Christianity 201

September 13, 2017

The Wheat and the Weeds

On the Wednesdays in September, we’re going to look at a few of The Kingdom Parables as interpreted by Charles Price, Minister at Large and former Pastor of The Peoples Church in Toronto. Some of his takes on these may be just slightly different from what you’ve heard or thought. Find more devotions like this at Living Truth.

The Wheat and the Weeds

“The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in the field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away.” Matthew 13:24-25

This second parable tells us that if the Son of Man is sowing His seed in the world, an enemy is also sowing his seed in the same field. Jesus explains to His disciples, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil” (Matthew 13:37-39).

Wherever God is at work in this world we can be sure the devil is also at work. His purpose is to counterfeit the work of God, tempting us with something that looks real but is unreal. Within the kingdom of God, the devil will offer an attractive alternative to Jesus Christ, and it is not always easy to distinguish between the real and the counterfeit. This is conveyed by Jesus when the servant asked the owner about the weeds, “Do you want us to go and pull them up?” His answer was: “No, because while you are pulling the weeds you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest” (Matthew 13:29-30).

Jesus tells us there is going to be a harvest time at the end of the age, and there will be harvesters, the angels whom Jesus will send to sort the weeds from the wheat. This parable is not about false teaching so much as it is about false Christians, people who present themselves as part of the real thing but are counterfeit. False Christianity will inevitably lead to false teaching, but at the harvest when the fruit is evident, it will be easier to identify and handle. This means we are not to set out on a crusade to purify the church of any false ingredient, because if we attempt to do so, we may disrupt the good.

On the day of separation of the wheat from the weeds, the real from the false, the bad seed will face the prospect of a fiery furnace where all will be lost and destroyed. The good seed, the righteous, will face the prospect of shining like the sun in the kingdom of the Father (Matthew 13:41-43). In the end, the kingdom will be pure, but in the meantime, it is infiltrated with false Christians. Were we to look over a fence to the field where weeds were growing among the wheat, we would not be impressed. This is the picture of the kingdom of heaven as the world perceives it.

PRAYER: Thank You, Lord, for these parables that teach us the importance of being genuine in our Christian faith, so that at harvest time we will be among the wheat.

 

September 6, 2017

Sown Into The World

On the Wednesdays in September, we’re going to look at a few of the parables as interpreted by Charles Price, Minister at Large and former Pastor of The Peoples Church in Toronto. Some of his takes on these may be just slightly different from what you’ve heard. Find more devotions like this at Living Truth.

Sown Into The World

“Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop – a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” Matthew 13:8

The Shallow Seed: This seed is sown along the path and the birds come and snatch it away. This is the person who hears the Word of God but does not digest it, understand it or appropriate it. He or she is vulnerable to losing it all as “the evil one snatches away what was sown in their heart.” Truth has to be combined with faith in order to become experience, but this seed has never taken truth into the realm of experience. This person is shallow and their being planted in the world comes to nothing.

The Superficial Seed: This seed is sown among rocks and is the person who hears the Word of God and receives it with joy, but since they have no root, “they last only a short time.” When trouble or persecution comes because of the Word, they quickly fall away. In the right atmosphere they can coast along, but will blow with the prevailing wind. This person is superficial and their planting in the world comes to nothing.

The Secular Seed: This seed is sown among thorns that choke the plants. This is the person who hears the Word of God and starts off well, but “the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.” He or she has never been weaned from secular world views. They are deceived by wealth and seduced by worldly things. This person is secular and their planting in the world also comes to nothing.

The Successful Seed: This is the seed sown on good soil and is the person who “produces a crop yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” Like the first seed, they hear the Word of God, like the second seed, get excited by it, and like the third seed, live in a secular world subject to all its temptations, but their roots are deep. They survive and are successful. Their planting in the world accomplishes its purpose.

The intention of this parable is not to show how some people respond to the Word of God and are converted while others are not, but it is to show how the kingdom of God is to be advanced. Each of us who belongs to Jesus Christ is planted by Him for the purpose of producing fruit. If we were to look over the fence to the fields in the first, second and third planting of seed, we would not be impressed. This is a true picture of the church of Christ, the physical manifestation of the kingdom on earth as seen from the vantage point of those yet outside of the kingdom.

PRAYER: : Dear Lord, I pray that I not only retain, digest and understand Your word, but that it grows and flourishes in me so that I may be used in producing fruit for You.

January 30, 2017

Christianity 201: Devotional # 2500

A man died and went to heaven and on arrival asked if it was true that there are mansions with many rooms with for all. An angel assured him that this was true and offered to guide him to where one had been prepared just for him.

They walked down a street filled with the finest mansions that would be the envy of the highest priced neighborhoods in the western world back on earth.

“Is my house here?” the man asked.

“Just a little further;” said the angel.

They then entered a section of housing which would be compared to a North American upper middle class community.

“It’s here, then?” the man asked.

“Just a little further;” said the angel.

They then moved on to a group of bungalows that were not initially impressive, but, this being heaven after all, were no doubt adequate.

“So here we are;” said the man.

“No, just a little further;” said the angel.

Then the two of them ended up in an area where the houses — more like cabins — were not only much smaller, but there were only a couple of rooms and some elements of the walls, floors and ceilings were missing.

Pointing to a nearby dwelling, the angel said, “That one is your house.”

“There is no way,” said the man, “That I can live in something like that.”

“I’m very sorry;” replied the angel; “But we did the best we could with the materials you sent up.”

…This apocryphal sermon illustration is usually told in reference to Matthew 6: 19-20 which reads:

19 “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. NLT

But what constitutes treasure?

As I consider 2,500 posts here at Christianity 201, I look back to when I started this, wanting to produce something of substance that would cause people to dig a little deeper or consider something they might not have thought of before.

I’m a person who can speak with spiritual confidence and authority to an individual or group one minute; and then be struck by a feeling of total inadequacy the next; a form of spiritual intimidation, or spiritual inferiority complex. Why is this? I think much of it has to do with feeling at the end of the day that I simply haven’t accomplished enough for the Kingdom of God. The sun sets or the computer is turned off or it’s time for bed and I ask myself, what did I really do today that was of lasting value of significance?

It’s not that I wasn’t busy doing Kingdom work, it’s just that I fear I wasn’t busy doing the right things. I feel that by not letting my talents be used to the maximum, I have missed the mark (the same idiom by which the word sin is defined in Greek) of God’s highest calling. You could say that I not only have ‘performance-based religion’ issues, but I’m additionally burdened with combining it with a Type A personality when it comes to what I would like to see happen.

So… I need to be reminded that God still loves me even I didn’t do all the the things or type of things that I thought God was expecting of me. I need to be reminded that it’s about what God’s wants me to be that matters.

However, I can’t just toss out the consideration of what it means to give my best to God each day. I have to have certain goals or ideals or standards of attainment. The verses that I think match up best with the heaven story above are these from I Cor. 3 —

12 Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials—gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. 13 But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. 14 If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. 15 But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames. NLT

Some of you know these verses from the KJ text as referring to: “Gold, silver and precious stones;” contrasted with “wood, hay and stubble.”

In the Christian internet world, a lot of what is written — including what I myself post at Thinking Out Loud — is wood, hay and stubble. I started Christianity 201 because I wanted something that would be of substance, something made of gold, silver and precious stones.

So while Christianity is not performance-based, if we’re going to launch out into any endeavor at all (in response to what Christ has done for us) we should aim for that thing to be of the highest quality, the finest purity, the greatest depth and the most lasting significance. We can discuss other things, and comment on the issues of the day in religion, politics, social justice, the environment, church life, parenting, education, marriage, missions, theology, or even the weather; but at the end of the day, we need to bring something best to the table; something that not only touches readers, but touches the heart of God Himself.

That’s living out our Christ-following at the next level.

That’s Christianity 201.

