New Generation, Ancient Approach

 

jesus-lumoThe bride-to-be and her groom met me at the church early one evening, a few weeks before the wedding. My only contact with them had been on the phone. They were friends of friends.

We began chatting with polite little words, then I burst in with my crazy love for weddings. “I love the food, the music, family, friends, dancing, décor. It’s a party!” I justified my passion by confidently declaring, “The very first miracle Jesus did was at a wedding.” He was nodding in agreement, but she was blank. “You know, the wedding at Cana,” I paused before blurting out, “the water into wine?” It quickly became awkward and I sadly realized she had no clue what I was talking about.

I was stunned at this amazing fail, a Gospel miss, a bride unaware. How was it possible for this fortysomething woman, brought up in the Bible Belt of East Texas, to have been in church and not know this story? So I did what came natural for me. I stretched over the table and snatched a Bible, flipped open to the second chapter of John and read the story of the wedding at Cana to her and the groom. She was visibly moved by the style, sensitivity and miraculous power of Jesus. I was moved, too, but in a different way. Through this bizarre moment of ignorance, my past frustrations with evangelism suddenly made sense. Something shifted in the load I had been burdened with for so many years. I was stirred.

Later that week I was talking to a group of young adults I met at the coffee house, “I’m curious, have you ever read the stories of Jesus from the Bible- Matthew, Mark, Luke or John?” Two of them quickly said, “No, none,” but the third was not sure. “Maybe,” she sang slowly, “like, when I was in grade school or something.” Totally open and willing to chat about it, we dove into a conversation exploring their limited knowledge of Jesus and what it might mean. In the end, all three eagerly agreed to read the Gospels. I was shocked at how simple and non-threatening this conversation was. The tension I normally experienced in this type of setting was not there, and a freedom to simply talk about Jesus seemed to replace it. I became obsessed with asking that simple question. The more I asked, the more it became clear this was my niche.

As the months passed, it became critical for me to find out, how do people know what they know about Jesus?  So I intentionally interviewed hundreds of young adults. I was shocked, overwhelmed and strangely embarrassed— not so much by what I found from those out in the world, but from the young adults raised in church. Ninety-five percent of all the millennials I interviewed had never read even one of the Gospels, much less all four. The Jesus of their understanding is cobbled together with scraps of secondhand information and hearsay. These were churched and unchurched people, but I saw little difference between the two.

In a spontaneous moment, I asked my church during our Sunday service, “Is there anyone here brave enough to admit you have never read Matthew, Mark, Luke or John?” A young women in the back row sheepishly eased up her hand. She had graduated from a local Christian college, attended church her whole life, served in children’s ministry and is a voracious reader. “I am so ashamed to admit it, no, I never have. But I will.” I began a one-man applause, “An honest person! Are there more?” Not that day, but shortly thereafter many did privately confess to having never read Jesus. Disciples who did not know the words of their Master. I found my mission.

After realizing so many young adults had never read even one of the four Gospels, I turned my attention to my own children. My 31-year-old son experienced church from the womb. He heard the stories of Jesus and preaching since before he formed memory or opinion. We homeschooled the early years, then Christian high school and finally Christian college. It’s not as though he had been opposed to God, but the church and all of its trappings became irrelevant. I asked him clearly about his faith through the years but was puzzled by his lack of interest in what I had determined were important spiritual activities.

So I simply asked him if he had ever read any of the Gospels on his own accord. He said, “No, but I will.” Again I was taken by surprise at how positive my challenge was received by almost everyone I asked. Initially he complained of problems retaining print material so I suggested listening while he drove during his work. I gave him Mark and the next day he called, “This is crazy stuff, all these people and even kids with demon possession! Do you think that they had no explanation for psychological phenomena and just blamed it on demons?” I hesitated, then responded, “What do you think? Listen to more and let me know.” Within a short period of time, he asked me for another CD. This went on until he had completed all four Gospels and now was asking for the epistles of Paul. I’m still amazed at how fresh the stories of Jesus are, even to those who have heard them for a lifetime.

The 10-ton elephant in our room is the widespread ignorance of Jesus. Little or no knowledge of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John is leading an entire generation to confusion and speculation about the most important man in all of human history. They struggle to trust someone they do not know. Consequently, Christianity has been dismissed by many of them as an irrelevant myth or irrational nonsense. Our baby Jesus has been thrown out with the Christian bath water. Somewhere, buried in the distractions and the confusion of Christianity is a thirty-something, Middle-Eastern Jew from Nazareth, named Jesus.

