Christianity 201

April 25, 2015

Providence and the Sovereignty of God

Genesis 39:19Now when his master heard the words of his wife, which she spoke to him, saying, “This is what your slave did to me,” his anger burned. 20So Joseph’s master took him and put him into the jail, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined; and he was there in the jail. 21But the LORD was with Joseph and extended kindness to him, and gave him favor in the sight of the chief jailer.

Today we return to the writing of Jay Adams at The Journal of Nouthetic Studies. To help explain the first sentence below, I should point out that Jay is writing primarily to people who do Christian counseling, but given that this is Christianity 201 and not 101, I am assuming we have some readers who are involved in Christian leadership. If not, you might find yourself giving help and counsel to someone anyway, and there are some good free articles on the blog about what to do and what not to do, as well as counseling courses where you pay for materials.

Click the title to read at source (I’ve underlined one particular section):

Providential Care

In my opinion, unless a counselor is well aware of how God works for the good of His children, and is able to communicate something of those facts to counselees in times of distress, he will be a pretty sorry counselor.

I like what Chrysostom had to say about the providential care God showed for Joseph in the house of Pharaoh. He points out that Joseph was really in a far worse prison when living in Pharaoh’s household near a wild, lascivious woman than when he was jailed. He sees the imprisonment as blessed relief! Of course, he also goes through Joseph’s entire life to show how, at every turn, step by step, ordering each event, God was working out everything for His ends and Joseph’s good.

Providence, as we have previously noted, is God at work in His world doing those things in both general history and personal histories to achieve goals that, at the time when He is in the process of effecting them, may seem only puzzling or even tragic. That is because we lack the comprehensive knowledge that He possesses. Yet, all the while, nothing is actually meaningless, haphazard or unplanned. The tragic automobile accident in which one life is taken and another spared, was really no accident. It was but one element in the working out of God’s benevolent purpose to every believer that it involved.

But to believe in providence, one must also believe that God is in charge; that He is sovereign over all things and all creatures. If He were not, there could be no providential ordering of events according to a plan that was moving forward toward gracious outcomes for His own. Yet, perhaps in order to preserve some sort of unbiblical freedom for men, some foolishly deny this sovereign sway of God over His creation. In their world, man is the maverick, a loose cannon on board ship. But whenever this is postulated it turns out that man becomes more than he really is, and God less than He actually is. He turns out to be a god foreign to Scripture, and man is jacked up until he become a creature foreign to our experience.

Providence, to put it simply, is the true God doing what He pleases. And, praise Him, the thing to remember is that pleases Him to bless His people!


For those of you who would like to learn more about Jay’s approach, here’s another short article that also appeared this week. Again, you might want to click through and then look around the rest of the blog.

There are Times . . .

. . . When counselors may become so overwhelmed by a counselee’s situation that, along with Job’s wife, they want to say something like, ”Curse God and die!” (Job 2:9).

In such circumstances, what must they do?

Answer:  remember the many words of Scripture that make no such allowance for such bad advice (for instance, 1 Corinthians 10:13).

Now, I know that frustration because of both the counselee’s response and the problems to which he is responding badly is common. It is easy, therefore, for you (as a counselor) to conclude that you are simply “not up to it.” And, in many respects, you aren’t—you can’t seem to figure out what God would have you advise and do in a particular instance. But there are several things you can do rather than utter some sort of exasperated advice. Let me list them:

  1. You may seek further information about, or details concerning those aspects of the problem that seem fuzzy, puzzling, or unclear.
  2. You may pray and ask the counselee to pray that you will become further enlightened in the biblical advice that you don’t have at the moment.
  3. You may consult (by permission from the counselee) with another counselor—or bring him into the next counseling session.
  4. You may find a clue to where you have taken a wrong (unbiblical) turn in counseling by consulting your notes. You do take notes, don’t you?
  5. A check on past homework given—and how well it was followed—may help.
  6. More time out of session for praying, searching Scripture, and thinking about the counselee’s problem may help.
  7. Check out the fifty failure factors in the Christian Counselor’s New Testament/Proverbs to see if any of these apply.

Never hesitate (very long) to admit you are stumped. But make it clear that God isn’t—be sure he understands that the insufficiency is yours alone. But insist that there is a proper biblical answer. And it may not be the one either you or the counselee likes.

But one thing must be clear: God isn’t stumped!

