Christianity 201

May 10, 2019

Limited Love

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” – Jesus in Acts 1:8

Okay.

Wait a minute, Samaria?

No way!

…If there are situations you would prefer not to get into, and types of people you would prefer not to help, perhaps your love is too limited…


Today’s devotional comes from a source we frequently link to at Thinking Out Loud but not here at C201. The website A Life Overseas is an online point of connection for people in missions for whom “home” means two (or more) places. Today’s writer is Ivy Chiu whose background includes Taiwan, traveling by ship to different countries with OM, and now, as she writes this, living in Zambia. Click the header below to read at source and then visit some of the other articles by her and other writers.

Touch the Untouchables

o love God and His people is the core of missions. That’s why missionaries leave their homes and move to places far away from anything familiar. Love is the reason for this crazy movement.

Well, that sounds all great and wonderful. But as I’ve entered long-term missions, I’ve realised it’s not always natural for me to love the people I serve. I’ve found it’s possible to be on the mission field and do all the work but at the same time, not love the people. Instead, I’m there simply to fix a problem. Trying to understand people’s situations, but not wanting to really relate to them. Standing a safe distance away from the ‘untouchable.’

As an Asian with a lot of straight and silky hair (that is hard to braid), African hairstyles were a completely new territory for me. I am always amazed by the endless creativeness and possibilities with African hair. I enjoy watching the ladies braiding their hair, but I never tried it myself until one day a girl called my name and asked me to help her take off her weave. I said yes without realizing what I was getting myself into. The other lady knew this was my first time, so she gave me a warning “This is going to take some time and she hasn’t washed her hair for a while. It’s a bit greasy and messy.” Immediately, I felt the dirt with my finger and I could smell the grease on the wig which had been used by multiple people. To be honest, I was not comfortable, but it was too late to say no. With clumsy fingers, I dug in.

If I had thought about it before, I would not have agreed to help. I would have wanted to keep myself clean. Dirty hair might not sound like a big deal. However, this shows that in some parts of me, I still wanted to stay in my comfort zone. I wanted to make sure the ‘mess’ of people would not affect me. I didn’t want to take the risk. Deep in my heart, I still separated myself from the people I served. I might be friends with them, but I was not willing to put myself in their shoes. But this is not the attitude of love.

I also started working with people who are HIV+. I thought as a missionary I was totally ready to love these people who are often pushed away from communities – I was there to serve the outcasts with the love of God. The reality struck me when I had a few people over to my house. I am not proud of my reaction to that first visit. I freaked out over the possibility that someone would cut their finger and bleed and I would somehow come into contact with it. I have received many teachings and trainings about HIV – I knew I just needed to be aware. Even with all the knowledge in my head, my heart still panicked. Love should be without fear and there I was, a missionary afraid to get close to the very people she was called to serve.

‘’While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” And immediately the leprosy left him.’’ – Luke 5:12-13 (NIV)

Lepers were some of the most untouchable people in the Bible. Everyone was afraid to get leprosy, a sign of uncleanliness, and so lepers were often isolated from the rest of the world. To me, the most amazing part of the story in Luke is not that Jesus had the ability to heal the leper, but that Jesus chose to touch him. From other scriptures, we know that Jesus could heal people via simply speaking – it was not necessary for Jesus to touch a person for healing. However, He touched the untouchable as the way of healing. Jesus didn’t stand far off and pray for the man. He reached out His hand without fear. He loved this man and knew what the leper desired most. Jesus didn’t care what other people might think and He truly acted out the belief that the man was worthy to be loved and accepted.

This story brings me back to my knees in prayer for God’s forgiveness and love. My love is too limited and I need God to help me overcome the fear. It’s by God’s grace I am able to serve and love the people I work with because I am too weak. I don’t want focus on the work instead of the people; creating a comfort zone within the mission field. I need to daily remind myself that love is the reason why I am here and it’s risky. I know there will be times when I want to run away and pray from a distance, but instead I need to run to God and ask for His power and love to fill me and help me reach out my hand to touch the untouchable.

May 31, 2016

Your Job Description: Missionary

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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We end the month with a return visit to I Already Am, the blog of Shane Pruitt, who was also kind enough to let us use one of his articles last week at Thinking Out Loud. Check out Blockbuster Churches in a Netflix World at our blog or at his.  For today’s article at source, click the title below.

If You’re a Christian, You’re a Missionary

To the surprise of most, the words “missions” and “missionary” are found nowhere in Scripture. However, the definition and concept of missions is a central theme in God’s Word.

A simple explanation of missions is that we have a glorious king who has rescued us into his kingdom, and now we get to love him, worship him, and tell the world about him so others will love, worship and share him.”

So, what is a missionary? Often, the image that comes to mind are those “superstar” Christians that have their pictures on the back walls of our churches, who get on planes and wear cargo-pants; coming back once a year to offer slide-show presentations. In no way should we belittle that view of missionaries. Thank God for those who surrender their lives to share the love of Jesus on foreign soil. They definitely are missionaries, but they’re also not the only ones.

Believe it or not, Wikipedia gives one of the best definitions I’ve found of missional living: “In Christianity, missional living takes place when the believer adopts the posture, thinking, behaviors and practices of a missionary in order to engage others with the gospel message.” Unfortunately, the word “missional” has become such a misused and misunderstood buzzword in the last decade. But, at its core, the term emphasizes the truth that ALL Christians should be involved in the Great Commission of Jesus Christ, not only a select group of “professional” missionaries.

Scripture is clear that all Christians are missionaries. Here’s why:

Salvation is a call to be a missionary. The following statement can’t biblically exist in the minds of Christians: “God has called me to salvation but not to missions.” The call to a relationship with the king is also a call to tell the world about this same king! And, this should make us extremely joyful. After all, thank God that there is more to being a Christian than getting ‘saved,’ sitting on our blessed assurances on padded pews, going to a bunch of potluck dinners, waiting on the Rapture Bus to swoop down and pick us all up to the “good ol’ by-and-by”.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8-10)

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:17-21)

The beautiful truth that comes from these Scriptures is the teaching that We’re not just called FROM something; we’re also called TO something!”

