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A Grace-full Reconsidering of your Ministry Website – Part 2

I have an older friend who watches a lot of Youtube videos, mostly about what’s wrong with the world.

Sadly, he won’t be running out of videos anytime soon.

The issues he covers run the gamut: race relations, declining civility, gun violence, war, society’s blind adherence to political figures, over-population (he’s not sure about that one), conspiracy theories, gender dysphoria… the list goes on.

By the sounds of it, most of the content he consumes is descriptive — everything that’s wrong with everything. Not much good news.

I’ve sympathized with my friend (I’ve told him so) because I share many of his concerns. The world is indeed a broken place; to deny it would be to walk around with rose-colored glasses, or eyes closed altogether.

Yet the prescriptive part for him — what might be done to address these problems — is an open question.

A Grace-less Meeting

Recently, he mentioned how he’d been invited out to lunch by an old acquaintance. (I was initially encouraged by this, mostly because my friend doesn’t get out much. And since the guy was also active in a local church, I was hoping for some good things).

Yet as my friend described it, he wasn’t 2 bites into his sandwich before the conversation took a turn. The topics covered some of the same issues he sees regularly discussed on Youtube. Now he was fully engaged, eager to add his two cents.

Before long, he found himself quickly disillusioned. Maybe it was the pejorative tone. He couldn’t help but feel that his church friend’s disdainful words — mostly about the “crazy, leftist liberals” and “moral failures” in our country — were actually directed at people like him.

Let’s “take back the country from these godless forces” was the clear, takeaway message. Leaning more to the liberal side (politically) as my friend does, he immediately felt “on the outs.”

So what was this church guy’s prescription for all the world’s problems? Don’t vote for x candidate, vote for y. Or, as author Trevin Wax puts it, Punch left, and coddle right.

I was saddened to hear this, and I told my friend so. I tried to explain that politics — whether you lean left or right — isn’t the main issue in the kingdom of God (It’s true!)

While political causes do have value, they must be demoted — seen as secondary in importance, along with all other things, as the Apostle Paul noted — to the greater goal and implications of proclaiming “Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2), risen in triumph, and now reigning as the one true King.

Regrettably, self-righteousness and a lack of grace during that lunch had eclipsed the chance for genuine encouragement and fellowship in Christ — which is what my friend needed most.

The Wrong Diagnosis

The story goes that GK Chesterton once took pen in hand to reply to a local newspaper’s polling question, “What is wrong with the world today?” Expecting a long, erudite response from the great thinker, the editors instead received this: “What is wrong with the world today? I am. Sincerely, GK Chesterton.”

In an age of growing pragmatism, Chesterton’s diagnosis was spot-on. It remains so today. In a few words, it sweeps away our default approach: we want to change our circumstances, but God wants to change our hearts.

Yet for many believers and ministries today, the problem is primarily “out there.” Our own struggle with sin — and how we change through daily cleansing, forgiveness, and imputed righteousness in Jesus —isn’t the main part of the conversation.

And yet Scripture is clear: it’s the sin in our own hearts — as Chesterton knew — that creates our greatest need (see Matt. 15:19,20).

Popularly expressed in the idols of political power, nationalism, and self-worship, it’s sin that keeps us from loving God and our neighbors well. Here is the root of so many of our (and the world’s) problems.

When we miss this truth, we end up running to inadequate solutions — other “gospels” (Gal. 1:6–9) — that side-step the real issue of misplaced loves and false worship in our own hearts. We miss the only true cure: gracious love, in the person of Jesus.

What about your Website?

In part one, we asked this about your website:

“Does it address real struggles, and seek to meet people where they’re at — instead of assuming we know, or making them pass some kind of knowledge test to enter our “club?”

Too often, as my friend experienced, the answers we give obscure Christ to a hurting world. If that’s your norm, it’s going to flow into your website.

Instead of the gracious character of God — that he’s “close to the broken-hearted” (Ps. 34:18 ) — we’ll offer a demanding god in our own image.

Instead of “confess your sins to one another, pray that you might be healed,” (James 5:16), we’ll confess everyone else’s sin — even though judgment should begin with the house of God (1 Pet. 4:17)

Instead of works of service, we’ll aim for power plays (“Let us sit at your right hand” See Mk. 10:37) – recognition and status.

No wonder so many today are left to conclude: “Those Christians are all self-righteous frauds; they’re no different from anyone else.”

In light of this, it’s critical that our websites send the right message.

Our aim should be to produce inviting, grace-filled content (blogs, sermons, podcasts, etc.) that fleshes out truly good news, keeping a heart-and-Christ-centered focus central.

(By the way, for an insightful Youtube message on these very things, see Arguing About Politics, by Tim Keller).

All the important “one another” passages of Scripture that envision how we are to relate — such as “love one another, encourage one another, build one another up, etc.” will only truly flow when the Gospel is kept central, and faith is energized. Only then will we be the “aroma of grace” that others breathe in.

It’s the only thing that will attract a hurting world to Jesus (and to us!)

May God give us the grace to be the arms and legs and heart of Christ, and the sweet “aroma of grace” that our world so desperately needs!

 

  

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Who do you See? Vision and Your Website

It’s kind of weird to live in a culture that needs to be reminded to “see” while  walking:

And yet, “pay attention while walking” is a reminder we all need – because we’re often blind to the things that matter most.  

In contrast, have you ever noticed that Jesus actually stopped in his tracks in order to “see” people?