As I talk with young adults on college campuses and in the marketplace, it has become obvious to me they are more confused about who Jesus is than their Mormon, Jehovah’s Witness, or Muslim peers. We would never try to lead someone to faith in Jesus if their thinking was based on the unbiblical Jesus of Jehovah’s Witness teaching. So why do we assume the unbiblical Jesus of the average young adult is any better?   I have encountered every alternative, flimsy, internet Jesus idea put up for grabs floating about in the fog of popular campus thought. They seem more than eager to take in these pseudo-intellectual soundbites and file them as historical fact in their Jesus folder.

Jesus has a reputation among the young of being merely a good teacher. Clearly they have not read the outrageous claims made by Jesus about himself, not to mention healing those blind from birth, casting out demons, and raising the dead. The gospels are full of over-the-top supernatural events, not easily overlooked even by the casual reader. The famous quote from Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis sums up the issue. Look at the last few lines in full context.

       “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”  

 As Christians, we can presume nothing about people in a spiritual way. Rather, we should assume they are lost, backslidden, misinformed, ignorant or worse. Talk with them about Jesus the man, the carpenter, the teacher, and central character of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. They will begin to see the King of Kings as they follow the narrative. Thankfully there is no prerequisite faith or spiritual mindset to begin reading. They do not need to believe in God, the divinity of Jesus, trust the reliability of the Bible, agree to any objective truth or even be open to such ideas. If they will agree to read the Gospel stories for any reason, it is a win-win and God’s Spirit will do the heavy lifting. God spoke through the prophet, “So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11)

After four decades of youth and adult ministry I have come to this painful conclusion: ignorance of Jesus is epidemic. We are fervently preaching and witnessing in order to get people to trust Jesus, assuming they have a clear picture of Him. They do not. Secondhand misinformation forms their patchwork idea of Jesus. Reading or hearing the gospel narrative has become necessary to build trust in the Biblical Jesus, not some character created from the internet or personal fantasy.  Our faith is based in the Jesus from Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the original religious tracts.

My hope is to examine why this has happened and to challenge everyone to read through the Gospel narratives, the only primary sources for the life of Jesus of Nazareth. They can then decide for themselves the validity of the claims made by these stories and make intelligent, well- informed, spiritual conclusions. #readJesus #MattMarkLukeJohn www.primarysourceproject.org

 

Awkward Moments

Arnold_Lakhovsky_Conversation

Why can’t our normal conversation have Jesus slip in and out of the dialogue? His name always seems to stumble in like an awkward teenage boy expressing his first love. Am I ashamed of Him? Am I embarrassed for the other person? Fearful of rejection or a response of dead silence? Or could it be just a lack of regular self talk. What if Jesus was a constant part of my internal conversation and a readily familiar source of metaphors. I could make a habit of talking about my life using His stories and sayings, but then I would actually have to read them. The forced, painful, religious weirdo feelings begin to fade and a new normal takes stage. As I become comfortable with my own skin, others do also. Human rapport is built in a series of comfortable interactions that break down defenses. If the fearful anticipation of a religious ambush is lurking around the corner for either party it steals the joy of future conversation. Just be natural. Don’t be weird. Jesus can be a normal conversation. Lower your expectations and allow Him to do the heavy lifting.  #ReadJesusChallenge

Jesus is

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Jesus is the visible image of the invisible God

Jesus is the creator of all that exist, material and spiritual

Jesus holds together and maintains the universe

Jesus existed before creation

Jesus is the head of the Church universal and local

Jesus is fully God, just as the Father is

Jesus is the means which God reconciles men to Himself

Jesus blood, spilled by crucifixion is only way to peace with God

Colossians 1:15-20

Have you ever read the primary sources for Jesus?