Yes, we’re saved from sin, hell, God’s wrath and the kingdom of darkness; but we’re also called to the kingdom of God, community, the church and the mission of God! Missions is one of the reasons we were adopted into the Family of God. As believers, we cannot be selfish with the gospel. We must share it with the world, which includes our schools, jobs, families, neighborhoods and the nations. How and where we are missionaries will be revealed by the Spirit of God, but the fact that we are missionaries has been declared once and for all in God’s Word. It’s now our purpose, passion and point of living to tell the world about Jesus.

Missionaries carry with them a message. God told the prophet Isaiah, “Go and say (Isaiah 6:9)”. The apostle Paul told the Corinthians, “…entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:19b – 20). Therefore, any kind of missions that doesn’t have a verbal gospel proclamation is most likely not the missio dei—mission of Godbut rather temporary service projects. There is nothing wrong with painting fences, planting gardens or handing out sandwiches. However, if there is no message tied to it, let’s not call it missions. Those efforts are no different than what many other clubs, organizations or philanthropists do.

True, biblical missions uses avenues like social justice, mercy ministries and service-work to ultimately point people to the savior named Jesus. It’s not very loving to let someone live with physical hunger when we have it within our means to feed them; however, it’s also not loving to let someone live with spiritual hunger when we have within our mouths the message of life.

Hell is just as hungry for the souls of those with full stomachs as it is for those with empty stomachs. Here is what true care for someone looks like: we give a sandwich out of love while also telling them about the Bread of Life out of love.

“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Romans 10:14-15)

The church reformer Martin Luther said, “It wouldn’t matter if Jesus died a thousand times if no one heard about it.” This is a haunting reality that should motivate us all to realize and remember that missions is not one of the many ministries of the local church, nor is it a passion and calling of “some.” The mission of God is the very reason the church exists! If you’re a Christian, you’re a missionary. So, go and tell the world about your king.

December 28, 2015

Hudson Taylor Quotations

Hudson Taylor

Phil 2:16 NIV holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain. 17But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all.

Romans 12:1 The Voice Brothers and sisters, in light of all I have shared with you about God’s mercies, I urge you to offer your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice to God, a sacred offering that brings Him pleasure; this is your reasonable, essential worship.

As I’ve been watching the live stream of the Urbana 2015 Conference (continuing all week) I couldn’t help notice that the keynote speaker, Dr. Patrick Fung, is constantly quoting Hudson Taylor, and I realized we’ve never done a quotations piece from him here.

For those who don’t know him, Wikipedia supplies us with this:

James Hudson Taylor (Chinese: 戴德生; 21 May 1832 – 3 June 1905) was a British Protestant Christian missionary to China and founder of the China Inland Mission (CIM, now OMF International). Taylor spent 51 years in China. The society that he began was responsible for bringing over 800 missionaries to the country who began 125 schools and directly resulted in 18,000 Christian conversions, as well as the establishment of more than 300 stations of work with more than 500 local helpers in all eighteen provinces.

Taylor was known for his sensitivity to Chinese culture and zeal for evangelism. He adopted wearing native Chinese clothing even though this was rare among missionaries of that time. Under his leadership, the CIM was singularly non-denominational in practice and accepted members from all Protestant groups, including individuals from the working class, and single women as well as multinational recruits. Primarily because of the CIM’s campaign against the Opium trade, Taylor has been referred to as one of the most significant Europeans to visit China in the 19th Century. Historian Ruth Tucker summarizes the theme of his life:

No other missionary in the nineteen centuries since the Apostle Paul has had a wider vision and has carried out a more systematized plan of evangelizing a broad geographical area than Hudson Taylor.

Take some time to dwell on these, and then leave a comment if one particularly impressed you.


Christ is either Lord of all, or He is not Lord at all.


The intense activities of our times may lead to zeal in service, to the neglect of personal communion; but such neglect will not only lessen the value of the service, but tend to incapacitate us for the highest service.


I have found that there are three stages in every great work of God: first, it is impossible, then it is difficult, then it is done.


I am no longer anxious about anything, as I realize the Lord is able to carry out His will, and His will is mine. It makes no matter where He places me, or how. That is rather for Him to consider than for me; for in the easiest positions He must give me His grace, and in the most difficult, His grace is sufficient.


I used to ask God to help me. Then I asked if I might help Him. I ended up by asking God to do His work though me.


Many Christians estimate difficulty in the light of their own resources, and thus they attempt very little and they always fail. All giants have been weak men who did great things for God because they reckoned on His power and presence to be with them.


Do not have your concert first, and then tune your instrument afterwards. Begin the day with the Word of God and prayer, and get first of all into harmony with Him.


To me it seemed that the teaching of God’s Word was unmistakably clear: ‘Owe no man anything.’ To borrow money implied to my mind a contradiction of Scripture–a confession that God had withheld some good thing, and determination to get for ourselves what He had not given.


Fruit-bearing involves cross-bearing.


Argument almost always leaves behind a sore feeling in the heart of the one who has been worsted. By loving teaching, by Christ-like living, we are to win this people for our Lord. They do not understand what disinterested love and unselfishness mean: you are to go and live it among them.


The good works of the unsaved may indeed benefit their fellow-creatures; but until life in Christ has been received, they cannot please God.


God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supplies.


sources: Christian Quotes, GoodReads, BrainyQuote, SearchQuotes, LifeQuotes,   OMF.org

 

November 28, 2015

Go. Serve. Love.

