Christianity 201

January 25, 2014

The Public Speech and the Private Speech

When I was much younger, I was taught that on some issues, Christian leaders have a public position and a private position. I’ve seen this play out many times, but while I appreciate that sometimes you don’t want to get too deep into issues with people who aren’t matured enough spiritually to absorb all the nuances of those issues, there is a danger of hypocrisy if your public and private position can be conceived of as being opposites.

Anyway, I’m not sure how we got into all that, but today, I want to think about the words Jesus shared as part of his public ministry and the words shared strictly to his disciples. By this I mean The Twelve — as compared to the disciples in general which may have involved about 70 regulars, or the great multitude we only have quantified as 5,000 men who attended his gatherings elsewhere.

In the small group we were part of last fall, we looked at what is usually termed The Sermon on the Mount, which is found in Matthew 5, 6 and 7. But Jesus seems to have other things reserved for the disciples in Matthew 10.  Anything that’s scripture here at C201 usually appears in green, but today we’ll revert to the more common custom of having the words of Jesus in red.

5…“Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.

“Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts— 10 no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep. 11 Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave. 12 As you enter the home, give it your greeting. 13 If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. 14 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. 15 Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.

16 “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. 17 Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. 18 On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. 19 But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, 20 for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

21 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 22 You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. 23 When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. Truly I tell you, you will not finish going through the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

24 “The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25 It is enough for students to be like their teachers, and servants like their masters. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household!

26 “So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. 28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.[b] 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

32 “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.

34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn

“‘a man against his father,
    a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
36     a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’[c]

37 “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

40 “Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41 Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. 42 And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”

Some quick notes:

Verse 5/6 is not a universal prescription; inclusion in Jesus’ ministry will widen in the New Testament arc, just as it does in the Old Testament arc.

Verses 9 – 15 contain what is often called “The Person of Peace Principle.” You can read more about this in reference to church planting or in terms of starting any kind of ministry.

Verses 16 – 20 offer these disciples a promise that if they don’t know what to say God will give them words. (I often think of the phrase in Psalm 81, “Open your mouth and I will fill it;” though the context there is quite different!) What’s interesting here is that God promises the Holy Spirit will supply them the words, but at this point the Holy Spirit just rested on people. How much more the disciples would be able to speak with boldness when they were filled with the Spirit in Acts 2.

The remainder of the chapter begins what some call “the hard sayings of Jesus,” though being sent out without a change of clothes or money to buy food doesn’t sound like a cakewalk, either. I’ve heard stories about missions trips where pairs of people — often young people — are dropped off in a town in a foreign country with minimal money for a 24 hour period.  I’m not sure how I feel about this particular discipleship tactic, but two things strike me immediately. First, you would tend to look for that person of peace, and secondly you would tend to need the Holy Spirit’s help in a fresh way.

I’m sure some of Jesus’ disciples were equally nervous as they went out on their way.

Matthew Henry says, “This chapter is an ordination sermon, which our Lord Jesus preached, when he advanced his twelve disciples to the degree and dignity of apostles.” In succeeding chapters we hear these disciples report back successes, but also challenges they faced.


Note: A seemingly parallel section to today’s reading is found in Luke 10, but there it is directed to the seventy-two, not the twelve.

July 10, 2013

Seek the Welfare of the City

Daniel Yang is a church planter who has resettled his family in Toronto, Canada in anticipation of a church launch there this fall. This appeared on his blog under the title Jeremiah 29:7

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

In the Old Testament, Israel was the nation chosen by God to reveal his love to the rest of the world. God was so committed to his purpose that even when his people were living in a land that wasn’t their own, he commanded them to “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you.” God placed an entire generation in a position of humility and vulnerability and then commissioned them to engage an unfamiliar city by investing into it the lives of the next generation.

Over the last few years this Jeremiah passage has helped me process my family story. My father was a little older than I am now when he left his homeland to live in a refugee camp for several years. The conditions in the camp were difficult, but he knew it was only for a season. At the age of thirty-nine he and my family immigrated to the United States where they learned a completely new way of living and thinking. They lived as a diaspora community seeking the welfare of the city to which they were brought and in doing so found their own welfare.

There’s something about the diaspora mentality that God wants his people to learn when they are called to engagement. From my experience this mentality forces us to do two things 1) adapt to the situation around us with humility and openness and 2) commit to the cause of others despite our own needs.

Jesus embodied the essence of this passage when he left the glory of the Father’s right hand and took on the form of a servant to die a criminal’s death in order to reconcile man back to God. Very rarely, if ever, will gospel engagement in any part of the world look different from this model.

Learn more about the church plant, Trinity Life by clicking here. As I watched a preview video for the church, there was a line, ‘God of this City,” which is also the name of a modern worship song I realized we’d never posted here. I hope you enjoy it.

July 15, 2012

Cooperating With What God Is Already Doing

It’s possible that your work situation or family situation or neighborhood situation looks, from a spiritual perspective, fairly bleak. You may find yourself in what you consider to be a fairly pagan or secularized environment. But I believe that God is at work in hearts more than we realize.

Today, I want to continue where we left off two days ago, and look at our part in bringing people into an awareness of Jesus that leads to a desire for Jesus.  Two days ago, we looked at being the kind of person that God can use to be “sent,” that is to go out into a particular situation or people group or individual’s life and then tell them, so they can hear, believe and call out for salvation.

But the Bible also teaches a principle of “sowers and reapers” in I Corinthians 3:

(NCV) 5b …We are only servants of God who helped you believe. Each one of us did the work God gave us to do.6 I planted the seed, and Apollos watered it. But God is the One who made it grow.7 So the one who plants is not important, and the one who waters is not important. Only God, who makes things grow, is important.8 The one who plants and the one who waters have the same purpose, and each will be rewarded for his own work.

