think Christianity is cool or to be part of our church we need to share the Gospel in new, hip and fresh ways. I’m not saying that we should bend the Gospel to fit into our culture so that it is palatable for those who are listening. What I am saying is that if we are not careful we might be sharing the Gospel in such a way that our audience hears something entirely different than what we are trying to communicate. They may not hear the Gospel at all or hear something different than Gospel. We may share the Gospel and they may hear heresy. Communication has two pieces to it, what you say and what people hear. We need to be diligent that each of those areas are as close to the truth as humanly possible.

Within evangelical Christianity I think we have done fairly well at making sure that the words that come out of our mouths are Biblically accurate. I’m not so sure that we have been paying as careful attention to the message that our audience is hearing.

Today we are going to look at one of Paul’s learning experiences as he transitioned from being a Jewish Pharisee to being the apostle sent to the Gentiles. We are going to compare a story of Peter and John in Jerusalem with one of Paul and Barnabas in Lystra. I believe you will find it very interesting with how these things relate to the necessity of the Christian message to be culturally relevant. Today, hopefully my words will encourage you in this endeavor and give some theological support to what you may have already intuitively sensed. Let’s start by reading Acts chapter 3. I am going to be reading a lot of Scripture today and only briefly commenting. I will be reading from the HCSB. Please follow along in your Bible if you have them.

Acts 3-4:4 Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)
3 Now Peter and John were going up together to the temple complex at the hour of prayer at three in the afternoon.
Peter and John were in the midst of their normal spiritual routine.
2 And a man who was lame from birth was carried there and placed every day at the temple gate called Beautiful, so he could beg from those entering the temple complex.
This man was already at the temple when Peter and John encountered him.
3 When he saw Peter and John about to enter the temple complex, he asked for help.
This man asked Peter and John for something. He initiated the conversation.
4 Peter, along with John, looked at him intently and said, “Look at us.” 5 So he turned to them, expecting to get something from them. 6 But Peter said, “I don’t have silver or gold, but what I have, I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, get up and walk!” 7 Then, taking him by the right hand he raised him up, and at once his feet and ankles became strong. 8 So he jumped up, stood, and started to walk, and he entered the temple complex with them—walking, leaping, and praising God.
After being healed the man immediately starts praising God.
9 All the people saw him walking and praising God,
After seeing the miracle the crowd immediately notices him praising God.
10 and they recognized that he was the one who used to sit and beg at the Beautiful Gate of the temple complex. So they were filled with awe and astonishment at what had happened to him. 11 While he was holding on to Peter and John, all the people, greatly amazed, ran toward them in what is called Solomon’s Colonnade. 12 When Peter saw this, he addressed the people: “Men of Israel, why are you amazed at this? Or why do you stare at us, as though we had made him walk by our own power or godliness?
Peter can scold them because they were thinking things that they knew were wrong.     And Peter knew they knew.
13 The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers,
Peter is able to reference the God that they already believed in.
has glorified His Servant Jesus, whom you handed over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release Him. 14 But you denied the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you. 15 You killed the source of life, whom God raised from the dead; we are witnesses of this. 16 By faith in His name, His name has made this man strong, whom you see and know. So the faith that comes through Him has given him this perfect health in front of all of you.
17 “And now, brothers, I know that you did it in ignorance, just as your leaders also did. 18 But what God predicted through the mouth of all the prophets—that His Messiah would suffer—He has fulfilled in this way.
Peter is able to reference a long history of common religious beliefs that the Gospel is interpreted in light of.
19 Therefore repent and turn back, so that your sins may be wiped out, that seasons of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, 20 and that He may send Jesus, who has been appointed for you as the Messiah. 21 Heaven must welcome Him until the times of the restoration of all things, which God spoke about by the mouth of His holy prophets from the beginning. 22 Moses said:
The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from among your brothers. You must listen to Him in everything He will say to you. 23 And everyone who will not listen to that Prophet will be completely cut off from the people.
24 “In addition, all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those after him, have also announced these days. 25 You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your ancestors, saying to Abraham, And all the families of the earth will be blessed through your offspring. 26 God raised up His Servant and sent Him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your evil ways.”
Peter uses a common and understood religious history. Peter is able to do this because their history is the same as his history. He is talking to people that think exactly the same as he does. Peter is ministering to those who are within his same cultural context.
4 Now as they were speaking to the people, the priests, the commander of the temple police, and the Sadducees confronted them, 2 because they were provoked that they were teaching the people and proclaiming the resurrection from the dead, using Jesus as the example. 3 So they seized them and put them in custody until the next day, since it was already evening. 4 But many of those who heard the message believed, and the number of the men came to about 5,000.
Peter and John get thrown in jail for preaching the Gospel about Jesus’ Resurrection and many believe and become Christ followers.