When the music fades
All is stripped away
And I simply come
Longing just to bring
Something that’s of worth
That will bless your heart

I’ll bring You more than a song
For a song in itself
Is not what You have required
You search much deeper within
Through the way things appear
You’re looking into my heart…

February 12, 2016

Jesus Preaches to a Megachurch Crowd

Today’s devotional is part teaching, part testimony from the prologue to what I believe has stood out as Southeast Christian Church pastor Kyle Idleman’s most popular work, Not a Fan: Becoming a Completely Devoted Follower of Jesus (Zondervan). (Note: Some emphasis added to this excerpt.)

Not a Fan

It’s a Thursday afternoon and I am sitting in the church sanctuary. It’s empty now, but Easter is only a few days away. More than thirty thousand people will likely come to the weekend services, and I have no idea what I’m going to say to them. I can feel the pressure mounting as I sit there hoping that a sermon will come to mind. I look around at the empty seats hoping some inspiration will come. Instead there’s just more perspiration. I wipe the sweat off my brow and look down. This sermon needs to be good. There are some people who only come to church on Christmas and Easter (we call them “Creasters”). I want to make sure they all come back. What could I say to get their attention? How can I make my message more appealing? Is there something creative I could do that would be a big hit and get people talking?

Still nothing. There is a Bible in the chair in front of me. I grab it. I can’t think of a Scripture to turn to. I’ve spent my life studying this book and I can’t think of one passage that will “wow” the Creasters. I consider using it the way I did as a kid. Kind of like a Magic 8 Ball, you ask a question, open up the Bible and point on the page, and whatever it says answers your question.

Not a Fan - Kyle IdlemanFinally a thought crosses my mind: I wonder what Jesus taught whenever he had the big crowds. What I discovered would change me forever. Not just as a preacher, but as a follower of Christ. I found that when Jesus had a large crowd, he would most often preach a message that was likely to cause them to leave.

In that empty sanctuary I read of one such occasion in John chapter 6. Jesus is addressing a crowd that has likely grown to more than five thousand. Jesus has never been more popular. Word has spread about his miraculous healings and his inspirational teaching. This crowd of thousands has come to cheer him on.

After a full day of teaching, Jesus knows the people are getting hungry, and so he turns to his disciples and asks what all these people will do for food. One of the disciples, Philip, tells Jesus that even with eight months’ wages, it wouldn’t be enough money to buy bread for everyone to have a bite. From Philip’s perspective, there really wasn’t anything that could be done. But another disciple, Andrew, has been scanning the crowd and he tells Jesus of a boy who has fives loaves of bread and two small fish. Jesus takes the boy’s sack lunch and with it he feeds the entire crowd. In fact, the Bible tells us that even after everyone had their fill, there was still plenty of food left over.

After dinner the crowd decides to camp out for the night so they can be with Jesus the next day. These are some big-time fans of Jesus. The next morning when the crowd wakes up and they’re hungry again, they look around for Jesus, aka their meal ticket, but he’s nowhere to be found. These fans are hoping for an encore performance. Eventually they realize that Jesus and his disciples have sailed to the other side of the lake. By the time they catch up to Jesus they’re starving. They’ve missed their chance to order breakfast and they are ready to find out what’s on the lunch menu. But Jesus has decided to shut down the “all you can eat” buffet. He’s not handing out any more free samples. In verse 26 Jesus says to the crowd:

I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.

Jesus knows that these people are not going to all the trouble and sacrifice because they are following him, but because they want some free food. Was it Jesus they wanted, or were they only interested in what he could do for them? In verse 35 Jesus offers himself, but the question is, Would that be enough?

Then Jesus declared,

“I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.”

Jesus says, I am the bread of life. Suddenly Jesus is the only thing on the menu. The crowd has to decide if he will satisfy or if they are hungry for something more. Here’s what we read at the end of the chapter:

From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him (John 6:66).

Many of the fans turn to go home. I was struck by the fact that Jesus doesn’t chase after them. He doesn’t soften his message to make it more appealing. He doesn’t send the disciples chasing after them with a creative handout inviting them to come back for a “build your own sundae” ice cream social. He seems okay with the fact that his popularity has plummeted.

As I sat in the sanctuary surrounded by thousands of empty seats, here’s what became clear to me: It wasn’t the size of the crowd Jesus cared about; it was their level of commitment.

I put the Bible back in the chair in front of me.

I cried.

God, I am sorry.

Almost as soon as I said it to him, I knew it needed to go further. A few days later on Easter Sunday, a crowd of thousands gathered and I began my sermon with a choked up apology. I told the crowd that I was wrong for being too concerned with what they would think and how many of them would come back. I think over the years my intentions were good; I wanted to make Jesus look as attractive as possible so that people would come to find eternal life in him. I was offering the people Jesus, but I was handing out a lot of free bread. In the process I cheapened the gospel…

 

 

February 2, 2016

Where Compassion Meets the Refugees – Part Three

In Part One, we looked at the similarity between some North American attitudes toward the Syrian refugee crisis and Jonah’s attitude toward Nineveh.  In Part Two we looked at the three categories of our financial blessing and how we’re commanded to allocate these. However, we stopped short of fully fleshing out the third category.

André Turcotte is a Christian & Missionary Alliance pastor and church planter, and a Canadian Armed Forces chaplain. What follows is adapted from his notes, and not word-for-word. (Some sections in parenthesis today are my additions.)

• • • by André Turcotte

Some of the help we’re able to give will come from this third category…

Margins

Leviticus 23:22 “‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you. I am the Lord your God.’”

(This should remind you of another passage, the story of Ruth and Boaz in Ruth 2.)

This is repeated in scripture:

Deuteronomy 24:19 When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. 20 When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. 21 When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow.

Leviticus 19:9 “‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.

(This of course bears on the broader topic of margin. Is there enough in your life generally? There should be some discretionary spending money in your budget.)

The problem is that instead of living with some margin or leftover, many of us are living financially beyond our means. (This would definitely include those who make only the minimum monthly payment on their charge cards, or whose cards are already maxed-out.)

In the New Testament Jesus takes it even further:

Luke 12:33 “Sell your possessions and give to those in need. This will store up treasure for you in heaven! And the purses of heaven never get old or develop holes. Your treasure will be safe; no thief can steal it and no moth can destroy it.

Remember the image of a wheat field from yesterday? Perhaps the most compelling argument for what this means is found in

The Principle of Sowing and Reaping

2 Cor. 9:6 Remember this—a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop. You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.”

All through scripture, God’s rewards generous, cheerful giving; again, not done out of compulsion or duty but joy.

But the natural human response is to say, ‘What’s in it for me?’

God’s blessing

8 (NLT) And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. As the Scriptures say,

“They share freely and give generously to the poor.
    Their good deeds will be remembered forever.”

10 For God is the one who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, he will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity [NIV: righteousness] in you.

11 Yes, you will be enriched in every way so that you can always be generous. And when we take your gifts to those who need them, they will thank God.

(Note: This should not be interpreted as what is currently called ‘prosperity doctrine.’)

Though our motive should be giving joyfullly to the Lord, God promises to supply, multiply and reward those who are His generous stewards. God multiplies our giving for many purposes.

Multiple effect

12 (NIV) This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. 13 Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. 

Generosity with our money in this instance helps the refugees, shows the unity of the Body of Christ, bears witness to Christ, honors God, and increases our faith in Christ.

 

February 1, 2016

Where Compassion Meets the Refugees – Part Two

Yesterday we looked at the similarity between North American attitudes toward the Syrian refugee crisis and Jonah’s attitude toward Nineveh. (If you have sensitivities toward the Syrian situation, please note that not all Christians feel this way; we’d like to think it’s just a minority, but the challenge of opening our communities is stretching us and steepening our learning curve!)

André Turcotte is a Christian & Missionary Alliance pastor and church planter, and a Canadian Armed Forces chaplain. What follows is adapted from his notes, and not word-for-word.

• • • by André Turcotte

So what does all in look like when it comes to giving to projects such as this one?