 Read Matthew, Mark, Luke and John

#ReadJesusChallenge

Young Adults and Jesus

          

Young adults are curious about the 30something Middle Eastern peasant Jew, Jesus of Nazareth, but are living in great ignorance. In the 35 and under age group, 95% have not read even one of the four Gospels. Christians are fervently preaching and witnessing in order to get them to trust Jesus, assuming they have a clear picture of Him- they don’t. They only have second-hand information that forms their patchwork idea of Jesus. 21st century evangelism demands reading the Gospel stories to build trust in the Biblical Jesus, not some character created from hear-say and personal fantasy. Our faith is based in the Jesus from Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The goal of the Primary Source Project is to get everyone to read or listen to the life and teaching of Jesus and begin an ongoing and lifelong conversation about Him. Out of the hundreds of people challenged to read at least one of the four Gospels, only 2 have said absolutely no!  Challenge your friends and family to start reading the 4 Gospels and let the Word of God do the heavy lifting. It works!  Isaiah 55:11 #ReadJesusChallenge

How God Introduces Himself

 

God has chosen since the first coming of Jesus to introduce Himself as a man. Being an eternal Spirit and the creator of our universe He is way more than just a man, but that is how He first introduces Himself. When I introduce myself to people it has a practical purpose but also an unspoken limitation on information. As I introduce myself to a new neighbor, personal info comes on a need to know basis. The fact that I have lived in this house for 23 years is more helpful in establishing a relationship than my opinions on child discipline. Although that is part of who I am and may well come up when his kids torment the neighborhood animals. Jesus is God’s way of introducing Himself to the cosmos. He even says as much in the first 3 chapters of John and chapter 1 of Colossians. The fact that God loves the world is paramount. Yet His commandments concerning our fellowship with lazy and contentious people in the church are part of how we are instructed to live.

For some strange reason we often introduce ourselves through issues of hostility rather than the hand shake of rapport. Jesus built a conversational rapport with the Samaritan woman at the well through humility and curiosity before He let her see the issue of her sin. She was captivated by the conversation and His concern for her as a person! The man Jesus must precede the eternal Logos or the book of Leviticus. People need to see Jesus the kid, the laborer, brother, cousin and friend. Later when He tells the storm to be still, they will be just as shocked as the disciples were. They will draw their own conclusions, I did!

Truth hidden in Story

Nathan the prophet could have confronted the sin of King David with the Ten Commandments, “You, Oh King are guilty of murder, adultery and coveting, repent!” Three commandments were clearly broken by David. Yet, Nathan comes to the King and tells a story, a rich man takes the pet lamb of his poor neighbor for a feast with friends!  The passions of David are drawn to a crescendo of anger and indignation. David demands immediate justice, but melts when he realizes, he is the man.

The abrupt confrontation with Rom 3:23, “you are a sinner” is not well received by people today, anymore than Nathan’s encounter with King David 3000 years ago. People are compelled by narrative, movies, books, stories. We bypass the power of narrative and jump to our punch line, bullet points or condensed Gospel sound bites. The problem is the traditional propositional gospel presentation assumes many things about the view of the listener. #1 there is a God #2 the Bible is true #3 what sin is #4 the need of a savior #5 who is Jesus #6 future judgement is certain, those are huge assumptions! Why not just start in the Gospel of Matthew with a baby born in Bethlehem or in Mark with a young teacher on the beach in Galilee. Then they can work completely through the story and discover all the things we assume people know and believe. There is something compelling about this thirty-something peasant teacher who lived and died in obscurity. Even today He captures the hearts and minds of millions.

It is no virtue to present the gospel in such a way as to offend people and terminate an ongoing conversation. It is to our advantage, keeping a reciprocal dialogue. At least until their deep questions are heard and understood in a respectful manner. The cross itself should be the sticking point and the offense, not our false assumptions, cultural bias or personality. Keep the conversation going as long as possible! The Word of God will do the heavy lifting. Jesus said, “He who rejects Me and does not receive my sayings has one who judges him. The word I spoke is what will judge him on the last day.” John 12:48 #bgbg2 #ReadJesusChallenge

Judged by the very words of Jesus

There is a judge for the one who rejects Me and does not accept My words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day. John 12:48

What better way to motivate men and women to read the Gospels! They are the standard by which we will all be judged. The very judge itself will be the words spoken by Jesus almost 2000 years ago. His words are ubiquitous and global. Specifically, no other verse from the Gospels has been quoted, read, internet searched, shouted, made graffiti, made bumper stickers and preached than John 3:16, “ For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (NIV)  Over and over people have heard this short, beautiful verse and failed to understand, failed to respond and failed to realize they will be held accountable for spurning this offer by God.

#ReadJesusChallenge

Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, Sikh, Skeptic, Agnostic or Atheist- Read Jesus and see what He claimed about Himself and what others said about Him. 95% of those under 35 have never read Matthew, Mark, Luke or John!

