Christianity 201

October 6, 2021

Preaching in the Forest

It’s said that missionary statesman and Canadian pastor Oswald J. Smith would go out into the woods and preach to the trees. I am sure that some will say this is no different than modern preachers doing a midweek practice run in an empty auditorium, and I am 100% confident that when Oswald preached in the woods, the response rate was extremely low. No chipmunks or squirrels were saved.

Garrison Keillor tells a story of working a year at the campus radio station at his college, only to discover at the end of the year the transmitter had been shut off. The station ran a full schedule of programs, but they were doing it entirely for themselves.

Still, there are some who would say that many bloggers and podcasters — especially Christian ones — are also preaching, metaphorically speaking, to the trees, not because absolutely nobody is listening, but rather, because so many others are writing that it’s easy to feel lost in such a sea of voices. Or to feel like a ‘voice crying in the wilderness.’

That phrase is from Isaiah 40, and while there are narratives in the life of Christ which appear in all four gospels this is a case where all four use that exact Isaiah quotation to affirm the ministry of John the Baptist.

  1. Matthew 3:3
    This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:“A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’”
  2. Mark 1:3
    “a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’”
  3. Luke 3:4
    As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:“A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.
  4. John 1:23
    John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”

If John was using modern media today, I’m sure his wilderness experience would translate into low stats, or in church-related terms, low attendance. As he continued, the crowds came, but we know that while he preached his message of repentance with great conviction, and his prophetic word that The Messiah, the lamb of God had come into the world; we also know that later on he himself  had doubts as to the Messiah-identification being fulfilled in Jesus.

When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
Matthew 11:2-3

The wilderness mentality was hard to shake.

So knowing that John spoke in faith and not certainty, and knowing that his experience was a wilderness experience, we can be sure that John had days where he felt he was preaching to the trees.

But tree preaching is not a bad thing.

The speaking out of anything is a good test of what is in the heart. This can reveal a good heart condition or a bad heart condition. One time a few years ago, I said something out loud for which I am thankful that not even trees were present. Where did that come from? It wasn’t something angry or rash or hate-filled, just something I might not have thought I was capable of thinking.

Luke 6:45 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.

It’s the same with writing. You reveal yourself to yourself when you write. Sometimes you mentally picture a three-paragraph outline, but end up with eight paragraphs because there were things in your heart and mind which overflowed as you sat at the keyboard.

You ask yourself, Is anyone reading all this?

There are people I’ve never met in person but I read them online regularly. I know for a fact that some of them only get 4 or 5 visitors a day. I’m sure they feel they are preaching to the trees. But they have been a great influence in my life. Some are major Christian influencers while others are people who faithfully post online in relative obscurity.

So we’ll say things like

We are responsible for the depth of our ministry and
God is responsible for the breadth.

which is very true.

But the depth of our ministry is cultivated sometimes in the secret and almost-secret places. What I’m saying here is that you should

  • keep writing even when it seems that no one is listening
  • keep sharing with that spouse, coworker or relative even it seems that nothing is getting through
  • keep teaching that Sunday school class even when the kids are fighting, fooling around and talking
  • keep recommending those books even when nobody buys them or borrows them from the church library
  • keep serving those meals at the soup kitchen even it looks like all you’re doing is freeing up money they can spend on drugs or alcohol
  • keep supporting that missionary even when his/her prayer letters contain frustration over a lack of measurable results
  • keep sending cards and birthday gifts to that wayward person who seems to have gone so distant from you and from God

Why? Because of what is forming in you as you remain faithful, even when it seems that your efforts are met by nothing but the wind blowing through the trees.

Phil 2:13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

The Message renders this section as:

12-13 What I’m getting at, friends, is that you should simply keep on doing what you’ve done from the beginning. When I was living among you, you lived in responsive obedience. Now that I’m separated from you, keep it up. Better yet, redouble your efforts. Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God. That energy is God’s energy, an energy deep within you, God himself willing and working at what will give him the most pleasure.

Be the voice in the wilderness, but let your voice resonate in social media posts, empty auditoriums and forest woodlands.

The trees are listening, and perhaps so are others, more than you realize at the time.


What if?

What if someone was preaching to an empty auditorium, not because they were doing a practice run, but because it was a regularly scheduled service to which no one had come, but they were determined to conduct the entire service anyway as an act of obedience, and an act of worship to God?