May 4, 2014

True Imitation of Christ

Today’s thought is rather short and simple, but it’s something I that struck me earlier today that I felt worth sharing here.

Part of our goal should be that we grow in our imitation of Christ.

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma. ~ Ephesians 5:1-2

In another book, the principle is the same, but Paul adds another dimension:

Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.
  ~I Corinthians 11:1

The thing that struck me is that there are examples where the writers of New Testament scriptures take on the God-characteristics in relation to the the people they lead.

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. ~ I John 2:1

I find it amazing that the apostle John refers to his audience here as my little children. He is taking on the heart of a father for his readers. This is not a prophetic word, because in the second part of the verse the Father (with a capital F) is distinct. Just as God regards us as his children, John feels that way toward the people to whom the epistle was written.  Just a chapter later he again reminds us that we are God’s children:

Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. ~ I John 3:2

so he is affirming that we are all God’s children, but also, as a leader in the newly emerging Church, he takes a fatherly role of the people under his leadership.

The second similar passage is:

Shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; I Peter 5:2

Remember, Jesus himself says, “I am the good shepherd…” but Peter writes to leaders in the emerging church to themselves be shepherds of the flock.  So yes, there is one Great Shepherd of the sheep, but Peter invites his co-laborers in ministry to live as shepherds also, and thereby defines pastoral ministry and eldership.


I also wanted to share something here only because I thought I had covered this already either here or on Thinking Out Loud, but it turns out I hadn’t.  Stephen Crumbacher grew up around Hollywood, California and because of the proximity of the stage, film and television industry, he took the idea of being an imitator of Christ, and expressed it in terms of someone who is part of a theatrical or movie production as an understudy. This song has stayed with me since I first heard it in the mid-80s. This may not be your music style, but if it isn’t, just turn down the volume, read the lyrics and enjoy the brilliance of this appropriate analogy:

Well, I really have a shot
So I’m giving it all I’ve got
This is the break I’ve been waiting for.
Some say it isn’t so great
That it was hardly worth the wait
But at least I finally have one foot in the door.

I’m an understudy — got a long way to go
I was once a nobody not a name you would know
Now I’m an understudy to the star of the show.

I’ve memorized my part
Learned my lines by heart
Gonna walk the script through page by page
Always do my best
And pray that I can stand the test
‘Cause I never know when I’ll be asked to take center stage

I’m an understudy — got a long way to go
I was once a nobody not a name you would know
Now I’m an understudy to the star of the show.

None of know when we will be asked to take center stage, but hopefully we are prepared when God calls us to be his stand-in in someone else’s journey.

 

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.

August 8, 2013

What’s Your Payoff for Church Leadership?

There are only a handful of bloggers who fit the paradigm for what we do here at C201 as well as Blake Coffee at Church Whisperer. (This is his fourth time here!)  While some of his pieces — like the one we chose today — are aimed more at vocational pastors, all are very scripture-based and applicable to a broad readership. Blake allows his material to be freely used, but does insist that there be a link to his own blog. We do that anyway, but hope you’ll click through, then look around, and consider bookmarking his site if you find, like we do, that his writing resonates with you.  Click here for today’s reading.

I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me —the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace…I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’  Acts 20:23-24, 33-35

There are surely thousands and thousands of possible reasons people choose to be a church leader.  Money is probably not one of them.  Oh, I know there are those few high profile ministers (particularly in evangelical circles) who have profited tremendously, but let’s be real, that is by far the exception, not the expectation.  Rather, there are other kinds of “payoffs” which I believe attract some people into leadership positions in ministry.  Some of us just like to be in charge.  We like the power which comes with being the leader.  We like to chart the course and then expect those who are following to, well, follow.  For others, it is just the attention alone which draws them in.  They are otherwise lonely people and the “payoff” for them is the “friends” who gather around them as leaders.  Still others choose leadership by default, because they just cannot handle following.  They ascribe to the philosophy: “He who refuses to lead is doomed to be led by someone lesser than himself.”

As I read Paul’s farewell comments to the Ephesian church elders (Acts 20), I am struck by the total lack of payoff for him.  I mean, there was no sense of entitlement on his part, no attitude of having earned anything at all by his leadership.  Paul’s model for leadership is really very simple…you give and you give and you give until you cannot give any more…and then you give some more.  In Paul’s mind, leadership is about using yourself up for the benefit of others.  It means burning the candle at both ends all day long and going to bed exhausted and then getting up and doing it all over again.  I cannot help but wonder if this is why young John Mark didn’t last long through their first missionary journey.  Leading with Paul was just exhausting!