Today we look at another blog that is indexed with Faithful Bloggers. Morgan Murphy blogs at Look Upon The Light, and posted this in September. To read more click the title below, and then click the “home” button at the top to look around at other articles.

Why I Believe in Going to Haiti (or Wherever)

I leave in a couple of days for a trip to Haiti. I have been out of the country a couple of other times for mission trips, and every time before I go the responses I get about my upcoming plans are generally the same:

A) “That’s cool, but I could never do that.”
B) “That’s good and all, but there’s people here that need help, too.”
C) “Why would you want to go there?”
D) All of the above.

So here’s why I believe in going to Haiti (or wherever)…

I believe with all my heart in the Great Commission. Jesus’s last words should be our first priority. In Matthew 28, He says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always to the end of the age.” There is plenty of work yet to be done, and not enough willing to just go. We have to start taking Jesus for his word.

I believe that someone can’t do everything, but everyone can do something. It is impossible for a single person to go to every place that needs the Gospel. As followers of Christ, we are all called to do something. Every person’s calling won’t take them across the country or around the world, but we all have a mission field. It might be the classroom, hospital, football field, study group, office, gym, wherever…the opportunities are endless. The important thing is to discover what you love and use your passion to fulfill your potential and God-given purpose.

I would rather be in dangerI believe in being dangerous to the kingdom of darkness. In 2 Corinthians 11 and 12, Paul talks about things he has suffered for the sake of the Gospel. He was stoned, beaten, imprisoned, and shipwrecked. He was in danger from rivers, robbers, his own people, Gentiles, the city, the wilderness, the sea, sleepless nights, and more (see verses 23-28). Let me tell you…I would rather be in danger while chasing Jesus than safe while chasing the American Dream. I don’t believe in playing it safe when something as serious as eternity is on the line.

I believe that our God is global. John 3:16 says that God so loved this world. It does not say that God so loved the United States of America. We tend to be really ethnocentric, but the love Jesus has for all of us transcends any and all borders. It reminds me of the children’s Bible song that says red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight…it really is true. I am aware that there are people in America that need help. There are people in our own backyards that need Jesus, and we should treat these people no different than Haitians or Ugandans or Indians or whoever. We can’t get so caught up in the ethnicity or geographical location that we neglect the status of the heart or knowledge of the Gospel.

I believe in the sovereignty of the Lord. With Him, I have everything. Without Him, I have nothing. He will never misguide or mislead me. They say that the safest place to be is in the center of God’s will, and I so believe that. If Haiti is where I am supposed to be, then I am safer there than here. People die in motor vehicles accidents every day, but that doesn’t keep us from getting in our cars every morning. We have to stop letting fear dictate how we live our lives. Fear is not of the Lord. I trust the Lord with every bit of my heart, so I can rest assured that He is always with me…whatever happens will be okay as long as I know I am following the Lord. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21).

All of this and more is why I believe in going to Haiti. Thomazeau, Haiti will be my mission field. When I get home, things will be different. My mission field is usually the intensive care unit where I am a nurse. The key is to go with the flow and serve wherever the Lord leads you. Be the hands and feet of Jesus however and whenever possible. Let someone know that they are loved and chosen and accepted. Step up and do your part because we are living in critical times…the possibilities and opportunities are endless. Whatever your calling, let others see the wonder of Christ in you. That is what will make all the difference.

So wherever the Lord may lead you…in your neighborhood or around the world…

Go.
Serve.
Love.

Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send our laborers into his harvest.” Matthew 9:37-38

 

September 6, 2015

The Value of a Soul

And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?
 Matthew 16:26 NLT

When Bill Hybels founded Willow Creek in Chicago’s Northwest suburbs, one if his guiding principles was “lost people matter to God.” Many of the early ‘pioneers’ of Christianity in North America and Western Europe were consumed by this principle, but often today it is rare to run into people who have such passion.

Henry is a man who would feel absolutely naked if he left the house without a couple of gospel presentation booklets in his shirt pocket. He is driven by the possibility of making contact with people each and every day to share his faith, and I believe that because he is prepared, the opportunities happen.

At the website Go To The Bible, there is a long exposition of today’s key verse. This is just the first point:

The Soul Is So Valuable Because of What Man Is and God’s Purpose for Man

When God had spoken the worlds into being, then when He had prepared this earth with all of its living creatures and swarming life in the seas and the birds that fly in the air and animals and creeping things that live upon the earth, He looked upon it all and saw it was good.

But God was not satisfied. God is love, and love wants an object like unto itself upon which it can bestow its affection. His great Father-heart was hungering for a family of children, so He said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” And the Scripture says, “In the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”

The crowning work of all God’s matchless creation is a being from His own hand into whom He has breathed the breath of His own life and who has become a living soul in His image with a capacity to love like God and return the love of God, to respond to and receive that matchless love; with a capacity to think His thoughts, to live His life, to hold fellowship with Him, to walk in communion with Him, to live with Him.

We see God coming down in the cool of the day to walk with the man whom He has made. There is a blessed and holy and wonderful fellowship between the two.

The purpose God had in the creation of man was not only to have a being like unto Himself who could appreciate and respond to His love and upon whom He could lavish His affections and with whom He could have fellowship, but His further purpose was that this man should be the lord of creation and that one day he should reign with Him and share His glory throughout an endless eternity.

What a glorious purpose God had in the creation of man! In the face of that, many men will deliberately turn their backs upon such a destiny, deliberately defeat the purpose of God in their lives and choose to follow the Devil instead! They will be deceived by him and be dragged from that glorious purpose of God into endless night, separated from God. They will be defeated in their lives and rob God of the glory that rightly belongs to Him in every life.

That is why Jesus said, “What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” He misses that infinite, loving, glorious purpose of God in his life and forfeits the opportunity to share with Him His glory through eternity.

What got me thinking about this today? I was reading about the eleven principles that guided missionary William Carey (1761-1834) in his life devoted to missions. You can read the list for yourself at the blog A Twisted Crown of Thorns.