Acts 14:8 – 19 Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)
8 In Lystra a man without strength in his feet, lame from birth, and who had never walked, sat 9 and heard Paul speaking. After observing him closely and seeing that he had faith to be healed, 10 Paul said in a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet!” And he jumped up and started to walk around.
This part of the story sounds very familiar. Paul and Barnabas’s miracle in Lystra seems to be very similar to Peter and John’s in Jerusalem. So what do you expect to happen after this amazing miracle?
11 When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they raised their voices, saying in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in the form of men!” 12 And they started to call Barnabas, Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the main speaker. 13 Then the priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the town, brought oxen and garlands to the gates. He, with the crowds, intended to offer sacrifice.
But wait a minute that’s not right. They are supposed to praise God not think Paul and Barnabas are gods. Because of Paul’s miracle the Lystrans are about to sin greatly. Paul’s miracle actually leads to idolatry. The people get it wrong. Why do they get it wrong? What’s wrong with them? You have to wonder how long it took Paul and Barnabas to figure out what was going on because they were speaking in the Lycaonian language and not Greek or Aramaic?
14 The apostles Barnabas and Paul tore their robes when they heard this and rushed into the crowd, shouting: 15 “Men! Why are you doing these things? We are men also, with the same nature as you, and we are proclaiming good news to you, that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and everything in them. 16 In past generations He allowed all the nations to go their own way, 17 although He did not leave Himself without a witness, since He did what is good by giving you rain from heaven and fruitful seasons and satisfying your hearts with food and happiness.”
Paul tries to challenge the crowd as Peter did. Asking them why they are doing these things. For Peter it was just thoughts but for Paul they have already turned into actions.
18 Even though they said these things, they barely stopped the crowds from sacrificing to them.
And Paul is basically unsuccessful. He gets them to not sacrifice to them but it doesn’t seem that he is able to get them to understand the true message of Christ and how they were able to do the miracle. Why was Paul so ineffective? Was he just that poor of a speaker compared to Peter? Was the Holy Spirit less active in Lystra than Jerusalem?
19 Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and when they had won over the crowds and stoned Paul, they dragged him out of the city, thinking he was dead. 20 After the disciples surrounded him, he got up and went into the town. The next day he left with Barnabas for Derbe.
I’m sure because of the chaos and confusion it was pretty easy to get the crowd to doubt Paul and Barnabas. Paul gets stoned and from what we read for no good reason. Nobody comes to Christ. A church is not started. The Gospel may not have even been able to be presented. And if it was it was definitely not understood. So what is the difference in these stories? Why is one miracle so successful and the other such a failure?

In Jerusalem Peter and John heal a man who was born lame. This miracle directly leads to an awesome ministry opportunity that saw many come to Christ. In Lystra healing of the lame brought idol worship, strife and ultimately Paul being stoned and left for dead. What was the difference? Why did one miracle lead to great ministry and the other lead to great chaos? Do you think the difference in results had anything to do with the spirituality of Peter and John versus that of Paul and Barnabas? If you were a Paul dissenter you could easily use this as evidence for why he is not ministering properly. Was it due to better prayer or better preaching? Was Peter just a better communicator? Obviously Peter was able to more effectively communicate the Gospel to the crowd that had gathered. Paul barely got a chance to say anything. Was it a sign that the Holy Spirit was just moving more powerfully in Jerusalem back in the early days than it was in Lystra at this time? Do you think some used the chaos in Lystra to prove their point that Paul should have never gone to take the Gospel to the Gentiles in the first place? Or even worse, do you think they used it as evidence to discredit the Gospel as a whole? Do you think Paul and Barnabas longed back to a time when ministry was easier? Oh, if we could just be back in the early days in Jerusalem. What was the difference that made the results so varied?

The difference is not between the ministries of Paul and Barnabas versus Peter and John. They do things exactly the same way. The difference isn’t in the Gospel presented or the spiritual lives or even the ministry tactics. And that is the problem. The key difference is within the cultures. Jerusalem and Lystra are different cultures. Doing ministry in Lystra exactly like they did it back in Jerusalem produces vastly different results. One major difference in culture was to blame. In Jerusalem doing a miracle meant you were God’s messenger. In Lystra it meant you were a god. Jerusalem had an extended history of the Old Testament prophets, Moses, Elijah, Elisha, etc. Their miracles validated their messages. There was a history of persons doing great things and then saying don’t pay attention to me. Pay attention to the God who sent me.

Lystra was part of the Greco-Roman tradition and mythology where the gods themselves came and toyed with humans. In Lystra miracles demonstrated divinity. In Ovid’s, Metamorphoses 8.626ff there is a legend that Zeus and Hermes had visited the towns and villages of the region in human form, but did not receive any hospitality.  When they came to the home of the poor and elderly Baucis and Philemon they were invited in, the couple gave them the last of their food and the best comfort they could.  As Baucis prepared the meal, there was plenty of food and the wine kept “welling up of itself.”  The couple became greatly afraid because of the miracle, so the gods revealed themselves and told them that they were the only people to welcome them; they would be blessed while the whole region was destroyed.

I’m not just saying that Paul and Barnabas could have had a more successful ministry in Lystra if he was a little cooler. I am saying that Paul’s lack of cultural relevance, that he did ministry in Lystra exactly like it was being done in Jerusalem, directly led to the people getting close to committing idolatry, gave the Jewish dissenters fuel to criticize and resulted in Paul being stoned. This literally “rocked” Paul’s world. Fortunately for Paul and the Church he doesn’t crawl under one of those stones and hide. He gets up. Brushes himself off and learns from this experience. Like Paul moving forward we have two fundamental questions.

Are there ways to more accurately communicate the story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection to our culture? Are there ways that we are currently trying to share the Gospel that were designed for a different context and are no longer accurately communicating today? What does it mean to communicate the Gospel into an American culture? A Vietnamese culture? A Vietnamese-American culture? Do we need to say things differently when we are talking to second generation Vietnamese-Americans? How do we communicate the Gospel to the younger generations? The answer is communication 101: know your message (the Gospel) and know your audience (the culture).

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