Searching through his letters, there really is no evidence of any other “payoff” for him except for God’s pleasure.  There is nothing there to indicate some twisted emotional return for him.  Though his leadership was strong, even assertive, there is nothing in scripture to indicate any over-aggression or power plays on his part.  Paul seems to have been driven purely by a profound desire to know Christ better and to rely more and more on the Lord for direction and strength and vision and courage.  Paul never seems to have complained that he was not being paid enough or that he was not treated well enough.  He neither whined nor complained that people owed him more respect than he was getting.  He just gave of himself, day in and day out.  Paul was just the “Eveready Bunny” of leadership…he just kept giving and giving and giving.

I know a few pastors and church leaders like that.  I am grateful for their generous giving of themselves for the benefit of others.  I am happy to say that my pastor leads this way.  I love him for that.  Do you know any church leaders like that?  More importantly, do the people you lead know any church leaders like that?

© Blake Coffee    Website: churchwhisperer.com

July 27, 2013

In This Town There is a Man of God

Zondervan author Mark Buchanan posted this on his blog a month ago, just hours before delivering his final sermon as a local church pastor; hours before moving into full time teaching ministry. Sometimes the situation a person finds themselves in gives an immediacy to their commentary on a particular Bible passage. To read this at source, click this link.

This Sunday is Father’s Day. Auspiciously, or ironically, it is also my last Sunday at the church I’ve pastored for 17 years, New life Church in Duncan, British Columbia.

17 years, 7.5 months, to be exact.

I run a gauntlet of emotions: sadness, thankfulness, anxiousness, fretfulness, anticipation, just to name the more obvious ones. All come wheeling toward me without warning. One minute I bask in peace, the next I churn with dread

It’s a weighty thing, to have given nearly two decades of my life to a work that, at 1 PM June 16, I must relinquish entirely. Though I’ve not once doubted the rightness of my decision to leave pastoral ministry in order to teach pastoral ministry, I’ve many times tasted the wild sorrow of that decision.

This Sunday, I deliver my last sermon at the church. I hope I have a calm heart and a clear mind to do it. I hope it’s a word in season, and a word that lingers. I hope it honors God.
I hope it blesses people.

But how do I sum up a ministry of 17 years? On what do note do I end it?

DonkeyWith a verse. An unlikely one. 1 Samuel 9:6:

But the servant replied, “Look, in this town there is a man of God; he is highly respected, and everything he says comes true. Let’s go there now. Perhaps he will tell us what way to take.”

The context: Saul (later to be king of Israel) and his servant are on an errand to find Saul’s father’s stray donkeys. They’re having no luck. It’s worse than a wild goose chase: it’s a stubborn donkey chase. Most of us can relate.

Saul’s freaking out, worried about his father being worried about him. Worrying about other people’s worry is worry squared. So the servant suggests they consult the Prophet-Judge, Samuel. Samuel’s reputation proceeds him. He is known for his godliness, his respectability, his truthfulness, his wisdom. Evidently, he’s also known for his humility and approachability: he’s someone who is not high and mighty that he minds dealing with commonplace practical matters – runaway barnyard animals, and the like. The man of God is no cave-dwelling mystic: he cares about ordinary people and their everyday problems.

With a little tweaking, this verse could serve as compelling vision statement for New Life:

The people of the Cowichan Valley say, “Look, in this town there is a church of God; it is highly respected, and everything they say is true. Let’s go there now. Perhaps they will tell us what way to take.”

In the years I’ve been at New Life, I have watched this church grow into exactly this reputation. I have watched the community turn increasingly to us, asking our help in practical matters, wanting us to speak a word of truth in love, seeking our counsel about what way to take.

With a church like that in town, there’s no telling how many stubborn donkeys will find their way home.

July 12, 2013

The Ministries of the Local Church

I found this outline in one of my son’s youth ministry textbooks, Four Views on Youth Ministry, published by Zondervan in 2001. This was from an article by Malan Nel of Vista University in South Africa. What I’ve done here is strip out the youth and children’s ministry references to focus on some core definitions.

First, some scripture verses to frame this discussion:

(NIV) Ephesians 4:11 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…

(NIV) I Corinthians 12:28 And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues?  Do all interpret?