  1. Set an infinite value on immortal souls.
  2. Gain all the information you can about “the snares and delusions in which these heathens are held.”
  3. Abstain from all English manners which might increase prejudice against the gospel.
  4. Watch for all opportunities for doing good, even when you are tired and hot.
  5. Make Christ crucified the great subject of your preaching.
  6. Earn the people’s confidence by your friendship.
  7. Build up the souls that are gathered.
  8. Turn the work over to “the native brethren” as soon as possible.
  9. Work with all your might to translate the Bible into their languages. Build schools to this end.
  10. Stay alert in prayer, wrestling with God until he “famish these idols and cause the heathen to experience the blessedness that is in Christ.”
  11. Give yourself totally to this glorious cause. Surrender your time, gifts, strength, families, the very clothes you wear.

We need more people today who will have this same, all consuming passion for the lost.

Luke 15:3 Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

 

January 30, 2015

Jerusalem, Judea and the Uttermost Places on Earth

John 4:9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

A few years ago I had an interesting conversation after church.

The pastor had quoted the verse we commonly refer to as “The Great Commission;” the verse which reads,

Acts 1:8 NLT But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

The person who spoke to me has a huge compassion for Israel and is willing to share this passion with any who want to know more about the various facets of how modern Israel fits into Old Testament history, New Testament studies, evangelism and missions, eschatology, etc. We’ve had some great interactions, and I’ve learned much about The Holy Land from our conversations and various items she’s given me to read.

She suggested to me that perhaps the passage in Acts 1:8 might actually be taken most literally. That we should be evangelists in Jerusalem.

I told her that neither those we call the “church fathers” nor modern commentators have interpreted this passage that way. I mean, it’s an interesting take on the passage, and certainly in first century context it is correct; but we tend to read their commission into our commission and when we do so, we tend to think of Jerusalem as the place where we’re standing or sitting right now. The place we call home. My Jerusalem is the close family, co-workers, immediate neighbors, etc. who in a sense, only I can reach.

Perhaps you grew up in a church where it was diagrammed something like this:

Jerusalem Judea Samaria traditional interpretation

But people do read scripture differently, and many passages that seem straight-forward are subject to different understandings. So in Acts and Paul’s epistles, my friend at church sees Paul’s consuming drive to bring the Gospel to the Jews; whereas I read Acts and am struck by how Paul was compelled to go to Rome against all odds. (To be fair, both elements are present; “to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”)

Driving home, my wife pointed out that a most-literal reading of the passage would be difficult since Samaria no longer exists and the “end of the earth” (ESV and NKJV) or the even more archaic “ends of the earth” (HCSB and strangely, NLT, above) no longer applies to an earth we know is round and has no ends. (I like the NASB here, “the remotest parts of the earth.” Good translation and very missional.)

I’m not sure I agreed with the pastor’s take on Samaria, however. He chose Toronto, a city about an hour from where we live, as our “modern Samaria” because of its cosmopolitan nature; because it’s a gateway to so many cultures impacting the rest of the world. Truly when Jesus met the Samaritan woman in John chapter 4, it was a clash of cultures in several ways at once.

But Samaria would not be seen that way by those receiving the great commission. In Judea they will like me and receive but in Samaria we have a mutual distrust and dislike for each other. Samaria is the place you don’t want to go to. Your Samaria may be geographically intertwined in your Jerusalem or your Judea. Your Samaria may be at the remotest part the earth and it’s your Samaria because it’s at the ends of the earth.

Your Samaria may be the guy in the next cubicle that you just don’t want to talk to about your faith, but feel a strong conviction both that you need to and he needs you to. Your Samaria may be the next door neighbor whose dogs run all over your lawn doing things that dogs do. Your Samaria may be the family that runs the convenience store where you rent DVDs who are of a faith background that you associate with hatred and violence. Your Samaria may be atheists, abortionists, gays, or just simply people who are on the opposite side of the fence politically. Your Samaritan might just be someone who was sitting across the aisle in Church this weekend.

And perhaps, just to make things interesting, with its heat, humidity and propensity toward violence, perhaps your Samaria actually is modern-day Jerusalem.


  • Some of today’s article appeared previously in October, 2014 incorporated in a look at how this view of Samaria would have influenced the original hearers of The Parable of the Good Samaritan story.  The full article was originally published in January 2011 at Thinking Out Loud.

December 5, 2013

Daily Devotional Writing

Today I decided to share my heart with readers on some of the struggles of putting C201 together, but in the process discovered a number of interesting Biblical principles.

Luke 14:28 in The Voice Bible:

Just imagine that you want to build a tower. Wouldn’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to be sure you have enough to finish what you start?

When you embark on a project like this — writing every day of the week including weekends — it’s important to count the cost of what you’re getting into. I believe strongly that weekends can be a very lonely, depressing time for some people, so at various times at Thinking Out Loud, I actually added an extra post on the days that many bloggers were taking the weekend off. So the commitment here has been 7-days a week, though sometimes I do feel crowded into a box, even if I don’t actually write each post. (Sometimes the editing and selection process is more time-consuming than if I write something original.)

It’s important to know that God’s wants joyful service from us. He is not more blessed, if we do something that is drudgery. His desire for relationship precludes anything that would push us away; He longs to draw us close.

II Cor. 9:7 says:

Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (NIV)

  • You shouldn’t give if you don’t want to. You shouldn’t give because you are forced to. (NIrV)
  • They shouldn’t give with hesitation or because of pressure. (CEB)
  • But don’t feel sorry that you must give and don’t feel that you are forced to give. (CEV)
  •  Giving grows out of the heart—otherwise, you’ve reluctantly grumbled “yes” because you felt you had to or because you couldn’t say “no,” (Voice)

So why is what should be joyful service sometimes unpleasant? There are host of reasons why you might be doing it wrong, but I believe one of these is because sometimes you are doing it alone, when God’s plan is partnership.