On one extreme end, some could say it means giving all we have to those in need, but practically that would just leave us in that same place (and in some cases diminish our ability to help when future causes arise.)

On the other extreme end, some would just take money they are currently giving to “A” and simply redirect it to “B.”

Obviously we need a new perspective: What it means is realizing that all we have is given to us from the Lord and stewarding all of it for Kingdom purposes is our duty.

To repeat, all in does not mean giving every last cent to others, but rather stewarding every last cent in a way that makes room for the needs of others.

So what do we mean by stewarding everything we have?

‘Everything we have’ can be categorized in 3 ways: First fruits, Middle fruits and margin/leftovers.

Picture in your mind a vast field of wheat. Today not many of us are farmers, so we don’t practice our giving in terms of grain or sheep, but picture a wheat field divided into the following categories:

First fruits

Several times God calls his people to give the first fruits to him — this is constant even at times there were other needs around them.

Honor the Lord with your wealth,
    with the firstfruits of all your crops;
10 then your barns will be filled to overflowing,
    and your vats will brim over with new wine.

This is important: Note that taking the tithe or first fruits and redirecting them to the needy is a violation of God’s directive.

Many reading this will say, what about people in need right here in the United States or Canada? It would be an epic fail on the part of God’s people if we

  • redirected what would normally be our tithes to engage this need, or
  • stopped giving to other local or regional projects to help those who will arrive (or, the current ‘flavor of the month’ charity; the one making the headlines).

On the other hand, saying that we can’t do anything to help those in need because we are ‘tapped out’ or because we have given all our charity money to God is not acceptable either.

This reminds us of the passage where Jesus deals with what were called the Corban rules (which we can cover here as a separate study sometime*) described in Mark 7:

10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ 11 But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)— 12 then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother.

Rather, our giving should come out of our middle fruits and out of our margins.

Middle fruits

This money is a blessing. It’s the fund that most of us live on. Our family operating budget after we’ve first taken care of giving first fruits to God’s work.

The principle here is to enjoy and wisely use God’s blessings.

Ecc. 5:19 Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God.

Margins

This is a scriptural principle that I haven’t heard as much teaching on but a principle that is clearly taught in scripture. It’s really the meat of the sermon that attracted me to sharing these notes with you.

But for that one, you’ll have to tune in tomorrow!


* In September, 2015, Clarke Dixon looked at an aspect of the Corban laws in this article:  The Conflict Between Tradition and Jesus.

 

January 31, 2016

Where Compassion Meets the Refugees – Part One

For a few days, I want to share some material that was presented as a sermon by my home church pastor as part of a series that eight area pastors are doing in a 4-week rotation as part of our faith community’s sponsoring of a number of families from Syria. The project is called Better Together, though the name predates the present world conflict and was the name of a similar 6-week pulpit exchange the same churches did two years back before coming together as one body for a Good Friday service in which they gave around $50,000 for a Habitat for Humanity project. (The part we’re looking at today was a collaboration with Clarke Dixon, whose name is most familiar to readers here.)

Sponsoring families of a different faith background, different ethnicity, different linguistic set is extremely stretching for some people, especially people in a rather homogeneous small Canadian town. We tend to look after our own or are drawn to projects where, after a clear proclamation of the gospel, the prospects for conversion are high. Our learning curve as a community is very steep with this project, and will probably become steeper after the first family arrives.

André Turcotte is a Christian & Missionary Alliance pastor, a former (and possibly future) church planter, and a Canadian Armed Forces chaplain. What follows is adapted from his notes, and not word-for-word.

• • • by André Turcotte

The situation we face with Syrian refugees is very similar to that of Jonah, a man called by God to engage people different than himself.

The situation also has some geographic coincidences: Nineveh was part of the Assyrian — even the name is a giveaway — empire; the Assyrians were brutal conquerors who destroyed and abused people. Nineveh is incorporated today in the city of Mosul where ISIS activity made headlines and from where many of the refugees originate.

Jonah 1:1 NIV The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”

But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port.

Tarshish, at the far end of the Mediterranean was not only in the opposite direction, the distance was five times the opposite direction.

Most readers here know the basics elements of what happens next. Jonah would love to see the Ninevites destroyed, even though he doesn’t particularly want to be the messenger; but after his rebellion leads to him being tossed overboard by the Tarshish freighter, he has a three-day time-out to reconsider his position.

Jonah 2:9a NLT But I will offer sacrifices to you with songs of praise,
    and I will fulfill all my vows.

The overall arc of the story show that Jonah goes and preaches his message while seriously hoping against hope that the Ninevites don’t respond. (This would be like a modern evangelist going to preach in Las Vegas and preparing to give an altar call at the end, but not really expecting anyone to raise a hand or go forward at the end for prayer.) His goal seems to be about himself, about being able to do his ‘prophet thing’ and then, when the city is destroyed, be able to say, ‘See, I told you so.’

It would seem that although Jonah had obeyed is heart was still bent on their destruction.

This raises a serious application point for those of us whose lives have some type of ministry component; those of us who give the money, offer the time, use our gifts, and are busy about church business:

You can be obedient in your action, but your heart is not all in.

Ultimately, Jonah is more concerned with his reputation and personal comfort than the well-being of Nineveh’s 120,000 population.

4:10a Then the Lord said, … 11 “But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?”

(So does the idea of refugees in our community — especially in small-town America and Canada make us uncomfortable? I’m sure some would answer yes.)

We learn several things about God in this story, not the least of which is: God wants everybody to come to him and he called you and me to reach them. He is looking for people who are all in.

2 Peter 3:9 NIV The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

So what does all in look like when it comes to giving to projects such as this? Tomorrow we’ll look at scripture teaching on first fruits, middle fruits and margins.


We’ve covered Jonah here a couple of times before including twice recently; here are some older ones:

 

 

 

 

January 17, 2016

The Good News, Bad News of Ministry Life

If you knew me many years ago, there was a period when I would sign letters

I Corinthians 16-9

In my mind, the verse played out in the KJV text that I first learned it from:

For a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries.

Today, I would probably refer you to a more recent translation, such as the NLT:

There is a wide-open door for a great work here, although many oppose me.

If you think about, this is the format of every missionary, church, or parachurch organization fundraising letter or ministry report you’ve ever received.

→ The good news is: God is working in the lives of people, we are seeing results.
→ The bad news is: We face [financial/staffing/logistical/spiritual-warfare/etc.] challenges.

There’s always a challenge. Today in church, the guest speaker shared this:

The greatest challenge in life is not having a burden to carry.

That’s right, without some mountain to climb or river to cross, our lives would actually be rather boring. Certainly there would be no growth. I discussed that quotation with a friend after the service was over, and he said, “Yes, but that’s we all want. We want it to be easy.”

Matthew Henry writes:

Great success in the work of the gospel commonly creates many enemies. The devil opposes those most, and makes them most trouble, who most heartily and successfully set themselves to destroy his kingdom. There were many adversaries; and therefore the apostle determined to stay.

Some think he alludes in this passage to the custom of the Roman Circus, and the doors of it, at which the charioteers were to enter, as their antagonists did at the opposite doors. True courage is whetted by opposition; and it is no wonder that the Christian courage of the apostle should be animated by the zeal of his adversaries. They were bent to ruin him, and prevent the effect of his ministry at Ephesus; and should he at this time desert his station, and disgrace his character and doctrine?

No, the opposition of adversaries only animated his zeal. He was in nothing daunted by his adversaries; but the more they raged and opposed the more he exerted himself. Should such a man as he flee?

Note, Adversaries and opposition do not break the spirits of faithful and successful ministers, but only kindle their zeal, and inspire them with fresh courage.

I checked out a number of commentaries online for this verse, and ended up pulling out several of my print commentaries. One of the greatest insights came at the bottom of the page of the NIV Study Bible:

many who oppose me. Probably a reference to the pagan craftsman who made the silver shrines of Artemis and to the general populace whom they had stirred up (Acts 19:23-34).