“Jesus looked at him (the rich ruler), and loved him.” – Mark 10:21

“When the Lord saw her (a widow), his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.” – Luke 7:31

For Jesus, looking was a necessary precursor to loving. It wasn’t an interruption to the agenda – it was key to the mission.

If you’re like me, too often we see what we want to see – and it may not be helpful or loving, as author Paul Miller points out: 

“Jesus lowers himself in order to care, while the disciples elevate themselves in order to judge. The disciples see a blind man; Jesus sees a man who happens to be blind. The disciples see an item for debate; Jesus sees a person, a human being like himself. They see sin, the effect of man’s work; Jesus sees need, the potential for God’s work. The disciples see a completed tragedy and wonder who the villain was; Jesus sees a story half-told, with the best yet to come.”

― Paul E. Miller, Love Walked among Us: Learning to Love Like Jesus

How beautiful are the eyes of Jesus!

Setting a Vision

Knowing how (as well as who) to see then is not only vital for our ministries, it’s also a great thing to include on your website.

When visitors see a clear vision statement – especially on your main page – they’ll know at once what you’re about, what you’re “here for.”   

Here’s one example, from Redeemer church in NYC:

 

OUR VISION

The Redeemer family of churches and ministries exists to help build a great city for all people through a movement of the gospel that brings personal conversion, community formation, social justice, and cultural renewal to New York City and, through it, the world.

 

Notice what this vision statement helpfully includes: a who, what, and how, as well as some further, specific impacts or effects:

Who: The Redeemer family of churches and ministries

What (or purpose): …to help build a great city for all people

How: …through a movement of the gospel 

Further Effects (Specific impact): …that brings personal conversion, community formation, social justice, and cultural renewal to New York City and, through it, the world.

A vision statement is a continual reminder of our purpose, of who/what we want to keep our eyes on. Why does this matter?

As Paul Miller again notes, “We begin to resemble what we focus on. If we devote our lives to our jobs, then we mentally take the office to our daughter’s lacrosse game.”

We begin to resemble what we focus on.

Paul (the Apostle) knew this too. None of his efforts for ministry could properly be sustained unless he was turning away from looking at himself (boasting in his flesh).

He had a single focus –  “Christ and him crucified,” because not only does Christ propel us (faith working through love), it’s also the way we change into his likeness:

“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” 2 Cor. 3:18

“And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” – Hebrews 12:1b, 2

How thankful we can be that Jesus first saw us! May he give us continual grace to see as he sees.

 

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Grace – It’s Still Amazing

It’s amazing what you’ll find at the local Goodwill store…

I had just popped in for a quick look the other day, and found myself (as usual) at the wall of used books. One title immediately jumped out at me: “What’s so Amazing About Grace? by Philip Yancey.

Since I’d always appreciated quotes from his works and never read this one (even though the book first came out in ‘97), I happily plopped down a buck and took it home.

Allow me to say that the book is outstanding — and I’m hard to please when it comes to such things. So many are poorly written or dry-as-dust, and end up detracting from the one grand story of history.

Full of great stories (Yancey chooses to “show” rather than tell — as good writers will), the book makes for captivating reading. I’ll even go out on a limb and suggest that it should be mandatory reading for ministries and churches — especially those who struggle with being “grace-less” in their preoccupation with culture wars.

You don’t have to look far for those, as this recent tweet suggested: “Getting Christians to set aside such weaponized language (words like “Woke,” “Cultural Marxism,” etc.) is almost as difficult as getting nations to give up nuclear weapons.”

I mention this too because the book led me to another tasty vignette by Yancey — which not only seemed timely for the current crisis in Ukraine but also reminds us just how radical the grace of God really is :

“When the world sees grace in action, it falls silent.”

“Nelson Mandela taught the world a lesson in grace when, after emerging from prison after twenty-seven years and being elected president of South Africa, he asked his jailer to join him on the inauguration platform. He then appointed Archbishop Desmond Tutu to head an official government panel with a daunting name, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Mandela sought to defuse the natural pattern of revenge that he had seen in so many countries where one oppressed race or tribe took control from another…
At one TRC hearing, a policeman named van de Broek recounted an incident when he and other officers shot an eighteen-year-old boy and burned the body. Eight years later van de Broek returned to the same house and seized the boy’s father. The wife was forced to watch as policemen bound her husband on a woodpile, poured gasoline over his body, and ignited it.
The courtroom grew hushed as the elderly woman who had lost her first son and then her husband was given a chance to respond. “What do you want from Mr. van de Broek?” the judge asked. She said she wanted van de Brock to go to the place where they burned her husband’s body and gather up the dust so she could give him a decent burial. His head down, the policeman nodded agreement.
Then she added a further request, “Mr. van de Broek took all my family away from me, and I still have a lot of love to give. Twice a month, I would like for him to come to the ghetto and spend a day with me so I can be a mother to him. And I would like Mr. van de Broek to know that he is forgiven by God and that I forgive him too. I would like to embrace him so he can know my forgiveness is real.”
Spontaneously, some in the courtroom began singing “Amazing Grace” as the elderly woman made her way to the witness stand, but van de Broek did not hear the hymn. He had fainted, overwhelmed.
Justice was not done in South Africa that day, nor in the entire country during months of agonizing procedures by the TRC. Something beyond justice took place. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good,” said Paul.
Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu understood that when evil is done, one response alone can overcome the evil. Revenge perpetuates the evil. Justice punishes it. Evil is overcome by good only if the injured party absorbs it, refusing to allow it to go any further. And that is the pattern of otherworldly grace that Jesus showed in his life and death.” – Philip Yancey
Amen!