Mark 6:7 and Luke 10:1

Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.

After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go.

But it’s important to note that the disciples also brought back stories of results from their mission trip. I love how The Message describes it:

12-13 Then they were on the road. They preached with joyful urgency that life can be radically different; right and left they sent the demons packing; they brought wellness to the sick, anointing their bodies, healing their spirits.

But not all missions bear fruit instantly. Sometimes we never hear of the results. When you are posting daily messages online that you know are being visited by hundreds of people each day, you don’t always know who those people are. This is not the same as pastoral ministry where you have community. The search results show that people are seeking information on different topics and may only visit here once. There may be people who only visit your church one time, but that time is pivotal and life-changing. Stories of foreign missions are filled with endings where the missionary thought that there had been no impact, only to find out years later how their ministry had affected lives; only to see the fruit of that ministry reaped a generation later.

Perhaps that’s why Jesus established the tw0-by-two pattern. Christian ministry is often a lonely vocation. Many pastors say they don’t have close friends or close relationships among their parishioners. Other pastors are moved on to new locations every 3-4 years, so deep friendships are not afforded the opportunity to bloom.

(Is this a good place to mention I’m always looking for regular contributors who can either write or source articles that fit the pattern here at C201?)

Consider what Jesus said about fruit in John 15:

  • Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.
  • “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.
  • When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.
  • 16 You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit…

If this ministry blesses you, please let me know. If your pastor’s sermons bless you, tell them. If a small group leader’s teachings help and encourage you, let them know.

If you are in leadership and find yourself feeling lonely or unfruitful, here is a verse to encourage you from I Cor. 15:58:

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

April 23, 2013

By The Rivers of Babylon

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There are many verses that are used in sermons on music in the Church, but this one rarely comes up in a discussion on worship:

Beside the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept as we thought of Jerusalem. We put away our lyres, hanging them on the branches of the willow trees. For there our captors demanded a song of us. Our tormentors requested a joyful hymn: “Sing us one of those songs of Jerusalem!” But how can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land?

Psalm 137: 1-4 NLT

“C’mon. Sing us one of your camp songs. Sing us some Chris Tomlin. Let’s hear some classic Maranatha! Music choruses. How about some Hillsongs? Know any Graham Kendrick?”

That would be the modern equivalent(s). I think it’s interesting that they were taunted in terms of their music. Made to sing at a time they didn’t feel like singing.

The last verse really states the challenge facing us in these times:

But how can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land?

Turf was important to the Jewish nation. Land was history. Land was security. Land was a medium of exchange. When you are people of a land, a territory, a nation; captivity doesn’t fit well. Finding yourself on someone else’s turf is like wearing someone else’s clothing. Going by someone else’s name. Speaking someone else’s language.

Some days you don’t feel like singing. Some days it just feels all wrong.

But then:

If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill upon the harp.

Psalm 137:5 NLT

It’s like a giant “nevertheless.”

Spiritually speaking, as Christians we live in an occupied territory. The challenge of singing the Lord’s song in a foreign land is our challenge.

Nevertheless…


Bonus item today:

The church I grew up had a huge missions conference every year in which every available bit of wall space was covered with banners sporting all manner of quotations and slogans.

The one that is most memorable is:

Why should anyone hear the gospel twice before everyone has heard it once?

I’ve often thought about that. It does seem a bit unfair that North Americans experience so much exposure to the gospel message while in other parts of the world people are still waiting to hear this message for the first time.

Sometimes it amazes me that anyone in any part of the world ever gets to hear the gospel. What I mean is this: It is truly amazing that such a message of good news even exists.

Philip Yancey quotes Walter Wink saying:

If Jesus had never lived we never would have been able to invent him.

I would add:

If this gospel of grace, forgiveness, atonement and justification had never been invented, no fiction writer, no playwright, no artist  would have ever been able to compose it or conceive of it.

That’s good news.

When with the ransomed in glory
His face I at last I shall see
‘Twil be my joy through the ages
To sing of his love for me.

August 24, 2012

Essentials and Non-Essentials

NIV Eph. 4: 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called ; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all…

11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Yesterday we looked at five areas of Christian doctrine that will always contain an element of mystery.  Today I want to look at five areas where we have potential for unity.  In March of 1998, Rev. Dr. Arnold Cook was the president of the Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada and wrote this story:

It was 1990. The despotic dictator of Romania had been toppled late in 1989. In domino fashion other Eastern European countries overthrew Communism. Dr. Mariam Charter and I were part of two probe teams which the Alliance sent to check out possible ministries in four of these countries. Agenda? How do we introduce ourselves to leaders in these countries who have never heard of the Alliance? Amazingly within 45 minutes we agreed on the following points:

  1. The centrality of Christ
  2. A strong commitment to missions
  3. Focus on the work of the Spirit
  4. A commitment to church planting
  5. No position on Calvinism versus Arminianism

Christian leaders we met were incredulous that a denomination existed which took a middle stance on such issues as the security of the believer and the charismatic controversy.

The C&MA in Canada is known for what is called “middle ground theology.” People in Canada are often just as incredulous as the people in Eastern Europe when they learn that a growing Evangelical denomination permits some variance at the pastoral or congregational level on what others consider hot button issues.  Dr. Cook goes on to name a few:

Historical theological issues: e.g. Reformed theology versus the holiness tradition. Both streams have contributed to the formation of the Alliance.

Prophetic aspects of the end times: e.g. The chronological timetable of Christ’s return related to the Great Tribulation. We have focused on His coming, relating it to the completion of world evangelization. (Matt 24: 14; 28: 16-20)

Faith healing controversy: e.g. Is healing in the atonement? What about faith healers? We stand squarely on healing in the atonement and simply teach and practice divine healing for today.