Interesting that what appeared to be spiritual opposition was actually rooted in commerce; people who had a vested financial interest in maintaining commercial interests in a pagan form of worship. Think about Jesus and the money-changers in the temple:

NIV Matt. 21:12 Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13 “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.

I’ll let Eugene Peterson re-phrase the Acts reference above:

23-26 …a huge ruckus occurred over what was now being referred to as “the Way.” A certain silversmith, Demetrius, conducted a brisk trade in the manufacture of shrines to the goddess Artemis, employing a number of artisans in his business. He rounded up his workers and others similarly employed and said, “Men, you well know that we have a good thing going here—and you’ve seen how Paul has barged in and discredited what we’re doing by telling people that there’s no such thing as a god made with hands. A lot of people are going along with him, not only here in Ephesus but all through Asia province.

27 “Not only is our little business in danger of falling apart, but the temple of our famous goddess Artemis will certainly end up a pile of rubble as her glorious reputation fades to nothing. And this is no mere local matter—the whole world worships our Artemis!”

28-31 That set them off in a frenzy. They ran into the street yelling, “Great Artemis of the Ephesians! Great Artemis of the Ephesians!” They put the whole city in an uproar, stampeding into the stadium, and grabbing two of Paul’s associates on the way, the Macedonians Gaius and Aristarchus. Paul wanted to go in, too, but the disciples wouldn’t let him. Prominent religious leaders in the city who had become friendly to Paul concurred: “By no means go near that mob!”

32-34 Some were yelling one thing, some another. Most of them had no idea what was going on or why they were there. As the Jews pushed Alexander to the front to try to gain control, different factions clamored to get him on their side. But he brushed them off and quieted the mob with an impressive sweep of his arms. But the moment he opened his mouth and they knew he was a Jew, they shouted him down: “Great Artemis of the Ephesians! Great Artemis of the Ephesians!”—on and on and on, for over two hours.

Some people believe that finding the heart of many world and regional conflicts is simply a matter of “follow the money.” The point is that we don’t know and we don’t always see why people are so very bent on opposing us in ministry. Not to minimize Matthew Henry’s interpretation, it’s simply too easy to say, ‘It’s the Devil;’ or put things into some general spiritual warfare category. Maybe your devout faith and witness are simply “bad for business” for someone nearby.

…My opinion would be that where ministry is taking place many challenges and overt opposition will occur. If it’s not, maybe you’re doing it wrong.

Greater opportunities = Greater opposition.

But the good news is that most of the time the opposite is also true.

Greater opposition = Greater opportunities.

Romans 5:20b (KJV) says,

But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.

Ministry life involves both: Great opportunities for harvest and life change, and many who would rather keep the status quo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

January 5, 2016

The Sauls Around Us

NIV Acts 9:10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”

“Yes, Lord,” he answered.

11 The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”

13 “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”

15 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

17a Then Ananias went to the house and entered it.

Sometimes we return to a blog that we’ve sourced content from before, only to find that the author is no longer posting new material. Still, some of what is there is so good, we want to keep it alive through sharing it with our audience here. That’s the case at the blog Commissionary (Great Commission + Missionary).

This appears to be the second-last post from Greg Wilton on the blog, from May, 2014. Click the title to read at source.

Can God Save Anyone?

The Conversion of Ananias – Acts 9:1-18

The story of the conversion of Saul tests our faith because it causes us to wonder if we really believe that God can save anyone. Saul, the one who watched people’s garments while they stoned Stephen (Acts 7:58) and the one who was breathing threats against believers (Acts 9:1), was dramatically converted on the road to Damascus. When we read this in Acts 9, we are immediately confronted with our own faith. God radically saved Saul, but can God radically do the same for my family, my friends, my coworkers, and my neighbors? All of us know people who are very worldly, very apathetic, or very devoted to another faith. All of us have been guilty of thinking that God couldn’t save that person. We sometimes think, “They just don’t care about spiritual matters…there’s no way,” “She’s too devoted to her own religion…there’s no way,” “He loves living like the world so much…there’s no way.” Our preconceived or initial judgments condemn us. Our spirit testifies to this because we know there are times when we don’t speak to someone about Jesus because we have already convinced ourselves that they wouldn’t believe in Jesus regardless. We are very quick to affirm cognitively that God can save anyone, but we are very reluctant to affirm that God can save anyone through our obedience in bringing God’s good news to that person. This is why Ananias is so important to those of us who struggle with this. Acts 9 describes the conversion of Saul, but equally important is how Acts 9 describes the conversion of Ananias.

Who is Ananias? Scripture only speaks about Ananias in reference to the conversion of Saul. Ananias is a disciple in Damascus (Acts 9:10), a devout man according to the law (Acts 22:12), and is well spoken of by all the Jews who lived in Damascus (Acts 22:12). This is an honorable description that most believers strive for. We all want to be known as a follower of Jesus in our community. We want to be known as people who are guided by a moral code. We all want to have a good reputation in our community because we know that a good reputation is a good witness for Christ. How Ananias is described is how most of us want to be described. As a relatively obscure, moral, reputable disciple of Jesus, Ananias represents us in this story of Saul’s conversion.

AnaniasBut why does Ananias need to be converted? He does not need a salvation conversion, but rather Ananias needed a belief conversion about salvation. Just like us, Ananias doubted if God could really save anyone. In a vision, God tells Ananias to go find Saul of Tarsus. Ananias’ response reveals his doubts about Saul, “But Ananias answered, ‘Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name’” (Acts 9:13,14). Notice the doubt, the fear, and the apprehension in his reply. This does not sound like a man who believes that God can save anyone. Ananias sounds like most of us, believing in our heads that God can save anyone but doubting that in our hearts. Despite his doubts about Saul, Ananias obeys the Lord and goes to visit Saul. His fear of God was greater than his fear of Saul, and for this reason we witness in Acts a very important kind of conversion. Ananias was converted from believing in “a God of possibilities” to believing in “a God of impossibilities.” Saul’s conversion challenged Ananias faith because Ananias had to decide if he truly believed that God could save anyone.

Jesus once said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). Jesus said this because his disciples asked, “Who then can be saved?” This popular phrase, “All things are possible with God” was initially related to Jesus’ statement about who can be saved. Jesus himself wanted his followers to believe that no one is beyond hope. Without question, the most impossible task we will ever face in life is trying to save ourselves. On our own, salvation cannot be obtained through being good or doing good. Be absolutely certain about this: apart from God salvation is impossible. Yet this most impossible task becomes possible because of Jesus Christ. He alone makes the impossible possible. Jesus lived perfectly, sacrificed himself for us by dying on the cross, and defeated Satan, sin, and death by resurrecting three days later. Because of this, we can have confidence that God did the impossible. Jesus saved us when we could not save ourselves. Ananias came to believe this through his involvement in the conversion of Saul. Ananias too was dramatically converted.

So what can we learn from Ananias’ example? Knowing that we want to believe wholeheartedly that God can save anyone, and knowing that we struggle at times to believe wholeheartedly that God can save anyone, what can we learn from Ananias?