We happened upon this taking place when we were in Boston. Ruth Wilkinson describes it in this older C201 blog post from 2010: If a Tree Falls in the Forest.

May 17, 2021

C. T. Studd Quotations

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Just like wealthy people can hire musicians to play at a house party, it was not unusual in the 19th Century to hire “parlour preachers” to come to your house and present a sermon or two; and Edward Studd the father of Charles Thomas Studd, was such a person of means. That preacher’s visit combined with an English tour by evangelist D. L. Moody led to the older Studd’s conversion, while the home visit resulted in Charles (C. T.) and two of his brothers making their own profession of faith.

The preacher “…caught C. T. on his way to play cricket. ‘Are you a Christian?’ he asked. C. T’s answer not being convincing enough, the guest pressed the point and C. T. tells what happens as he acknowledges God’s gift of eternal life received through faith in Christ. Charles remembered this saying, “I knew then what it was to be ‘born again,’ and the Bible which had been so dry to me before, became everything.”

His rich family made an education at Cambridge a possibility, but C. T. questioned the trajectory on which his life was heading. He asked, “What is all the fame and flattery worth … when a man comes to face eternity?”

He decided to be a missionary, and served in China, India and Africa. At the time, world missions was expressed in militaristic terms — think ‘Onward, Christian Soldiers’ — and one biographer says, “C. T. was essentially a cavalry leader, and in that capacity he led several splendid charges.”

He’s best known for his work in China, working with China Inland Mission and at one point serving alongside renowned missionary to China, Hudson Taylor.  In 1913 he formed the World Evangelization Crusade (now WEC International) which continues to this day.

But he’s also known for his love of cricket representing England in a match with Australia. The most popular biography of his life, written by Norman Grubb is called C. T. Studd: God’s Cricketeer (CLC Publications).

Sources: Soul Supply, Wholesome Words, Wikipedia
Graphic Image: Soul Supply


It turns out that in a very early blog post here at C201 — one which pre-dates our quotations series — we ran a set of quotes from Studd, but didn’t list our sources. I’ve repeated those here with a couple of additions.

Studd is best known however for this adage:

Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
only what’s done for Christ will last.

Click here for the complete text.

He’s also credited with this phrase which forms the basis of the Steve Camp song I’ve added at the bottom of today’s devotional:

Some wish to live within the sound of church or chapel bell,
I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell.

Here are the rest of the quotations:


I am getting desperately afraid of going to heaven for I have had the vision of the shame I shall suffer as I get my first glimpse of the Lord Jesus; His majesty, power and marvelous love for me, who treated Him so meanly and shabbily on earth, and acted as though I did Him a favour in serving Him! No wonder God shall have to wipe away the tears off all faces, for we shall be broken-hearted when we see the depth of His love and the shallowness of ours.


I can easily see why the folks at home want to eliminate Hell from their theology, preaching and thought. Hell is indeed awful unless its preaching is joined to a life laid down by the preacher. How can a man believe in Hell unless he throws away his life to rescue others from its torment? If there is no Hell, the Bible is a lie. If we are willing to go to Hell on earth for others, we cannot preach it.


The “romance” of a missionary is often made up of monotony and drudgery; there often is no glamor in it; it doesn’t stir a man’s spirit or blood. So don’t come out to be a missionary as an experiment; it is useless and dangerous. Only come if you feel you would rather die than not come. Don’t come if you want to make a great name or want to live long. Come if you feel there is no greater honor, after living for Christ, than to die for Him.


How little chance the Holy Ghost has nowadays. The churches and missionary societies have so bound him in red tape that they practically ask Him to sit in a corner while they do the work themselves.


God’s real people have always been called fanatics.


When we are in hand-to-hand conflict with the world, the flesh, and the devil himself, neat little Biblical confectionery is like shooting lions with a pea-shooter; God needs a man who will let go and deliver blows right and left as hard as he can hit, in the power of the Holy Ghost. Nothing but forked-lightning Christians will count.


The light that shines farthest shines brightest nearest home.


Christ’s call is to save the lost, not the stiff-necked; He came not to call scoffers but sinners to repentance; not to build and furnish comfortable chapels, churches, and cathedrals at home in which to rock Christian professors to sleep by means of clever essays, stereotyped prayers, and artistic musical performances, but to capture men from the devil’s clutches and the very jaws of Hell. This can be accomplished only by a red-hot, unconventional, unfettered devotion, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to the Lord Jesus Christ.