Charismatic controversy: e.g. Are all the spiritual gifts for today or did some or all case with the Apostolic church? We are out in the middle, believing in all the gifts for today, but not considering ourselves charismatics.

Church governments: e.g. Are we Congregational, Presbyterian or Episcopalian? We are a hybrid; akin to Presbyterian with representative government, but having a healthy congregational dimension.

Women in ministry/leadership: Most evangelicals adhere to one of three positions: hierarchical (no public ministry); complementarian (many ministry roles excluding eldership); or egalitarian (no limitations to leadership roles). Historically, we have held to the complementarian position, where women have ministered with great blessing.  [Note: This year the C&MA in Canada moved to permit women as elders.]

Why this middle stance?

An outsider could perceive us as spineless. Proponents of the Canadian conservatism theory might label us “typical Canadians” who cross the road to get to the middle! Historically this stance has been rooted in strong Biblical convictions versus compromise. Our theology and ethos have been forged by the centrality of Christ. This passion for our all-sufficient Christ has relegated every other good cause to secondary status.

Forty-four autonomous national churches form the Alliance World Fellowship. What holds these culturally diverse churches together? It appears to be the Fourfold Gospel, i.e. Christ our Savior, Sanctifier, Healer and Coming King. No one is sure where it originated. Some feel it is simplistic. But it does fulfill the criteria for an effective mission statement: i.e. It’s short, understandable by a sixth grader and repeatable at gun-point!

“Middle ground stance” — there must be a more dynamic term. Thanks to one of our pastors I have found it: The Radical Middle. Why “radical”? The tendency of Christian movements is to polarize. Few find the middle ground. Even the points of the Fourfold Gospel have never been fine-tuned theologically. Why? How could we justify energy spent fine-tuning details of Christ’s second coming when a third of the world has never heard of his first coming.

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.

May 21, 2012

William Booth Quotations

This seemed to be a good fit with today’s post at Thinking Out Loud on the Missional mandate of The Salvation Army, of which William Booth is the founder.


“We are a salvation people – this is our speciality – getting saved and keeping saved, and then getting somebody else saved, and then getting saved ourselves more and more until full salvation on earth makes the heaven within, which is finally perfected by the full salvation without, on the other side of the river.”


“While women weep, as they do now, I’ll fight; while children go hungry, as they do now I’ll fight; while men go to prison, in and out, in and out, as they do now, I’ll fight; while there is a drunkard left, while there is a poor lost girl upon the streets, while there remains one dark soul without the light of God, I’ll fight, I’ll fight to the very end!”


“Look! Don’t be deceived by appearances — men and things are not what they seem. All who are not on the rock are in the sea!”


“But what is the use of preaching the Gospel to men whose whole attention is concentrated upon a mad, desperate struggle to keep themselves alive?”


‘Not called!’ did you say? ‘Not heard the call,’ I think you should say. Put your ear down to the Bible, and hear him bid you go and pull sinners out of the fire of sin. Put your ear down to the burdened, agonized heart of humanity, and listen to its pitiful wail for help. Go stand by the gates of hell, and hear the damned entreat you to go to their father’s house and bid their brothers and sisters, and servants and masters not to come there. And then look Christ in the face, whose mercy you have professed to obey, and tell him whether you will join heart and soul and body and circumstances in the march to publish his mercy to the world.”


“I must assert in the most unqualified way that it is primarily and mainly for the sake of saving the soul that I seek the salvation of the body.”


“A man’s labor is not only his capital but his life. When it passes it returns never more. To utilize it, to prevent its wasteful squandering, to enable the poor man to bank it up for use hereafter, this surely is one of the most urgent tasks before civilization.”


“Secular music, do you say, belongs to the devil? Does it? Well, if it did I would plunder him for it, for he has no right to a single note of the whole seven. Every note, and every strain, and every harmony is divine, and belongs to us.”


“In answer to your inquiry, I consider that the chief dangers which confront the coming century will be religion without the Holy Ghost, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration, politics without God, and heaven without hell.”


“We are not sent to minister to a congregation and be content if we keep things going. We are sent to make war…and to stop short of nothing but the subjugation of the world to the sway of the Lord Jesus.”


“I want to see a new translation of the Bible into the hearts and conduct of living men and women.”


“No sort of defense is needed for preaching outdoors, but it would take a very strong argument to prove that a man who has never preached beyond the walls of his meetinghouse has done his duty. A defense is required for services within buildings rather than for worship outside of them.”


“Faith and works should travel side-by-side, step answering to step, like the legs of men walking. First faith, and then works; and then faith again, and then works again — until they can scarcely distinguish which is the one and which is the other.”


“You must pray with all your might. That does not mean saying your prayers, or sitting gazing about in church or chapel with eyes wide open while someone else says them for you. It means fervent, effectual, untiring wrestling with God…This kind of prayer be sure the devil and the world and your own indolent, unbelieving nature will oppose. They will pour water on this flame.”


General William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, once told his students, “If I had my choice, I wouldn’t send you to school, I’d send you to Hell for five minutes, and you’d come back real soul winners.”


Sources: SA UK SiteThink Exist, Christian Quotes, Great Quotes, Quoteland, Our Church, Sermon Central


O Boundless Salvation!

O boundless salvation! deep ocean of love,
O fulness of mercy, Christ brought from above.
The whole world redeeming, so rich and so free,
Now flowing for all men, come, roll over me!

My sins they are many, their stains are so deep.
And bitter the tears of remorse that I weep;
But useless is weeping; thou great crimson sea,
Thy waters can cleanse me, come, roll over me!

My tempers are fitful, my passions are strong,
They bind my poor soul and they force me to wrong;
Beneath thy blest billows deliverance I see,
O come, mighty ocean, and roll over me!

Now tossed with temptation, then haunted with fears,
My life has been joyless and useless for years;
I feel something better most surely would be
If once thy pure waters would roll over me.