  1. Say, “Here I am Lord.” Ananias responded to God by saying, “Here I am Lord.” This is reminiscent of Isaiah 6:8, “Here I am Lord, send me.” It’s a simple response, but it’s always the right response. Do you want to live your life as though you truly believe that God can save anyone that you might encounter today? Don’t get caught up in the details. Let it be sufficient to start by saying, “Here I am Lord.”
  2. Acknowledge your fears, but don’t embrace them. Ananias admitted his fears to God about Saul. He was aware of the evil Saul had already done and was capable of doing. Be honest with the Lord. In prayer, tell the Lord why you struggle with believing this person can be saved. But don’t embrace that doubt, that fear. Never. Leave the impossible to God.
  3. Embrace obedience. After Ananias confessed his concerns to the Lord, he listened to the Lord’s reply and responded in obedience. Go when God says go.
  4. Lay your hands on Saul. Ananias didn’t just pray for Saul from a distance. He got personal. He got involved. Ananias obeyed God and got so close to notorious Saul that he put his hands of him. If you believe God can save anyone, don’t be a witness from a distance. Have them in your home. Go to their home. Become friends with them. Learn what it means to rub shoulders with the people you once thought were beyond hope. You’ll likely be surprised how they have been crying out for truth, grace, and people from God all along.
  5. Speak Jesus to Saul. Ananias came to Saul as an ambassador of Jesus. He shared Jesus with Saul. That’s what people need to hear. Give them Jesus. No matter what, make sure you give them Jesus because Jesus is their only hope.
  6. Disciple Saul. Ananias played a role in baptizing Saul. We must not only be ready to believe that God can save anyone, we must be prepared for that reality. Be ready to disciple. Believe that God can save them, and be ready to show them the Christ-filled life.

There are Sauls all around us, people we thought would never believe, yet God disagrees. God is asking us to be Ananias. We must go get God’s Sauls. Believe that God can save anyone.

August 14, 2015

Wishing You Were Someplace Else

It’s very easy to wish your circumstances were different. If only we’d bought that other house. If only I had taken the other job. If only I had married the other person. If only I had moved to that other city.

Earlier today I found myself stuck by the wording of 1 Cor. 7:17 in the NIV:

Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches.

The specific context is marriage; and the earlier verses can be applied what a new believer is to do if they find themselves married to a non-believer; as well as to widows, the unmarried, etc. But the verse also seems to speak to the broader life issues I outlined in the first paragraph.

We have friends who were missionaries in Kenya, East Africa. One young man who was confined to a wheelchair accepted Christ as Savior and Lord and felt called to be a missionary. The Christian workers there presented him with the impracticalities of this, but he felt assured of the Lord’s protection from weather and wild animals, so when last seen, he was headed off in his wheelchair along a dirt path to destinations unknown.

While I don’t know how that story ended, I do know of people in North America who have followed the call of Christ, and felt that immediately they were to quit their job and go into ministry. I am sure that this works out well for some of them, but no doubt others get caught up in the zeal of the moment, missing out on the possibility that Christ has now called them to be his representative in whatever office, factory, school, neighborhood, etc. they find themselves living.

Closer to the verse’s context, I am sure that other have used their new-found faith to justify leaving an unbelieving spouse. Eugene Peterson translates the same verse this way:

And don’t be wishing you were someplace else or with someone else. Where you are right now is God’s place for you. Live and obey and love and believe right there. God, not your marital status, defines your life. Don’t think I’m being harder on you than on the others. I give this same counsel in all the churches.

At the root of this is a general discontentment. Ray Pritchard notes:

  • If we’re young, we want to be older. If we’re old, we wish we were younger.
  • If it’s old, we want something new. If it’s new, we want something newer.
  • If it’s small, we want something bigger. If it’s big, we want something really big.
  • If we have a hundred dollars, we want two hundred. If we have two hundred, we want five hundred.
  • If we have an apartment, we want a condo. If we have a condo, we want a house. If we have a house, we want a bigger house. Or a new house. Or a nicer house. Or maybe we want to scale down and live in an apartment again.
  • If we have a job, we dream of a better job, a bigger job, a closer job, with a bigger office, a better boss, better benefits, more challenge, bigger opportunity, nicer people to work for, and more vacation time.
  • If we’re single, we dream of being married. If we’re married, … (you can finish that sentence yourself.).

We Were Born Discontented. None of this is unusual in any way. We were born discontented and some of us stay that way forever. And a certain amount of discontentment can be good for the soul. It’s not wrong to have dreams about what the future might hold. The hope of something better drives us forward and keeps us working, inventing, striving, creating and innovating. But there is a kind of discontentment that leads in a wrong direction. Here are five signs that discontentment is dragging us down spiritually:

1) Envy. The inability to rejoice at the success of others.
2) Uncontrolled Ambition. The desire to win at all costs, no matter what it takes or who gets trampled in the process.
3) Critical Spirit. The tendency to make negative, hurtful, cutting remarks about others.
4) Complaining Spirit. The disposition to make excuses and to blame others or bad circumstances for our problems. A refusal to take personal responsibility. Inability to be thankful for what we already have.
5) Outbursts of Anger. Angry words spoken because our expectations were not met.

The discontented person looks around and says, “I deserve something better than this.” Because he is never happy and never satisfied, he drags others into the swamp with him. No wonder Benjamin Franklin declared, “Contentment makes a poor man rich, discontent makes a rich man poor.”

He goes on to note:

The first principle is repeated three times in this paragraph:

“Nevertheless, each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him” (v. 17).

“Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him” (v. 20).

“Brothers, each man, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation God called him to” (v. 24).

This is a case where the meaning is very clear: Lead the life God assigns to you. God has given each of us a job to do. He has gifted each person in a certain way and has assigned us a particular place in life. This reflects a very high view of God’s sovereignty. We are both assigned and called to a certain place in life. The Greek words are very strong and definite. The old Puritans used to say, “God orders everything with perfect wisdom.” I wonder how many of us would say that. Almost unconsciously, we want to change “everything” to “some things” or “a few things” or even “most things.” But “everything?” Isn’t that going too far? What about all the pain and suffering and evil in the world? How can that be “ordered” by God? We can either talk about that for the next 70 years and still not settle it, or we can simply say that if God doesn’t “order” all things, then he’s not really God at all. He’s not the author of evil but even evil must serve his ultimate purpose. Sin cannot exist outside of God’s control or else God isn’t truly sovereign. I freely admit this is a mystery, but it is a mystery inherent in being creatures and not the Creator. The fact that we can’t fully understand these things simply proves once again that “he’s God and we’re not.”

This is just a small part of larger sermon manuscript; you can read the whole text at Sermon Central.

Of course, I couldn’t just stop there without reminding us of Paul’s words in Philippians 4:

11b I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12a I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation…

Again, while the specific context is marriage and family-related, Paul is laying down a principle here that applies broadly; but oh, how often we wish were just someplace else. While some of this is a reasoned consideration of life options, I am sure that some of it is just an escapist mentality or a fantasy mindset.

God has you exactly where you are today to fulfill his purposes in your world. Remember Pritchard’s words above: Lead the life God assigns to you.

May 7, 2015

Come Apart and Rest

Mark 6:31And He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while.” (For there were many people coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.) 32They went away in the boat to a secluded place by themselves.…

Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

At first, with its “Five things…” approach, this practical article may appear more like something that should run at Thinking Out Loud, not Christianity 201; but I believe it’s a message that we need to hear. This is by Benjamin L. Corey, and to read it at source, click the link in the title. (There’s also an internal link to a previous article.)

5 Things You Need To Take A Break From To Avoid Spiritual Burnout

Yesterday on the blog I wrote about how I had spent much of this winter suffering from spiritual and emotional burnout, and that I had a hunch I wasn’t alone. Judging from your comments and emails, it turns out my instinct was correct- a lot of Christians are feeling burned out these days. As part of my own process in sorting out how I got to such a dark place, and from the wonderful insight and advice from many of my peers, I was able to identify some behaviors that I absolutely, positively, needed a break from– because that was the source of my burnout.

As I processed this further, I came to realize that even Jesus himself was aware of the potential for spiritual burnout, and made a practice of taking steps to prevent it. Jesus was on a mission to change the world, and the key avenue he chose to do it was through pouring his heart and soul into a small group of 12 friends while simultaneously kicking up against the walls of the dominant power structures of his day. I can only imagine that this led to moments of fatigue and discouragement, since scripture affirmed that Jesus was tempted in all the same ways that we are tempted. So what did Jesus do to avoid spiritual burnout?

Well, it seems that Jesus had built into his life a habit of getting away from whatever things existed in his life that could have led to spiritual burnout. In the book of Luke we find a very important statement:

“But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places to pray.” (5:16)

I personally really like the rendering of the International Standard Version of this verse, which words it: “However, he (Jesus) continued his habit of retiring to deserted places and praying.”