If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for Him.


A lost reputation is the best degree for Christ’s service.



“But be sure to fear the LORD and serve Him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things He has done for you.” 1 Samuel 12:24

“If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.” Jeremiah 20:9

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45

“But Peter and John answered them, Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” Acts 4:19-20

 – scripture selection from AWBE Interational

April 27, 2021

When Your Faith is a Spiritual Mix Tape

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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While the use of cassettes is now quite rare, people still make personalized mix tapes consisting of their favorite songs on other formats. I think a phrase better understood now is personal playlist.

Spiritually, some people do this as well. The whole ends up being a bit of this and a bit of that, often fusing elements that have little in common. I’ve heard this called by different names, one of which is cafeteria Christianity.

I’m currently reading a 2002 book called And Beginning With Moses: Teaching Those Who Know Little or Nothing about the Bible by John R. Cross (Goodseed*). It begins with a horror story of a tribe which had gladly received the message of Christianity from missionaries, but had simply added it to their tribal beliefs.

In religious studies parlance, when this happens, it’s called syncretism. You don’t even have to go overseas to find it, in North America and Western Europe it’s possible to find people who are simply looking to add a dash of Christianity to their previously held beliefs the way a chef adds spices and mystery ingredients to an entree.

Here’s a short excerpt from the book. It begins with a horrific story of supposedly converted people reverting to pagan practices much to the shock of the missionaries present.

Syncretism in the Bible

Syncretism is not new. The ancient Israelites en route from Egypt to the Promised Land had problems in this area. God asked them a rhetorical question.

“Did you present Me with sacrifices and grain offerings in the wilderness for forty years, O house of Israel?”  Amos 5:25 NASB

The answer was, “Yes, they did.” They could make a legitimate claim to be following the true God. But there was something more. The next verse explains what they carried in their bags. God said…

“You also carried along Sikkuth your king and Kiyyun, your images, the star of your gods which you made for yourselves.”  Amos 5:26 NASB

These were pagan Assyrian gods. Israel was trying to worship God and idols at the same time. They were mixing two belief systems.

This problem of “mixing” seems innate to the human heart. When centuries ago, Gentiles settled in the heartland of Israel, the Bible says,

They worshipped the LORD, but they also appointed all sorts of their own people to officiate for them as priests in the shrines at the high places.  2 Kings 17:32

Visiting the Middle East, I remember pondering those ancient high place altars, recalling God’s grief with the immorality and child sacrifice that was often part of idolatrous worship. The Lord said,

“They have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as offerings to Baal–something I did not command or mention, nor did it enter my mind.”  Jeremiah 19:5

Rightly so, such decadence had not entered God’s mind, but man’s mind seemed quite agile at mixing this evil and God’s good. The Bible says, ”

They worshipped the LORD, but they also served their own gods in accordance with the customs of the nations from which they had been brought.  2 Kings 17:33

This is syncretism. Syncretism’s tenacity is illustrated in that, even after the Gentile “settlers” were instructed in true worship,

They would not listen, however, but persisted in their former practices. Even while these people were worshipping the LORD, they were serving their idols. 2 Kings 17:40-41

Centuries later God had the Apostle Paul write…

“…I do not want you to become sharers in demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.”  1 Corinthians 10:20-21

Syncretism has plagued the church since its earliest days. Paul wrote the book of Galatians to sort out the confusion caused by those who were trying to mix religious legalism with the truth. The book of Colossians and the First Epistle of John were written for a similar purpose, this time having to do with a mixing of Gnosticism and the Bible.

In the following centuries, people syncretized true Christianity with ancient Roman, Egyptian and Babylonian paganism, creating various “mixes” dominated by error. Mohammed syncretized Arab tribal beliefs with Judaism and a Christian cult to form Islam. These religions in turn have syncretized to form others. The list is long. It seems very human to believe a mangled and mixed message.