Ignorance of Jesus epidemic

After decades of youth and adult ministry in the heart of the Bible belt, I have come to this painful conclusion, ignorance of Jesus is epidemic. In the 35 and under age group, 95% have not read even one of the four Gospels. We are fervently preaching and witnessing in order to get folks to trust Jesus, assuming they have a clear picture of Him- they don’t. They only have second-hand information that forms their patchwork idea of Jesus. Reading the stories has become necessary to build trust in the Biblical Jesus, not some character created from hear-say and personal fantasy. Our faith is based in the Jesus from Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the original religious tracts. The goal of the Primary Source Project is to get everyone to read or listen to the life and teaching of Jesus and begin an ongoing and lifelong conversation about Him. Challenge your friends and family to start reading the 4 Gospels and let the Word of God do the heavy lifting. It works!  Isaiah 55:11

Religious advertisements?

What Are the Gospels? A 1998 PBS Frontline said many scholars agree that the Gospels are neither biographies nor objective historical accounts, but they resemble religious advertisements. What an amazing observation! These scholars, attempting to belittle the Bible, are right on. The Gospels were written so that you might believe that Jesus is the messiah (John 20:31). These original four stories of Jesus were long tracts designed to bring people to faith. They were not just historical or biographical in nature but intended to persuade men and women to follow Jesus in faith!

conversation with a friend

 

A friend writes: I am ashamed to admit this but I had never read the life and teachings of Jesus. I just recently read completely through Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and it was an amazing experience! All my life I heard bits and pieces of these stories but it was second hand information for me. Now I feel like I understand Jesus from my own reading. He is much different than I thought. I am reading it over again and seeing new and amazing things. Just curious, have you ever read any the four Gospels? a natural conversation begins

Gospels are the gateway of intentional order

The order of Old Testament and New Testament books in the Bible are logical and well placed. The early fathers of our faith understood the need for a clear preeminence of Jesus, His life and teachings found in the first 4 books of the New Testament. Matthew-Mark-Luke-John in that order and the Gospels first.

Evangelism Fear

One of the main reasons we are hesitant to share the Gospel is FEAR. We fear many things and one of them is asking questions like…are you saved? if you died tonight? do you know the Lord? This is a setup for misunderstanding because different religious traditions use very different vocabulary to talk about this subject. Also, it puts the person on the defensive. They feel judged or inspected, why else would you ask me such a question? If you were asking them to give their opinion of who Jesus is or what they think the Bible teaches, you just might engage them in an ongoing conversation about the man Jesus or what the Bible teaches about him. That is what we need, an ongoing, natural conversation about Jesus from Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Let the Holy Spirit do the heavy lifting in the conversation.

Tracts, Cliff’s Notes and outsiders

The evangelical pocket tract has it’s place in the world of evangelism, but the conversion themed, bullet point, sinner’s prayer, steps to God is suspected by most outsiders as simply “join our group”. Instead of starting a conversation about Jesus, these little booklets sometimes shut people down and turn them away. God is calling people to follow Jesus for a lifetime and to share our lives with real faith alongside neighbors, friends and family. Let’s not settle for a Cliff’s Notes version of the Gospels. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are the unabridged real deal. Out of the hundreds of people I have challenged to read the Gospels only 2 have refused. Let the word of God do the work, ask them to read or listen to the life and teachings of Jesus. They will!

 

 

 

What is the Primary Source Project?

The Primary Source Project is a challenge to everyone: Read the four primary source documents concerning the historical Jesus of Nazareth – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John

Christianity has been dismissed by many as irrelevant or irrational. Buried in the distractions and the confusion of the Christian religion is the man Jesus. The thirty-something year old Middle Eastern Jew from Nazareth, a historical man with fingerprints, family and a divine message, Jesus. The billions of Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox all agree on Jesus and the four Gospel accounts that give us an accurate picture of who He is.
The goal of this project is to challenge everyone to read all four Gospel narratives. They are the only primary sources for the life of Jesus of Nazareth. People can then decide for themselves about the claims made by Jesus and make intelligent, spiritual and well informed conclusions. Personal ideas about Jesus based on secondhand information or hearsay are abundant. The Biblical Jesus from Matthew, Mark, Luke and John is our focus and our only hope.

Gos•pel n.\gäs-pəl\ lit. Good News!