While there is a host of good stuff one could glean from this verse (such as the aspect of prayer which is not covered by this post), what I appreciate the most is that Jesus knew when he needed to take a break from some things. And, if even Jesus– the Son of God– had to take a break from life-draining things, why would we buy the lie that we can chug along indefinitely without taking a break ourselves?

While I can only guess what sorts of things Jesus needed to take a break from, I think I have a much better grasp of some things that led to my own spiritual burnout, and perhaps did yours as well. So, here is a tangible list of things that I think we need to take scheduled breaks from to help avoid another bout (or come out of your current state) of spiritual burnout:

1. Things that make you angry.

Speaking of money, the Bible says that it makes a good slave but not a very good master. I think the same thing could be said of anger– when it consumes us it masters us, and it makes a horrible master. If there’s a certain topic or issue that is constantly making you angry, take a break from it– in our era of outrage and culture wars it is likely that there will never be a shortage of things to piss you off… so just take a break from the things that fuel your anger.

2. Situations, roles, or people that/who only drain but never replenish you.

Your emotional tank isn’t any different than a bank account– there is a limit as to how much you can spend before things go really bad. Remember: Jesus is the savior of the world, you are not. Yes, let us invest in changing the world and building the Kingdom- but if even our king himself takes a break and steps away for quiet moments where no one is draining him, why would we think we should live differently?

3. Things that worry you.

Jesus warned us that not a single person has added a minute to their life by worrying- but yet we do it anyway (I myself am especially good at this). One way to address it is by a more holistic approach to sabbath keeping: for myself, I’ve been trying to practice “no work, no commerce, and no worries” on the day I practice sabbath keeping. What’s the thing that worries you most? Set aside one day a week where you purposely do nothing about it and do your best to avoid thinking about it.

4. Social media/the comment section on some blogs.

Thankfully, I’ve been blessed with some great readers- but this isn’t the case everywhere on the internet. The comment section in many places can be one of the most toxic environments on planet earth. If there’s a certain place on the internet (or a certain person on the internet) where reading and engaging the comment section is making you question the future of humanity– take a break and don’t go to that particular blog or comment section. Or, you can even use the “unfollow” option to remove toxic people from your FB newsfeed without the more obvious gesture of unfriending them.

5. Being in-doors.

When Jesus withdrew to take some space, he did it outside. I think far too many of us are cooped up in cubicles and need time in nature like Jesus did– plus, there are tremendous health benefits to exercise, and even some vitamins you can only get through sun exposure outside. For me, I realized that I started to turn the corner as spring hit and we started taking the dog for walks by the lake. Whether you live in the country or in the city- find a way to get outside, go to a park, or even just go for a short daily walk around the block– but get outside and take in some fresh air, because that’s one of the things Jesus did.

I think in some ways seasons of spiritual burnout is inevitable, but I think there are some concrete things we can do both to avoid it, and to pull out of it. These five things were crucial to helping me begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

What about you? What frequent practices have you found to be helpful to your emotional and spiritual health?

 

May 2, 2015

The Gift of Apostle

Ephesians 4:11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.    (NLT)

If you are aware of what is called “the five-fold ministry” you have run across the term apostle. Those with a pastor’s heart are easy to spot. If you have the gift of evangelist, you’re probably hitting the streets (or their online equivalent) to share the gospel. But apostle can be confusing.

At the website Spiritual Gift Test, we read:

The spiritual gift of apostleship is sometimes confused with the office of Apostle.  The office of Apostle was held by a limited number of men chosen by Jesus including the twelve disciples (Mark 3:13-19) and Paul (Romans 1:1).  The requirements for the office of Apostle included being a faithful eyewitness of Jesus’ ministry and His resurrection (Acts 1:21-22; 1 Corinthians 9:1) and being personally called by Jesus (Galatians 1:1).  The Apostles were given authority by Jesus to do many different things to establish the church, including writing Scripture and performing miracles (John 14:26, 2 Peter 3:15-16, 2 Corinthians 12:12).

There are no more that hold the office of Apostle today, but the gift of apostleship continues in a different sense.  Jesus gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers at His ascension (Ephesians 4:7-12), and these represent a distinct category of apostles.  They do not have the authority to write Scripture as the original Apostles did.  They also have a different purpose in the sense of establishing the church – the foundation has already been set.

The mission for those with the gift of apostleship today is to plant new ministries and churches, go into places where the Gospel is not preached, reach across cultures to establish churches in challenging environments, raise up and develop leaders, call out and lead pastors and shepherds, and much more.  They often have many different gifts that allow them to fulfill their ministry.  These are leaders of leaders and ministers of ministers.  They are influencers.  They are typically entrepreneurial and are able to take risks and perform difficult tasks.  Missionaries, church planters, certain Christian scholars and institutional leaders, and those leading multiple ministries or churches often have the gift of apostleship.  See also Ephesians 4:11, I Corinthians 12:28, Acts 1:21-22, 1 Corinthians 9:1.

Still, I have concerns for those who use the term as a title, as in, “Our guest today is Apostle John Jones.” But nonetheless, the job does carry with it a certain authority.

Apostle is not synonymous with Missionary. At the website Biblical Studies we read,

Many think that the term “apostle” simply means “missionary.” The word “missionary” does come from a Latin root which means “to send,” so the inference is understandable. Paul was involved in much mission activity, as were other apostles, but it is also clear that many, if not most, of the apostles remained in Jerusalem for several years. So the function of an apostle was much more than only missions.

Their function was basically to, 1) lay the foundation of the church (Ephesians 2:20, Matthew 16:18), 2) give God’s revelation to men (Ephesians 3:5), and 3) demonstrate the truth of that revelation by the exercising of their sign gifts (II Corinthians 12:12).

And we need to be reminded there are more than just the ones Jesus taught. From the same website we see this list:

The Eleven

First of all, of course, there were the original twelve apostles, minus Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Christ. They were Simon Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew (called Nathaniel in John’s Gospel), Thomas, Matthew, James (the less), Lebbaeus (surnamed Thaddaeus, also called Judas, the brother of James the less), and Simon Zealotes. These men are listed in Matthew 10:2-4, Mark 3:16-19, Luke 6:14-16, and Acts 1:13.

Matthias

In the first chapter of the book of Acts, these eleven, after much prayer and under the direction of the Holy Spirit, chose Matthias as the replacement for Judas Iscariot (verses 12-26). Some think that Matthias was not, after all, the replacement God appointed, but rather Paul. This view seems to rest more on assumption than Scriptural evidence. The fact of the matter is that Matthias was chosen, not Paul, and no hint to the contrary is ever given. Nowhere is it stated that the eleven were too hasty in their choice. In fact, verse 26 directly states that Matthias “was numbered with the eleven”; in other words, he was number twelve.

Furthermore, Paul did not meet the qualifications stipulated in Acts 1:21-22 which required that the replacement be one who companied with Christ during His earthly ministry up until His ascension. Matthias was the twelfth apostle.

James

James, the half-brother of the Lord and writer of the epistle which bears the name, was another apostle. His is an interesting biography, unbelieving until sometime after the resurrection. He is identified as an apostle equal to the others in Galatians 1:19, and in Acts 15 his high standing among the apostles is evident.

Barnabas

Barnabas (“the consoler”) was an apostle as well. He is so designated in Acts 14:4 and 14. Some today question his apostleship; however, note that he is referred to as an apostle equal to Paul.

Paul

Paul, then, was the last man to enjoy the position of apostleship. He was “one born out of due time” in that he was a later (indeed, the last) addition to the apostolic company (I Corinthians 15:8-11). Because of this, evidently, some questioned his apostolic authority, which was no small matter to the apostle. Several times he was forced to defend his own apostleship (cf., I Corinthians 9:1ff, Galatians 2, etc.). In nine of his thirteen epistles, he is careful to identify himself as an “apostle of Jesus Christ” (e.g., I Corinthians 1:1). He does so most forcefully in Galatians, specifying that his apostleship is a commission of Jesus Christ Himself, not Paul or any other man (Galatians 1:1).