*Goodseed is an organization I first encountered at a missions conference. Their signature book is actually four books, with the same material covered for four different audiences:

  • The Stranger on the Road to Emmaus – written for people who grew up with a Christian or Catholic perspective
  • All That the Prophets Have Spoken – written for those with an Islamic background
  • By the Name – written for readers with a Middle Eastern worldview
  • No Ordinary Story – written for non-religious people approaching with a secular worldview

You give someone the version that is right for them. I like the idea that they realized they couldn’t do a “one size fits all” book and did some radical re-writing of large sections of the material. You can learn more at goodseed.com

 

November 28, 2020

Paul the Apostle Needed People to Support Him

Periodically I check the website A Life Overseas which is written for MKs (Missionaries Kids) and TCKs (Third Culture Kids; people for whom the word home doesn’t mean the place on their passport.)  We’ve shared content from that site here and at Thinking Out Loud. That’s where I found today’s article.

Craig Thompson and his wife, Karen, along with their five children, served as missionaries in Taipei, Taiwan, for ten years before returning to the United States. His blog, Clearing Customs, is an interesting mix of poetry, embedded music videos, and good writing. Click the header below to read this at A Life Overseas, or click the link at the end of the article to read a shorter version at Clearing Customs.

Paul and the Corbels of Member Care

There’s something in architecture called a corbel. Even if you’ve never heard the name before, you’re probably familiar with what it is. A corbel is a bracket, sometimes ornamental, that projects out from a wall, providing support to a structure above. It allows that structure to extend out to where it couldn’t on its own.

Cross-cultural workers are the kinds of people who want to reach out far from home, who dream of going where no one has gone before. They’re often pioneering spirits who’d even go it alone, if that’s what it took—empowered only by their calling and their grit, gristle, and God-given abilities. That’s how the Apostle Paul did it, right? If I were more like Paul, I’d rely on God more and on people less . . . right?

Yes, at times, Paul stressed his independence. In his letter to the Galatian churches, he affirmed that his role as an apostle came directly from Jesus, not from his association with the other apostles:

But when the one who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I could preach him among the Gentiles, I did not go to ask advice from any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before me, but right away I departed to Arabia, and then returned to Damascus.

But Paul wasn’t a loner. He took partners with him on his missionary trips, and he also recognized the need for flesh-and-blood corbels to hold him up as he reached out, bearing the gospel. He valued the encouragement and comfort of others. He understood the importance of member care (pastoral care, nurture and development, tender care, that one safe friend).

When Paul finally met with the apostles in Jerusalem, Barnabas helped him by being his advocate, vouching for his dedication to Jesus. Later, Barnabas sought out Paul for his help in working with the church in Antioch, and the two were sent out by the church on Paul’s first missionary journey. It was during his trips and while he was a prisoner that Paul wrote his New Testament letters, often mentioning those who served to encourage him.

Near the end of his first letter to the church in Corinth, he wrote about “the household of Stephanus” (or Stephanas), who “devoted themselves to ministry for the saints,” and added,

I was glad about the arrival of Stephanus, Fortunatus, and Achaicus because they have supplied the fellowship with you that I lacked. For they refreshed my spirit and yours. So then, recognize people like this.

In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul told about how he even turned away from a God-sent opening for ministry because he needed to hear from Titus:

Now when I arrived in Troas to proclaim the gospel of Christ, even though the Lord had opened a door of opportunity for me, I had no relief in my spirit, because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I said good-bye to them and set out for Macedonia.

Then, in Macedonia,

our body had no rest at all, but we were troubled in every way—struggles from the outside, fears from within, But God, who encourages the downhearted, encouraged us by the arrival of Titus. We were encouraged not only by his arrival, but also by the encouragement you gave him, as he reported to us your longing, your mourning, your deep concern for me, so that I rejoiced more than ever.

While under house arrest in Rome, Paul wrote to Philemon, “I have had great joy and encouragement because of your love, for the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, brother.” He went on to address the subject of Onesimus, Philemon’s slave who had run away, had come to Paul, and had become a Christian. Paul was sending him back to Philemon, not as a slave but as a brother in Christ, even though Paul wrote, “I wanted to keep him so that he could serve me in your place during my imprisonment for the sake of the gospel.” Paul also looked forward to spending time with Philemon in the future, telling him to “prepare a place for me to stay, for I hope that through your prayers I will be given back to you.