My entire part-time work career during eight years of high school and college consisted of working in large department stores. In each area of the store I had to know what the products were, how the products worked, whether there were product warranties, and where the products were kept in the stockroom.  I also had to learn how to work the cash register.

So, my usefulness to my employer consisted of two things:

  • product knowledge
  • sales processing

In later years, when I owned my own business, I realized I had been taught nothing about how to sell. There was no sense in which I asked customers what they felt they needed, qualified what might meet that need, and then proceed to  “ask the question.” Asking means saying, “Do you think that this product can meet those needs?” Or, “Is there anything stopping from you buying today?” Or, “Can I wrap that up for you?” 

The ingredient I was missing was what is called, “closing the sale.” My training should have been a three-pronged approach consisting of:

  • product knowledge
  • closing the sale
  • sales processing

Sometimes in the Christian journey we encounter people who given to us so that we can plant seeds. And other times, we find people where God has been working in their lives already and they’re just waiting for someone to gently nudge them over the line of faith.

But sometimes we fall short of doing both when the opportunities are present. To switch analogies for a moment, it’s like a baseball game in which you’re up to bat and you get a perfect pitch, but instead of hitting a home run you decide to bunt. What holds us back from the hitting the ball out of the park?

In one of his books*, Bill Hybels tells the story of a friend with whom Bill had been planting seeds for a long time. One day, out of the blue, an associate asked the man if he would like to become a disciple and make Christ the Lord of his life, and the man said yes on the spot. Bill often jokes that this was simply “not fair.” With a department store analogy, you could say that this man was “Bill’s customer;” though thankfully we’re not exactly on commission! More seriously, Bill understands the distinction between sowing and reaping, and rejoices that this man did indeed cross the line of faith.

In Experiencing God, Richard Blackaby talks about coming alongside areas where the Holy Spirit is already working.** Perhaps there is a ministry organization or even a secular social service agency where people, whether consciously or unknowingly, are experiencing the fruit of God’s love and are ripe to respond. Could you be the missing ingredient?

  • In the lives of people you’ve been in contact with for the past few weeks or month, are you a sower or a reaper?
  • Do you know people right now who you’ve been gently sharing your faith with, but you’ve been afraid to ask the question?
  • Re-read today’s key verses. Maybe you find evangelism very difficult. Is there an area where you can be a “water-er” providing after-care for new disciples?

~ PW

*Just Walk Across The Room,pp. 45-47
**Experiencing God, pp. 54-55; p. 297

July 13, 2012

But Before That Can Happen, This Has To Happen

NIV Romans 10:14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

From a purely literary standpoint, these verses in Romans use a rather unique form. It’s like Paul is deliberately saying everything in reverse, not unlike those comedies or dramas on television where they keep flashing back to progressively earlier and earlier scenes chronologically. In other words, before that can happen, this has to happen.

Having just proclaimed that, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” in verse 13, the sequence looks like this:

  • people are saved if they call on the Lord
  • can’t call on Him unless they first believe
  • can’t believe unless they hear
  • can’t hear unless someone delivers the message; the good news
  • can’t have the message delivered unless someone is sent

So before one thing can happen something else has to happen.  Let’s put things in chronological order:

  • someone is sent
  • the ‘sent person’ delivers the message
  • others hear the message
  • they believe the message
  • they call on the Lord to save them
  • they are saved

That in itself would be a sufficient meditation, but it leaves something else.  In every major English translation, one more verse is included in the same paragraph, which is a quotation from Isaiah 52. 

Isaiah 52:7 How beautiful on the mountains
    are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
    who bring good tidings,
    who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion,
    “Your God reigns!”

Repeated here in Romans:

As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

I love how the CEV put this:

The Scriptures say it is a beautiful sight to see even the feet of someone coming to preach the good news.

Now, I’m going to read something into the text here, but I want you to humor me by following along here.  I think the CEV accurately conveys the picture here of the beauty of the sight of someone coming to bring the good news. But let’s assume for just a moment the beauty of the person themselves who comes.  (Not, obviously physical beauty, but spiritual beauty.)

If everything in the text is in reverse order, and if every translator sees the quotation as very directly linked to the other phrases, then what appears in the original form,

  • people are saved if they call on the Lord
  • can’t call on Him unless they first believe
  • can’t believe unless they hear
  • can’t hear unless someone delivers the message; the good news
  • can’t have the message delivered unless someone is sent
  • that “sent someone” is a beautiful person!!

Then the adjusted order would be

  • the process described here begins with a beautiful person!!
  • someone is sent
  • the ‘sent person’ delivers the message
  • others hear the message
  • they believe the message
  • they call on the Lord to save them
  • they are saved

Again, I’ve done some “reading into” on the text here, but it does give you a different way of looking at the passage, and it is supported by further study of what it is to be the man or woman who God chooses.  Those of you who object strongly can leave a comment with the more traditional interpretations of the Isaiah passage’s presence here.

But I think God is looking for a “special someone” to relay the message to people in need, and he’s looking for that someone to have a beautiful spirit.  In other words, before we can assume a ministry, we need to cultivate the character of Christ within.

Someone once said there are two dimensions to a physical cross, and we can think of the vertical dimension as the depth of our relationship to God, and the horizontal as the breadth of expressing that relationship to the world around us. We are responsible for the depth of our ministry and God is responsible for the breadth of our ministry.

To get to be the sent one, to be the preacher, to see people respond and call out for salvation; all that has to begin with the formation of Christian character within.  You can’t expect to move in the gifts of the spirit until you have cultivated the fruit of the spirit.

~Paul Wilkinson

For some of you, the passage today reminded you of an older worship song; so here’s a link to Our God Reigns.