Unfortunately, I can’t agree with that website’s cessationist conclusion that the gift no longer exists. How you interpret this is up to you, but many respected Christian leaders believe this gift is still active, and some go so far as to say that in every church there is one person who has one of the five-fold gifts resident in them, for a minimum of five people representing the APEPT set of giftings.

 

 

 


There’s also another good article on this from a Charismatic/Pentecostal site, Spirit Filled Christian Living, hosted by Duke Taber. Duke does not anyone to use his material, so click this link to read at source.

 

February 23, 2015

Understanding Spiritual Gifts

On the weekend, I discovered the blog Parking Space 23. They have multiple authors and go deep on many subjects.  In looking for something we could borrow here, I was impressed by this piece on spiritual gifts.  To read this at source, click the title below. When you’re done, click to the home page and look around at other topics they cover.

Two Misconceptions about Spiritual Gifts

gifts and gifts and giftsby Matt Tarr

We hear a lot about “serving” our church. But what does that actually mean? When I say “serve your church,” my intention is not to tell you about all the programs and ministries our church offers, and where there might be an opening for you to get plugged in. You may very well be the most “active” person in the church, performing the greatest number of tasks than any other person, while using your spiritual gift the least. And as such, you are not serving your church well.

The hypothetical is unlikely, but certainly a possibility. We would therefore do well to ask ourselves, “Is this ministry distracting me from using my spiritual gift, or is it providing me with an opportunity to use it?” Only when all the members understand the nature of their gifts and how they fit in to the corporate body will we truly see how the Lord can bless our church. That to say, this is an important issue for the health of our church – or any church. Of course, if you want to know how to serve our church by using your spiritual gifts, you’ll need to know what those gifts are – that’s the nature of this post. It answers the question, “what are spiritual gifts,” so you can ask the question, “what is my spiritual gift,” so you can ask the question, “How can I utilize my spiritual gifts at my church?”

Now, we need to recognize that there has been a lot of confusion about the nature of spiritual gifts. A LOT of confusion, so let me clear a few of them up.

  1. Spiritual gifts are not for your benefit.
    It may seem obvious, maybe even redundant for me to point out, but spiritual gifts aren’t for your benefit. Every believer has them, but the intention is that these gifts serve the body of Christ. In other words, they are for the body of Christ (the church) – to build it up. They are not for your personal edification, but for the edification of the church. That is not to say you won’t benefit from using them. You certainly will, but your benefit is not the objective – and if it’s become your objective, then my guess is that you’re not serving the body, but your body. It comes with thoughts like, “What am I gonna get out of this?” or, “How will this take away from what I want to do?” For others, this attitude might be better reflected by the way you answer this question, “Why am I doing this?” If it’s because it makes you feel good, or because it makes you feel important, then I’d say it sounds like you’re using your spiritual gift to serve your body. Again, this isn’t to say there won’t be personal benefit. There will be. Not only do you store up for yourselves treasures in heaven as you use your spiritual gifts, but you also nurture a deeper love for the church, resulting in greater joy as you serve. Not only that, but you’ll also increase in spiritual maturity as you use your gifts. Case in point – my primary spiritual gift is that of preaching and teaching. Do I gain a personal benefit from using my spiritual gift? Certainly! I count myself doubly blessed! There is great joy in studying God’s Word and I am regularly refreshed by it as I prepare for each Sunday’s message. But that’s not why I study. I study for the benefit of the flock. Any gift used for your personal benefit rather than the benefit of the body prostitutes and perverts that gift. We are given gifts to serve others.

    As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving on another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God (1 Pet. 4:10).

  2. Spiritual gifts are not talents.
    This may be one of the more misunderstood elements regarding spiritual gifts, if not the most misunderstood. We hear it often. “I have the gift of music.” “I have the gift of singing.” “I have the gift of media,” and the list goes on but you get the idea. A spiritual gift is something that’s supernatural – you wouldn’t otherwise have it except that it was given to you by the Holy Spirit – hence why we call them “spiritual” gifts. They are also imparted solely by God’s grace – hence why we call them “gifts.” These two statements are further strengthened by the two words used in the New Testament for spiritual gifts. First, there’s pneumatikos which means “spiritual,” and has its root meaning from the word pneuma meaning “spirit.” This is how Paul uses the word in 1 Corinthians 12, “Now concerning spiritual (pneumatikos) gifts.” He then goes on to say, “Now there are a variety of gifts, but the same Spirit (pneuma),” and “the same Spirit (pneuma) works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills” (vs. 4, 11). Secondly, there’s charisma. This isn’t talking about that certain je ne sais quoi that certain people carry themselves with. It means “gift,” coming from the root charis, meaning “grace.” That being said, we should understand spiritual gifts as just that – spiritually bestowed gifts of grace for the specific purpose of serving the body of Christ. Where a talent is something you’ve been born with, a spiritual gift is something you were supernaturally given by the Holy Spirit upon your conversion. There might be overlap in their use, but they are distinct nevertheless. That means while you might be using a talent in your church, that does not necessarily mean you are using your spiritual gift(s) in your church. In fact, your talent might even be distracting you from appropriately using your spiritual gift.

    Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly (Rom. 12:6a).

So, each believer has been given spiritual gifts, and if we aren’t using them, it’s to the detriment of the body. All the members are important, because each has a gift to serve the church.

For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot says, “Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing  e? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body ,just as He desired… Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it (1 Cor. 12:14-18, 27).

Now, there are two categories of spiritual gifts in that exist in the church today – gifts related to teaching, and gifts related to serving. 1 Peter 4:11 says, “Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

Of course, the question at hand is obvious. Are you serving the body of Christ, utilizing the gifts you have been given by the grace of God to serve your church?

 

January 9, 2015

On Being Christlike

This is one of those articles that somewhat shocks or jolts you into thinking. For me, that means I have to go back and re-read it all slowly to get what the author is saying. This is from the articles (or “deviations”) page at Pathways International. To read at source, click the title below.

Maybe Christlikeness Isn’t What I’m Supposed to be After

For me, It’s enough of a challenge to do what Christ said to do, better yet to obey, or observe, all he commanded. (Matthew 28:19,20) (John 14:15) (1 John 5:3)  If I were to further pressure myself, at the urging of my own conscience or that of others to ‘become Christlike,’ or to ‘try to be more Christlike,’ then aren’t I trying to attain something different than Jesus intended?

Where do we get the idea that we’re supposed to ‘Christlike’ anyway?

Maybe it’s from one of these biblical passages:

1 John 2:6“Whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.”

1 Peter 2:21 “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.”

Ephesians 5:1-2“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

All of these passages involve walking as if the journey to becoming Christlike was exactly that, a journey.  To me, these passages and many others like them are not calling us to become Christlike, but to in every way, as much as we are able in the moment to take advantage of the opportunities to obey Christ’s commands that he has already given us and not create another set of sorcerous and unattainable requisites.

Perhaps the most commonly referred to set of verses that people use to call others to ‘be more Christlike,’ are these:

1 Corinthians 11:1“Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”

Ephesians 5:1“Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children.” (NLT)

1 Thessalonians 1:6“So you received the message with joy from the Holy Spirit in spite of the severe suffering it brought you. In this way, you imitated both us and the Lord.”

Again, ‘becoming Christlike’ does not seem to be the import of these passages. Rather, it seems that in our obedience and with Christ as our perfect example, that our actions or conduct in accordance with Christ’s revealed will in the Scriptures, should be followed as much as they are like His.

This can get a bit complicated with many speaking of being incarnational (Being Jesus in our contexts), but again, If pressed, I think many of those in the missional-incarnational conversation would say that the most common understanding of becoming ‘Christlike’ is not what they mean when they use the term.