Still a prisoner, Paul wrote to the Colossians and the Philippians. He told those in Colossae that Aristarchus, Mark, and Jesus (called Justus) were the only Jewish Christians still working with him, saying “they have been a comfort to me.” And to the Christians in Philippi, he told of his plans to send to them Epaphroditus, whom he described as

my brother, coworker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to me in my need. Indeed, he greatly missed all of you and was distressed because you heard that he had been ill. In fact he became so ill that he nearly died. But God showed mercy to him—and not to him only, but also to me—so that I would not have grief on top of grief. Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you can rejoice and I can be free from anxiety. So welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor people like him, since it was because of the work of Christ that he almost died. He risked his life so that he could make up for your inability to serve me.

Later, imprisoned in a Roman dungeon, Paul wrote his second letter to Timothy, saying, “As I remember your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy,” and then,

May the Lord grant mercy to the family of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my imprisonment. But when he arrived in Rome, he eagerly searched for me and found me. May the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that day! And you know very well all the ways he served me in Ephesus.

Alone, except for Luke, Paul told Timothy, “Make every effort to come to me soon,” requesting that he also bring Mark, because “he is a great help to me in ministry.” Paul even mentioned some items that he wanted (a care package?), asking Timothy to bring along a cloak that Paul had left in Troas, as well as his scrolls.

Even Paul needed member care, not just for the sake of his work, but also for his personal well-being. Or maybe we should say, given the hardships that he faced, especially Paul needed member care. He needed it, and he appreciated it. And if Paul needed it, so do today’s cross-cultural workers, every one.


A version of the post originally appeared in ClearingCustoms.net.

The Scriptures quoted are from the NET Bible® http://netbible.com copyright ©1996, 2019 used with permission from Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved)

Photo: Wikipedia (Creative Commons)

November 4, 2020

What Christians Mean by the Term, “Person of Peace”

Whereas the term “seeker” has been associated with the church growth movement in North America in particular, “person of peace” has lodged itself into the lexicon of modern missions. – Alex Kocman (linked below)

This phrase, “person of peace” comes up three times here at C201, all of which are in 2013 and 2014; we haven’t touched on this lately. The phrase is often used when someone is going into a community where they don’t know the people — i.e. exercising the gift of apostle — and are looking to build partnerships necessary to commence ministry.

(This raises many other issues: Were they called by someone there to give aid? Does God already have people on the ground doing similar types of ministry? Do they need a partner relationship because they weren’t sent out in twos as Jesus did? These are important questions, but we’ll grant some grace here as to their motivation and methods.)

The phrase is taken from Jesus instructions to his disciples in Luke 10:4-6:

“When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you.

and the parallel passage in Matthew 10:11-13

Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave. As you enter the home, give it your greeting. If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you.

Even within your own city or town, when entering a micro-community that is not your own, you do well to consider the “person of peace” concept.

At the website called (deep breath) Pursuing Disciple-Making Movements in the Frontiers, C. Anderson begins with this important principle:

The Person Of Peace Isn’t Always Who You Think They Will Be

The article continues…

1. A Person of Peace welcomes both you and your message.

…They may enjoy your company and extend hospitality. They may even be an influencer in the community. Be careful of investing lots of time in someone who doesn’t show interest in and acceptance of the gospel. Keep looking for those who after hearing the message, receive it with joy. Watch for those who immediately begin to invite others to hear the story of Jesus…

2. Abundant seed sowing leads you to the Person of Peace.

…Teams are sometimes discouraged when they haven’t yet found the Person of Peace. They have been praying and making relationships in the community. Key leaders have befriended them and they’ve started community development projects. Children’s ministries and programs have begun.

“Why can’t we find a Person of Peace?” they say.

The answer is clear to me. They simply don’t do enough “seed sowing.” They are not “casting the net wide” when it comes to broad evangelism efforts…

3. Be open to the unexpected.

…In the story of the Woman at the Well, found in John 4, the Person of Peace was not who we would have expected.  Jesus shared the truth with an immoral woman. She received His message and called the whole town to come and listen.

We often think the Person of Peace will be a community leader or person who is well-respected. Sometimes they are. Sometimes not.

Invest time in relationships with those who are key influencers in the community. You certainly want to share the gospel with them! But don’t think they are the only possible people who God could use to unlock the doors of hearts and lives

At the website of AEWB International, Alex Kocman looks into this in greater detail. This is an article I highly recommend for those of you who want to go deeper on this subject.

…It is true that everyone we meet is on a “spiritual journey.” Everyone, eternally speaking, is going somewhere. We are either plodding onward toward eternal life or careening toward Hell (cf. Heb. 9:27).

