Christianity 201

August 10, 2017

Jeremiah and the Popularity Contest

by Clarke Dixon

“Your popularity has gone down 25%!” Such was a new expression one of my boys brought home from school as a way of expressing annoyance. I suppose I should have been happy that my son was learning percentages, or that my popularity was not dropping near as fast as my other sons. What I was not so happy about was the lifting up of popularity as something of great importance.

As prophets go, Jeremiah was not popular, indeed he went beyond being unpopular to being hated. And little wonder, Jeremiah 1:10 gives a nice summary of what Jeremiah was expected to do:

See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.”
(Jeremiah 1:10 NRSV)

You may have noticed that the description of Jeremiah’s call has twice the amount of negative sounding items as positive. Read the entire book of Jeremiah and you will notice that Jeremiah spends most of his time prophesying destruction and hard times. Such messages would not help his popularity rating! Jeremiah’s contemporaries preferred a kinder, gentler, and of course, more popular message, but Jeremiah remained faithful. Had he cared more for his own popularity than God’s truth, he would have faded into obscurity as a prophet not worth remembering. Like most of his contemporaries he would have become irrelevant.

There is a great effort in the Church today to try to be relevant, to regain some of the popularity we perceive ourselves to have lost. There are those who think the Church can be relevant if it pays attention to the shifts in society in world-view and ethics and make similar shifts, “keeping up with the times” as it were. However, the opposite is true. It is by maintaining the distinctive teaching from God’s Word that we become relevant. It is when we play the popularity game that we become irrelevant.

Jeremiah lived in a time and place where his message was necessarily negative. The time had come for judgement, for which there was no sugar coating, and about which Jeremiah could do nothing. As Christians we live in a time and place where our message will necessarily be unpopular.

Let’s consider one of the most unpopular teachings of the Church in our day. Consider our message regarding sexuality. The message of the Church that sex belongs within marriage sounds antiquated to many, judgemental and negative. Should we play the popularity game and change our views? While viewed negatively by society, there is much to commend a Biblical view of sexuality. Sexually transmitted diseases are not transmitted by God fearing people. Marriages are not ripped apart by adultery among God fearing people. The Canadian definition of marriage today may as well be “the relationship among the many we have had that we hope lasts the longest.” Among God fearing people marriage is a fundamentally different relationship from any other relationship ever had, not just the longest lasting among many. “Being faithful so long as we both shall live” rings deep and true when a person can speak of “being faithful so long as I have already lived.” Faithfulness to one’s spouse can and should begin long before the wedding day. But even if there was nothing practical to commend our message, faithfulness to it would still demonstrate our faithfulness to God, and that ought to matter. The message of the Church with regards to sexuality is not popular today. But that should matter to us about as much as the popularity of the message of judgement mattered to Jeremiah. What matters is faithfulness to God, and it is by remaining faithful to Him we remain relevant to our society.

There are many other examples of Christian teaching that will be unpopular; belief in the supernatural, belief that abortion is wrong, belief in the importance of sobriety, belief that Jesus is the only Saviour, belief that other world-views are wrong. We can not expect the Church to win a popularity contest while it holds to these teachings. But neither do we need to enter a popularity contest. God calls us, like he called Jeremiah, not to popularity, but to faithfulness to Him, and to true and lasting relevance.


Read more at Clarke’s sermon blog: clarkedixon.wordpress.com

November 4, 2016

Advocacy: Joining Our Voices With Those Whose Cause Is Important

Today we’re paying a return visit to writer Dr. Gregory Crofford. His blog is titled “Theology in Overalls – Where Theology Meets Everyday Life” and in the article we’re using today, we see that intersection of theology and practical concern, or as some would say, the meeting of orthodoxy with orthopraxy.

Click the title below to read this at its source.

Holiness as compassionate advocacy

When asked the nature of holiness, John Wesley (1703-91) often pointed to Mark 12:28-31. All of the commandments are summed up in just two: Love God and love your neighbor. This love is the essence of holiness and it is the foundation of all compassion.

In recent years, we’ve spoken of compassionate evangelism. Now it is time to lift the banner of compassionate advocacy. Advocacy is concerned for social justice. As such, it is hardly a distraction from Gospel work. Rather, it is part-and-parcel of the church’s holistic Good News. In his article, “Social Justice in the Bible,” Dominik Markl notes:

Prophets such as Isaiah and Amos raise their voices on behalf of the poor and the marginalised, those belonging to the ‘weaker’ social groups. God himself prescribes a brotherly and sisterly social order in his Torah, and, in the same divine wisdom, Jesus develops a Christian ethics of love.

Those who are not followers of Christ will judge those of us who are by how we treat people who have nothing to offer in return. Right now on the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation in North Dakota, a few thousand Native Americans – water protectors, as they call themselves – are peacefully resisting the construction of a pipeline across their land. Their concern is that the pipeline is to pass under the Missouri River, potentially fouling its waters with oil in case of a spill. This is hardly an imaginary threat. On July 1, 2011, such a spill polluted the Yellow Stone River. So muscular has been the response to the current standoff in North Dakota that Amnesty International is sending human rights observers.