A few questions;

1.  If you were tasked to defend ‘becoming Christlike’ from scripture, what texts would you use?

2.  Do you get the sense that urging others to ‘become more Christlike’ borders on being Pharisaical or overly religious?

3.  For you, has ‘becoming more Christlike’ been a fruitful endeavor or a weighty impediment? 

December 15, 2014

Church Planting: Finding the Person of Peace

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“Whenever you enter someone’s home, first say, ‘May God’s peace be on this house.’ If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you.” (Luke 10: 5 NLT and 6 NASB)

This book excerpt by David and Paul Watson from a chapter of Contagious Disciple Making showed up in an email last week.  I thought I would share it with all of you.

An old man sat on the edge of the road approaching the village. When he saw me (David), he started. He slowly stood up and came to meet me.

“Finally!” he exclaimed, “You are finally here.” Before I could say anything he took my arm and pulled me into the village.

“Here is the man I told you about,” he told people as he pulled me along. “Here is the man I dreamed about every night for the last twenty years. My dreams told me that we must listen to everything this man tells us.”

I shared the Gospel, and a church now meets in the village. God is at work in people’s hearts even before we walk into their lives. According to this man, God has told him twenty years earlier that I was coming to his village. Funny thing is, twenty years before that moment, I was studying to be an engineer. I had no desire and no call at that time to be a minister or a church planter.

Contagious Disciple MakingMaking disciples and planting churches is easier if you’re working with God and the people He has prepared rather than trying to force the Gospel on people who aren’t ready.

Engage a community and then find the Person of Peace. Actually, if we do things right, the Person of Peace finds us. Learning how to be found is the key.

The Person of Peace is not simply a good person or hospitable person or friendly person. There are many people in every culture who are good, hospitable, or friendly, but are not the Persons of Peace.

The Person of Peace is the one God has prepared to receive the Gospel into a community for the first time.

There are two major categories of Persons of Peace – some are Persons of Peace by nature, and some become Persons of Peace as a result of God’s direct intervention in their families or communities. There are numerous examples of both in the Bible. Cornelius and Lydia are representatives of the “Person of Peace by nature” category. The Philippian jailer and the Samaritan woman at the well are examples of those who became Persons of Peace through God’s direct intervention.

In all these examples, however, the disciple-makers were conspicuously spiritual people who lived out their faith without apology. This is the secret to finding the Person of Peace. We must live out our faith as conspicuously as possible. This is not about being religious. It’s about being spiritual.

God condemns being religious. Look at how Jesus related and spoke to the religious leaders of His day and how God spoke through His prophets in the Old Testament. Religion was not well thought of or supported by Scripture.

God has a tremendous amount to say to us about being spiritual – rightly relating to God and His creation through a personal relationship with Him. This is about faith and living it out in all circumstances regardless of consequences. It is about loving God and loving people. It is about obedient thinking and living. This kind of life draws in people who are interested in spiritual matters and opens the door to communities for establishing obedient bodies of believers whose Head is the Lord Jesus Christ.

We have to unconditionally live out a spiritual life to make evangelism and disciple-making happen.

So, in reality, finding the Person of Peace is more about us and the way we live than it is about finding the Person of Peace.

If we are the people we should be, those who want to discover Christ come to us. This is more than just living a good life. It’s living an obedient life that demonstrates the love of God and shares God’s Word in such a way that the lost become saved, the saved become obedient, and the obedient make more disciples for the Lord Jesus Christ, resulting in self-replicating disciples and churches of Jesus Christ.

Finding the Person of Peace radically increased the number of churches we planted. We saw disciple-making teams go from planting a few churches per year to planting dozens of churches every year, and in some cases, even hundreds of new churches every year.

The Person of Peace strategy was developed from a composite view of Jesus’ teaching when He sent out His disciples in Matthew 10, Luke 9, and Luke 10. Following are the commands Jesus gave to His disciples as He sent them out.

Matthew 10

  • As you go, preach this message: “The kingdom of heaven is near.” – Matthew 10:7
  • Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. – Matthew 10:8
  • Freely you have received, freely give. – Matthew 10:8
  • Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts; take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep. – Matthew 10:9-10
  • Whatever town or village you enter, search for some worthy person there and stay at his house until you leave. – Matthew 10:11
  • If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. – Matthew 10:14
  • I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. – Matthew 10:16

Luke 9 (Additional commands not contained in Matthew 10)

  • Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town. – Luke 9:4
  • This is different from staying only in the house of a worthy person.

Luke 10 (Additional commands not contained in Matthew 10 or Luke 9)

  • Go out by two ahead of Me to every town and place I am about to go. – adapted from Luke 10:1
  • Ask the Lord of the harvest… to send out workers into this harvest field. – Luke 10:2
  • Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. – Luke 10:3
  • Do not greet anyone on the road. – Luke 10:3
  • When you enter a house, first say, “Peace to this house.” If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you. Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move from house to house. – Luke 10:5-7
  • Heal the sick who are there and tell the, “The kingdom of God is near you.” – Luke 10:9

The Person of Peace teaching is an entry strategy to new communities. In the Great Commission Jesus commanded us to “go.” What do we do when we get to where we are going? We find the Person of Peace.

This is radically different from traditional disciple-making methods. In the Person of Peace strategy, the disciple-maker has one job – find the Person of Peace. This person may be from any walk of life, but he or she will welcome you, listen to your message, help you with your livelihood, and allow you to stay in his or her home and influence his or her family and the community for the sake of the Gospel.

The disciple-maker does not do any of the traditional things required by traditional disciple-making. He does not preach or teach. He does not hand out tracts or sell books or give away Bibles. He does not do mass rallies or healing services. Finding the Person of Peace starts with obedience to Christ and looks for where Christ is about to visit. This is evidenced by the presence of the Person of Peace. If there is no Person of Peace, then you move on.

The Person of Peace is found through prayer and service. In our experience, this service is sometimes miraculous, as Luke 10 describes. Often, though, service is as simple as feeding the hungry or helping someone fix a flat tire. In both cases, the disciple-maker freely gives him or herself. We are told to pray for harvesters. The Person of Peace will be this harvester. We equip this person to be the disciple-maker for his or her community. We are to be as wise as serpents. This means we are to anticipate Satan’s attacks and avoid them. We are to be as innocent as doves, gentle, and a threat to no one. We are to work or do business for our food, for a worker is worthy of earned wages. This avoids awkward questions regarding how we support ourselves. It also puts us at work when the rest of the community is at work, allowing us to meet people and have a reason to be in the community. All the ministries that Jesus commands us to do are about meeting the real and felt needs of the community. As we do this we are building relationships that allow us to talk about the Kingdom of God/heaven. The person who is responsive to this message becomes the focus of our attention. This focus is on the household, and we do not move around once the Person of Peace is found. We then make disciples of this family, who then takes on the responsibility of reaching their community for Christ.

We train disciple-makers to enter new communities after extensive prayer. When disciple-makers enter the community, they look for ways to meet the felt needs of the community through service, education, or business. As they meet these needs, they are meeting people and sharing openly about the Kingdom of God. When the Person of Peace reveals him or herself, the disciple-maker shifts the focus to the Family of Peace. The disciple-maker starts a Discovery Group to help the family discover on their own who God is and how they must relate to Him. The disciple-maker teaches them how to study the Word of God, but does not lead the Bible studies or do any of the preaching and teaching. The focus is on the family learning directly from God through His Word. The disciple-maker guides the direction of the study, but does not conduct the study, except to model the process a few times in the beginning.

When the family comes to Christ, the disciple-maker helps them to move from being a Bible study group to fulfilling all the requirements of church. A leader is identified and trained to lead the group and to establish more groups through the family’s network of friends and family.

Disciples make more disciples. Leaders equip more leaders. Groups establish more groups. Churches plant more churches.


 

Excerpted with permission from Contagious Disciple Making by David Watson and Paul Watson, copyright Thomas Nelson 2014.

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