But conversely, I fear that our marketing-based evangelistic lingo reveals a less-than-biblical theology. At times, our soft evangelistic language of our ads and tracts makes it unclear whether we are inviting unbelievers to attend Bible studies or a timeshare presentation. Statements like “everyone is on a spiritual journey” raise challenging missiological questions. In what sense can someone be a “seeker”? Do unbelievers engage in honest inquiry in search of spiritual truth—or, better yet, can they?

In North America, these questions are complicated for by the seeker-sensitive, church growth, and attractional movements. There are certainly truths contained inside of each of the ministry philosophies represented by these movements; churches should be hospitable to unbelievers who visit their gatherings (1 Cor. 14:24), healthy churches should pursue evangelistic growth (Acts 2:41), and a Christ-exalting church is the most attractive gathering in the cosmos (Eph. 3:10).

The implications extend beyond North America as well when we discuss the concept and strategy related to “persons of peace” (cf. Luke 10:6). According to David and Paul Watson, “Persons of Peace have three primary characteristics: They are open to a relationship with you. They hunger for spiritual answers for their deepest questions. And they will share whatever they learn with others.” We must critically ask: do we go out on the mission field to engage honest inquiry, hostile unbelief, or both?…

The reference to the Watsons that Alex mentioned is the same authors from whom a book excerpt formed the basis of our own article on this subject in 2014.

At a 2011 article, Ben Sternke writes,

…A Person of Peace is simply someone that God has prepared ahead of time to hear the message of the gospel through you. We recognize Persons of Peace as those who welcome us, like to be with us, and attempt to serve us in some way.

Which is all fine and good in theory, but as we’ve been working with people on this, we’ve noticed what we think is a key element to recognizing a person of peace, without which we will remain blind to what God is doing around us.

The key we’ve stumbled upon seems obvious in hindsight, but it has been important for us to articulate it. The specific key we’ve discovered to recognizing Persons of Peace is basically this: the willingness to risk meeting “Persons of Unpeace.”

When Jesus sent them out he told them that they would experience welcome and rejection…

(In the article mentioned in Ben’s first paragraph here, he sees Zacchaeus as an example of Jesus finding just such a person.)

Finally, at our other article on this subject in 2014, we quoted from a piece which turned up on several sites, but we were unable to trace its origins:

6 Marks of a Person of Peace

…A person of peace will be one who

  • welcomes you
  • receives you
  • is open to you
  • will be open to what you have to say about Jesus
  • is open to the life you live because of Jesus
  • serves you

A person of peace could be a passing relationship. Sometimes a person of peace is a permanent relationship. But the real question is, “Who are your people of peace?”

 

 

May 24, 2020

For the Twelve, Answering the Call Came with Risk

Two weeks ago we looked at The Twelve Disciples. I’ve been continuing to think about them in the days which followed…

I wonder what I might have done in their shoes. A decade ago, a popular Christian speaker said these guys, like other Hebrew boys, might have dreamed of being selected to follow a Rabbi. Only “the best of the best of the best” were chosen. These guys were (for the most part) plying trades and weren’t on any Rabbi’s short list. Their life trajectory was headed in another direction.

Then Jesus appears. He invites them to basically ‘stop what you’re doing and follow me.’ And out of the blue,

Matt.4.20.NIV At once they left their nets and followed him. (See three different gospel accounts.)

It was an offer they couldn’t refuse.

Or could they?

Today, most of us would not consider taking a job without investigating the potential employer. What is their reputation? How is their stock price doing? What are the working conditions?

Similarly, none of us would enroll in a program of education (which is closer to what they were doing) unless we knew that upon completion, the certificate or degree was actually recognized; that it truly meant something. (The accreditation process facilitates some of that investigation for us today.)

Would they accept not knowing all the facts? Apparently so.

First, they were signing up with a peripatetic teacher.

Don’t let the big word scare you, it’s similar to itinerant and simply means “traveling from place to place.” Jesus the teacher was not attached to a synagogue. Being schooled with him didn’t mean an actual school, but rather wandering from place to place, sometimes eating on the road by biting the heads off the grain in nearby fields (and getting into arguments over so doing.) See Matthew 12 for that story, but don’t miss verse 8 where Matthew adds the phrase “Going on from that place…” to emphasize the traveling ministry. Even his long discourse in the last quarter of John’s gospel is delivered while walking from the upper room to the Garden of Gethsemane.)