O ocean of mercy, oft longing I’ve stood
On the brink of thy wonderful, life-giving flood!
Once more I have reached this soul-cleansing sea,
I will not go back till it rolls over me.

The tide is now flowing, I’m touching the wave,
I hear the loud call of the mighty to save;
My faith’s growing bolder, delivered I’ll be;
I plunge ‘neath the waters, they roll over me.

And now, hallelujah! the rest of my days
Shall gladly be spent in promoting his praise
Who opened his bosom to pour out this sea
Of boundless salvation for you and for me.
    
William Booth (1829-1912)

January 20, 2012

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden

It is a common idea that the pathway of faith is strewn with flowers…

Today’s post is from the website of Bruce Olson, author of Bruchko, considered by many to be the top of the list of missions and/or biographical books currently available.  Olson spent his life living among the Motilone Indians in Columbia and Venezuela.  Today he lives in Florida. This article appears on his website under the title Perfect Through Suffering.

It is a common idea that the pathway of faith is strewn with flowers and that when God interposes in the life of His people, He does it on a scale so grand that He lifts us out from the plane of difficulties.  The actual fact, however, is that the real experience is quite contrary.  It is only when we come to trust God that we meet with trials and difficulties.  The story of the Bible is one of alternate trial and triumph in the case of everyone of the cloud of witness from Abel down to the latest martyr.

            Look at the patriarchal story.  Abraham went out, believing God to meet the promise of a glorious inheritance, but the first thing he found was famine and desolation in the land of promise, compelling him to go down to Egypt for his very subsistence.  His whole life was a story of narrow places and painful testing, and every blessing was wrung, as it were, from the very jaws of difficulty and natural impossibility.

            Still more was Isaac’s, a suffering life.  Petty trials marked the whole pathway of the patriarch.  His very wife was selected for him by another.  His favorite son became disappointment.  The very wells he dug in the desert became a source of jealous contention, and he was pushed from place to place, until his steppings were marked by the very names which recall only associations of pain and sorrow.

            Jacob’s life was one long scene of testing, and looking back even from the sunlight of his closing and happier days, he could only say in retrospect, “Few and evil have the days of the years of my life been.”

            Above all the patriarchal family, Joseph seemed born for trial.  The opening vision of his faith was bright as heaven, but soon it was darkly clouded by treachery and crime on the part of his very brethren, long years of exile, ignominy, unjust suspicion and protracted suspense until, at last, “the iron entered into his soul,” and his deliverance, when it came was like Paul’s escape from shipwreck, through the most trifling providential incidents.

            So Moses passed through the narrow place of difficulty and bitter trial, and his very choice is described as a lot of “affliction with the people of God.”

            David, Israel’s great king, and Christ’s glorious type, even after he was promised the throne and anointed king, was hunted as a partridge in the mountains of Judah, and compelled to flee from refuge to refuge in the caves and deserts, and narrowly saved again and again, as Job expresses it, “by the skin of his teeth.”

            But need we go further than the great Example Himself, whose name is the “Man of Sorrows,” whose life was made “perfect through sufferings“; who in very infancy was compelled to flee from Herod’s bloody hand to Egypt for protection, and who could not be spared by bitter agony of the garden and the cross in the accomplishing of our redemption?

            Like Him, the great Apostle Paul was more than anything else an example of how much a child of God can suffer without being crushed and broken in spirit. The apostle seems to have been set forth as a “gazing stock to angels and to men,” of the possibility of human endurance sustained by the grace of God, and many of his trials were just like this last scene in the book of Acts, so petty, so slow, so tedious, so commonplace, that there is nothing of the color of romance about them, but they are more like a scramble for life.

            The very first experience after his conversion was of this character.  On account of his testifying for the Lord Jesus in Damascus, he was hunted down and obliged to flee for his life.  But we behold no heavenly chariot transporting the holy apostle amid thunderbolts of flame from the reach of his foes, but “through a window in a basket” was he let down over the walls of Damascus, and so escaped their hands.  In an old clothes basket, like a bundle of laundry, the servant of Jesus Christ was dropped from the window and ignominiously fled from the hate of his foes.

            So again, we find him left for months in lonely dungeons; we see him walking on foot along the shores of the Aegean Sea; again we find him telling of his watchings, his fastings, and his desertion by friends, of his brutal and shameful beatings before an insulting rabble; and here, even after God has promised, by a heavenly vision, to deliver him, we see him for days left to toss upon a stormy sea, obliged to stand guard over the treacherous seamen, and tell them that their presence is indispensable for the escape of the passengers.  And, at last, when the deliverance comes, their is no heavenly galley sailing from the skies to take off the noble prisoner; there is no angel from walking upon the waters and stilling the raging breakers; there is no supernatural sign of the transcendent miracle that is being wrought; but one is compelled to seize a spar, and another a floating plank, and another climb on a fragment of the wreck, and another to strike out and swim for his life, and so the strange commonplace story reads, “some on boards, and some on broken pieces of the ship.  And so it came to pass, that they escaped all safe to land.”

            Beloved, here is God’s pattern for our own lives.  Here is a gospel of help for people that have to live in this everyday world with real and ordinary surroundings, and a thousand practical conditions which have to be met in a thoroughly practical way.  God’s promises and God’s providences do not lift us out of the plane of common sense and commonplace trial, but it is through these very things that faith is perfected, and that God loves to interweave the golden threads of His love along with the warp and woof of our everyday experience.  It is most helpful to us to realize that we have a God who thus comes into the most common place things, and that it is not evidence that He has failed us if He allows ten thousand difficulties on every side to throng us, and deliver us in answer to prayer at last, by the very narrowest margin, and through straits so narrow that we seem to be barely delivered at the very point of disaster and from the very jaws of destruction.