Why should followers of Christ care? The simplest answer is that we should care about what Jesus cares about. Isaiah 42:1-4a (CEB) is a prophecy of the coming Messiah:

But here is my servant, the one I uphold; my chosen, who brings me delight. I’ve put my spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations. He won’t cry out or shout aloud or make his voice heard in public He won’t break a bruised reed; he won’t extinguish a faint wick, but he will surely bring justice. He won’t be extinguished or broken until he has established justice in the land.

As a nation, we’ve done a lousy job of co-existing with those who were here before our European forebears arrived. We haven’t cared much for these “faint wicks” or about justice in our dealings. But what about the church, particularly the Wesleyan-holiness tradition that I call home? If we are about making Christlike disciples – and that is a crucial task – then we need to cast a broader vision of what being Christlike means. It is more than abstaining from sins that defile us; it is also about coming alongside the weak and the oppressed in their time of need, standing with them in their fiery trial like Jesus stood with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace (Daniel 4:25). How can we read a passage like Isaiah 42 then yawn as if nothing is happening in North Dakota?

Perhaps our inaction stems in part from few of us ever being water deprived, yet water security is a growing issue around the world. Drought can drastically alter how we view this precious gift. When I visited the city of Lubumbashi in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in September 2015, they were suffering an extended drought. The missionaries with whom I stayed sometimes had to decide whether they would wash the dishes or wash themselves. Thankfully, we prayed for rain and God answered our prayer. I went away from that stay taking water a lot less for granted.

Neither do the Sioux take water for granted. They cannot drink oil nor bathe in it. You need water for that.

Some churches are speaking up. Bishop Michael Curry of the Episcopal Church issued a statement last August in support of the water protectors. In his statement, he noted the theological importance of water in Scripture, including it being the baptism symbol of new life in Christ. I commend Bishop Curry for speaking up, but it makes me wonder: As holiness people, where is our voice? If the essence of holiness is love of God and neighbor, then here is a clear-cut chance to show a historically mistreated people that we care. These are our neighbors. Where is our love?

I’m glad that God is raising up around the world a generation of believers for whom justice issues are Gospel issues. May they be patient with us who have been around a bit longer, we who have been slower to see that holiness is both personal and social. And once we’ve seen, may the Lord move us to compassionate advocacy.

July 4, 2015

Passing the Torch of Leadership

“Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them–to the Israelites.
~Joshua 1:2 NIV

Brian StillerToday’s post is by Brian Stiller, former President of Youth for Christ Canada, former President of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, former President of Tyndale University College and Seminary and now Global Ambassador for the World Evangelical Alliance. Brian has lived many lifetimes! You can read more about him here.

What makes what follows so interesting is that it was written in 1987. It appeared in an EFC communications piece, The Sundial, and my wife typed this out so we could share it here.

When we fail to pass the torch

As we look at churches and organizations today, we can see that there are many in need of torch passing. But either the senior leader desperately holds on too long with no attempt to train or give opportunity to the younger, or the tension produces so much conflict that the younger leader heads off to some other more flexible opportunity. Out of it all, energy and vision are suppressed. This leads to an increasing loss of touch with reality and a lack of clear goals and effective strategy.

How can the torch be passed?

There is a wonderful example in the Old Testament of the passing of the torch – from Moses to Joshua.

The announcement, “Moses, my servant, is dead”, boomed out across the tents in the valley. What would happen now? many wondered. Fortunately for the people of Israel, Moses had carefully nurtured and developed a younger leader – Joshua.

What Moses did then lends powerful ideas to this generation.

Leadership includes different styles

Moses recognized that leadership emerges out of different styles. Whereas he was a crusader, Joshua was a manager.

Moses was angered by the treatment of his kinsfolk. Later he defended some young women who were being harassed while tending their sheep. Ultimately his crusader instinct led him to say yes to God’s call to lead the people out of Egypt.

How different Joshua was. Right from the beginning we see his obedience. Never is there conflict between himself and Moses. There was no sign of trouble because of a strident spirit or a self-centered personality.

Moses didn’t look for someone identical to himself. A different style was needed. Moses’ and Joshua’s backgrounds, personalities, styles, means of operation and public profiles were vastly different. Yet each was a leader and each, from his base of strength, was used by God in a particular way and particular time.

Different times call for different styles

It’s easy to be trapped into believing in a “best” form of leadership. My generation has grown up thinking its cloth must be cut from a certain model. Since World War II church leadership has been characterized as aggressive, charismatic, individualistic and outgoing. This view of leadership, however, has been typecast from a specific time and culture. It’s time we looked for other models.

Moses was a restless and dominating figure who led his people out of bondage and defined the basis of the community by his special contact with God. How different was Joshua! Learning from his tutor, Moses, he took the patterns and ideas expressed by his predecessor and molded them into a working society. Each leader was competent but their styles were different.

Passing the torch is inevitable

It’s not always easy to make the transition from one generation to the next. My generation has lived with the “long shadow” syndrome. The long shadow occurs when a key senior leader, often a creative and crusading “Moses”, continues for so long that his or her shadow blankets the one who is following. And the up and coming leader never gets an opportunity to nurture his or her own vision. Instead, the potential leader gets trapped by serving the older and never really develops the fine edges of his or her own leadership.

Managing Moses’ ideas

Joshua became the manager of Moses’ ideas. And how necessary it is that crusaders nurture and train managers to put their ideas into order and practice. Joshua succeeded because he refused to succumb to the weakness which plagues all managers: maintaining the status quo. Rather, he nurtured his vision and risked beyond the borders of Moses