(A big shoutout here to anyone who has ever slept in their car, or at the side of the road. I’ve done both, but not lately. That’s the idea conveyed here, although the twelve plus Jesus were sometimes billeted in the homes of supporters in various towns.)

When one of the scribes considers following him, Jesus utters his famous “foxes have holes” line which The Message renders as,

Matt.8.20.MSG Jesus was curt: “Are you ready to rough it? We’re not staying in the best inns, you know.”

Second, Jesus wasn’t trained by a rabbi they knew.

There was a strict process here. One rabbi trains a group of students (as Jesus is doing) and then they wash, rinse and repeat. (Couldn’t resist.) But you always know, at least in name, the person your rabbi sat under for his training.

So Jesus commences his ministry, and the crowd (specifically, elders, scribes and chief priests) ask him who has commissioned him in ministry; who has authorized him to preach. In our day, being ordained or being a commended minister carries with it the concept of accountability.

Mark.11.28.NLT They demanded, “By what authority are you doing all these things? Who gave you the right to do them?”

repeated in Luke,

Luke.20.1-2.NASB On one of the days while He was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders confronted Him, and they spoke, saying to Him, “Tell us by what authority You are doing these things, or who is the one who gave You this authority?”

Most readers here would quickly say that Jesus’ ministry is confirmed by his Father. More than once in the gospel accounts we find the “voice from heaven” speaking. (A good topic for another study!) But the disciples would be risking their own reputation following a teacher whose own schooling doesn’t have earthly verification.

In balance however, we need to remind ourselves that the miracles Jesus performs validate his teaching. Things ‘no one could do unless…’ Nicodemus gets this when he says,

John.3.2b.NIV “…For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Third, there are lingering questions as to the legitimacy of Christ’s birth.

In a world without user names and passwords, people would have a longer memory for stories, and while Joseph and Mary weren’t celebrities, their story is the hard-to-forget type which would make great fodder for the tabloids and TMZ.

So when Jesus begins teaching, they ask

Mark.6.3a Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son…?”

they don’t simply mean, ‘Isn’t this the boy next door?’ but rather are dredging up a host of other memories which would recall the earlier scandalous story where Mary finds herself pregnant.

In another story where the authority or power of Jesus’ teaching is questioned, the Jews to which he is speaking come back with an indirect, but hard-hitting shot at Jesus

John.8.41b.NIV We are not illegitimate children,” they protested. “The only Father we have is God himself.”

Commentators have suggested that this phrase can be translated, “We’re not bastards!” It’s a direct allusion to Jesus’ parentage.

Knowing these three things, would we accept the call?

I will leave that question open.

There are three applications we can take from this:

  1. Following Jesus may take us to unexpected places, it might involve sacrifice, and may result in experiencing less than optimal conditions.
  2. The path of discipleship may mean unconventional employment, perhaps even contradicting the norms of standard vocational ministry.
  3. Following Jesus the Nazarene may impact our own personal reputation; we will need to simply not care what people think of us or Him.

 



January 11, 2020

Misreading Scripture with the Best Intentions

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.

Perhaps that has some appeal. As I write this, the forecast for tomorrow (Sunday) in Jerusalem is cloudy with sunny breaks and a high of 10°C (about 50°F for our U.S. readers.) Certainly milder than what’s predicted where I live.

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: City, then state (province), country, entire world.

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 buy milk 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.

So perhaps you’re thinking, okay, I am going to be a missionary to Jerusalem (so to speak) and I’ll let you be a missionary to Judea. I don’t think it’s that simple. True, in a church setting people may find themselves specializing in different mission fields, but I believe each of us, over the course of our lives, is to be open to be finding ourselves in ‘Samaria situations.’

All David was doing was delivering a ‘care package’ of food to his older brothers, but he found himself on the front line of the battle against the Philistines, and in particular, their MVP, Goliath.

I believe a Christian life, lived to the full, will involve all four types of battle: On the home front, further afield, to the place we don’t necessarily want to go, and to those in places involving 30-hour flights or multiple airport connections.

At the very least, let’s be open to all of these.


  • 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.