~Bruce Olson

November 14, 2011

Guess What? You’re Going on a Missions Trip!

This story of the disciples first mission trip appeared at the blog Digging The Word under the title, Focus on Jesus…

Luke 9: 1-6  One day Jesus called together his twelve disciples and gave them power and authority to cast out demons and to heal all diseases. 2 Then he sent them out to tell everyone about the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick.

3 “Take nothing for your journey,” he instructed them. “Don’t take a walking stick, a traveler’s bag, food, money, or even a change of clothes. 4 Wherever you go, stay in the same house until you leave town. 5 And if a town refuses to welcome you, shake its dust from your feet as you leave to show that you have abandoned those people to their fate.”

6 So they began their circuit of the villages, preaching the Good News and healing the sick.


This is the first time that Jesus sends his disciples out on a mission trip, the second time is in Luke 10:1, it seems that Jesus woke up that morning and without any warning he calls the twelve together and gives them their instructions and all of a sudden they are leaving town.

Jesus does two things before he sends them on their way:

First he gives them the power and authority that they are to depend on for the spiritual battle that takes place on a mission trip. Jesus transfers his power and authority to the disciples so that their ability to do his work comes from him, the same power that they would be using after he left earth, they were getting some hands on experience with it now.

Second Jesus instructs them to depend on God to supply their physical needs as well, over preparation on their part would cause them to depend on their own resources so Jesus told them to travel light.

Luke 9:10-11   When the apostles returned, they told Jesus everything they had done. Then he slipped quietly away with them toward the town of Bethsaida. But the crowds found out where he was going, and they followed him. He welcomed them and taught them about the Kingdom of God, and he healed those who were sick.

Jesus gave them everything that they needed for the trip, every part of the mission trip was to be a journey of faith, he provided for their spiritual and their physical needs. The disciples’ focus was to be on God’s ability to supply all of their needs and to keep their focus on Jesus. The focus of the scripture was hardly on the disciples for anytime before the writer went back to Jesus doing another miracle.

Lord, help me to have faith that you have provided for all of my needs, I must believe that you will provide for the work that you have called me to do.


Digging Deeper:  In today’s survey of material available in the Christian blogosphere, I discovered Daily Devotional Blog.  If you jump in right now, blog author Paul is deep into Ephesians; he sometimes takes three or four blog posts on a single passage. 

September 26, 2011

The Meaning of “Spreading the Gospel”

An interesting examination into a phrase that was quoted like scripture in the church where I grew up: “Why should anyone hear the gospel twice before everyone has heard it once?”  Eddie Arthur looks at this more  closely:

No one has the right to hear the Gospel twice while there remains someone who has not heard it once. (Oswald J. Smith)

This is the second post in what may become a series on famous sayings about Christian mission (the first one is here). This quote by Smith is one that turns up in lots of missionary writing and at first glance it seems to make sense, but like many things that make sense at first glance, it is actually rather problematic.

On the positive side, this quote encourages us to reflect on the importance of taking the Gospel to places where there are, as yet, no Christians. This is something which is absolutely key to the work of Wycliffe Bible Translators and something which motivated St. Paul, too.

My ambition has always been to preach the Good News where the name of Christ has never been heard, rather than where a church has already been started by someone else. (Romans 15:20)

That being said, this quote raises an awful lot of questions.

“No one has a right to hear the Gospel twice”; I’m not sure where the language of rights comes from – it certainly isn’t in the Bible. Scripture talks about the responsibility of Christians to bear witness to Christ all around the world, but it is silent on the rights of people to hear the message. Surely, hearing the Gospel, once, twice or a hundred times is all about God’s grace in reaching out to His creation, not about our rights to hear.

So, what about this notion that people should only hear the Gospel once while others have not heard?

The first thing to say is that this is not how Paul operated. Despite his desire to preach in new situations, he spent serious amounts of time in some cities, building up and encouraging the Church and on more than one occasion he went back to visit a city where he had previously planted a Church.

This phrase comes from the sort of thinking which I addressed at a number of points in my series on the Great Commission. It stems from the idea that mission is nothing more than announcing the Good News of Jesus and moving on, it ignores the Biblical injunction to make disciples (Matthew 28:19,20) and fails to take Jesus commands to love and care for people seriously. Are we only supposed to give thirsty people one drink? Or should we visit prisoners once and then move on? (Matthew 25:38-40) Of course we wouldn’t limit these commands in this way; but there is nothing about the command to teach the Gospel that would allow us to limit that either.

Christian mission is about long-term engagement with people. It involves building relationships, serving people and telling them the Good News about Jesus. It takes time, often lots of time, for people to move from not knowing Christ to becoming his disciples. They may need to hear the Gospel many times.

However, the main problem with this phrase, and the sort of missiology that it represents, is that it places us and our strategy in the lead position in mission, rather than having us follow the Spirit and joining in where he is at work.

Phrases like this one are powerful, all the more so because they contain a grain of truth, but they can shape our thinking in ways that are not helpful. Sadly, it can be a lot easier to use sayings like this to shape our mission strategy rather than being guided by the complex and sometimes confusing narrative of Scripture.

If you want to look at this quote in more detail, take a look at what Ernest Goodman has to say (and follow the comments), here is a taste of his thoughts:

I cannot accept a missiology that essentially puts us on “auto-pilot” in terms of to whom we should go. The second we assume where and in whom God is going to work, we get ahead of Him and disqualify ourselves from full participation in what He’s doing. This missiology is essentially either/or; missions is either relating to those people that God leads us to, or it is targeting the next “lostest” people group according to our statistics and research. It cannot be both, because the second assumes a monopoly on the first. How else can we explain so many of our workers feeling called to work among “reached” peoples?

God is at work redeeming humankind to Himself. I believe that missions is crossing cultural barriers to be part of that. Until we seriously rethink our missiology, we will continue to build our strategies on a broken foundation.

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