November 4, 2019

When You’re Tired, Ticked-Off, and Tempted

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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NET.Matt.4.1. Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After he fasted forty days and forty nights he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Then the devil took him to the holy city, had him stand on the highest point of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you’ and ‘with their hands they will lift you up, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” Jesus said to him, “Once again it is written: ‘You are not to put the Lord your God to the test.’” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their grandeur. And he said to him, “I will give you all these things if you throw yourself to the ground and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Go away, Satan! For it is written: ‘You are to worship the Lord your God and serve only him.’” 11a Then the devil left him…

Today’s devotional comes from a source we frequently link to at Thinking Out Loud only introduced here six months ago. The website A Life Overseas is an online point of connection for people in missions for whom “home” means two (or more) places; providing a place online for cross-cultural communication. Today’s writer is Jonathan Trotter. Click the original title in the header below to read at source and explore the blog.

For the Times When You’re Exhausted, Discouraged, and Tempted

Some truth is just worth remembering. These musings about discouragement and temptation spilled out six years ago; perhaps they can encourage people even still…

We moved to Cambodia about two years ago, and it’s been good. But it’s also been very hard. I’ve had my days of doubt, fear, and deep discouragement. I’ve looked around at the poverty, abuse, corruption, and I’ve despaired. I’ve heard that raspy, wicked voice taunt, “What can you do? Why are you even here? What about your kids, think of what you’re doing to them? You are completely ill-equipped for this. Did God really call you here?”

But on this mountain climb called Mission, there is a phrase that has been to me a strong foothold. When I’ve despaired, it’s grounded me, and when I’ve been near to giving up, it has given me rest and peace.

It’s what Jesus said when he came face to face with the Father of Lies, Enemy Number One, Satan:

I will worship the Lord my God. I will serve only him.

In Matthew 4, Satan attacks Jesus, desperate to win. At this point, Jesus has not eaten for forty days. He hasn’t talked with friends for forty days. He’s lonely, tired, exhausted. Hungry. And Satan himself shows up, on the prowl, to attack.

Satan won’t shut up. He keeps talking and stalking, “You want food, right? Nice, fresh-baked bread? How long has it been, Jesus? Eat.” “How about you prove God cares for you? I don’t think he does. Jump.” “OK, everyone wants stuff, power, and control. You want some? I’ll give it all to you. Bow.”

Jesus answers Satan and gives us a key.

When I’ve despaired, this key has given me hope.

When I’ve been tempted, this key has given me a way out.

When I’ve needed more strength for the climb, this key has provided it.

Over the last two years, when I could pray little else, I’ve stuttered, “I will worship the Lord my God. I will serve only him.” I’ve prayed it silently and I’ve prayed it out loud. When I’ve been discouraged, I’ve begged, “God, help me worship you. Help me serve only you.” When I’ve been tempted, I’ve declared it, as a reminder to Evil and myself; I’m with Jesus.

We sometimes imagine the Tempting of Jesus as if it were a nice chat between buddies. Satan tempts Jesus and Jesus coolly brushes it off with a simple, “Oh, Satan, you silly, the Scriptures say…” But these two were mortal enemies, the Prince of Evil vs. the Prince of Peace. These temptations were real and Jesus felt them.

So, when Jesus answers this last temptation, he was saying so much more than “No.” He was emphatically saying, “I will not listen to you, Satan. I will worship only One, and you’re not Him. I will not follow you, or obey you, or bow down to you.”

He was making a dramatic gesture towards the Father and shouting, “I’M WITH HIM!”

Anytime you wrestle with evil or temptation, you have to know Satan’s smarter than you. You do not “have this under control.” He’s stronger, has more charm, more experience. He has more time, more resources.

You can’t outlast him, outsmart him, or outcast him. But you can resist him. And you must.

How?  With this resolution: There is only One God, and I’m serving Him. Let this be your stake in the ground, your line in the sand. In stating and restating this truth, you disarm and deflate Satan, reminding him that he loses because Jesus wins.

What was Satan’s response to this declaration? He left. What was God’s response? He ministered to Jesus through his servants, angels.

Put another way, Satan responds by leaving and God responds by coming. And that’s a pretty good trade, I think.

Yes, there is temptation and despair and discouragement. And evil. But there is still Hope, and his name is Jesus. And I’ve decided that with everything in me, until my last breath, I will worship the Lord my God. I will serve only him.

I hope you’ll join me.

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

To 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.

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