(NIV) I Corinthians 12:20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”

Kerugma – preaching

[usually rendered as kerygma in North America] Through kerugma, God comes to the congregation….Of course, the better the preacher’s textbook delivery and dynamics, the more relevant the message will be… Modern insights in homiletics — insights that emphasize the dialogical character of the sermon — all these make the sermon that much more meaningful…

Leitourgia – worship service

The gathered congregation is the basic form of the functioning of the congregation and its ministries. Where people…enter into the presence of God.  If this mode has stagnated as a result of unchanging liturgical agendas, the fault is not in the leitourgia mode itself, the fault should be identified and corrected in a practical theological way in the subdiscipline of liturgy.

Didache – teaching

[Joining] on the road to Yahweh. Initiation into, guidance along, and wise choices for living on the way are part of the congregational ministry…  Like other modes of ministry, didache seldom if ever occurs in isolation. It emphasizes that the congregational didache becomes part of the edification… and training… of the people of God to ably represent him as his people in this world.

Paraklesis – pastoral care

God is with us in all circumstances and situations — in anxiety, pain, sin, doubt, error, weakness, loneliness and success.  …God is with us to free us from the constraints of brokenness that threaten us. Paraklesis wants to lead us out of a life of imperfection and into a life of wholeness in spite of and in the midst of all the brokenness within and around us.

Koinonia – mutuality

Closely related to paraklesis, the mode of God’s coming to people through others is built on this truth: God is with people by means of each other, because in Jesus he came to us in flesh. Through the indwelling of the Spirit, people can live and discover their humanity through one another.  About this there is little doubt: Christians are people for one another and are the people of God in their togetherness.

Diakonia – service

…In scripture… the term is used to show that individuals find the fulfillment of their calling in service. Diakonia, therefore, is the umbrella term for all that the congregation does, for all its ministries. …The term refers to an activity performed out of love of God for the sake of one’s fellow man — so much so that it is called a service of love. It is easy to understand how the term changed to refer mainly to the ministry of care; in acts of caring and deeds of mercy the diakonia finds special expression.

Marturia – witness

The church is to be understood in missionary perspective, not because it is the primary activity of the church, but because we know that God is constantly involved in bringing wholeness — that is, salvation — to his  creation. The missio Dei includes the missio ecclesia. The congregation participates and is involved in the missio Dei, and in this way: The church is not the one who sends, but rather the one who is sent. This sentness is therefore not one of the results of being a church, but a prerequisite. It is the character of a true church.

Kubernesis – administration

The ministry of the management and administration of the congregation is usually explained with a helmsman [ie. nautical] term, cybernesis. The early church was often contemporarily described as a ship with Christ himself as the helmsman. This cybernesis ministry is related to a strongly pastoral term for leadership, used in Romans 12. It connotes a pastoral ministry of care and empathy, which was the duty of the leading members of the early church. This ministry is about caring guidance in the name of the Helmsman, and implies an orderly and appropriate journey toward a destination (I Corinthians 14). The unity and the edification of the congregation should be served in this way.

November 4, 2012

A New Take on APEPT

Ephesians 4:11-13

New International Version (NIV)

 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.

It’s sometimes called “The Five-Fold Ministry of the Church.” Sometimes it’s just abbreviated as APEPT:  Apostle, Pastor, Evangelist, Prophet, Teacher.

It’s often applied as helping a church determine its vision and the particular models that church should utilize to fulfill the five-fold mission.

Many times it is presented in terms of “finding your spiritual gift” types of sermons. You are asked to look at your abilities and gifts and determine if you see yourself as an Apostle (literally ‘sent one,’ missionary, church planter) or Pastor (literally ‘shepherd,’ caregiver, prayer warrior, etc.) or Evangelist (or ‘proclaimer,’ one who spreads the ‘evangel’ or good news of salvation, or a Christian apologist) or Prophet (not one who ‘foretells’ but one who ‘forth-tells’ who speaks into peoples’ lives often utilizing gifts of knowledge and utterance) or Teacher (one who searches the scriptures and opens understanding of doctrine and application.)

You’ve been to places where this was explained, and perhaps you’ve tried to look at your own potential areas of Christian service in this context.

Some people, like Australia’s Michael Frost for example, believe that each church currently has all five of these giftings operating in different people. He would say it’s necessary to identify these people and then come alongside them and resource them and support them.

Today, I want to look at it differently. I want to consider what your church needs. I want to ask you what type of gifted person you need right now personally. (Be sure to click the linked verses in each section.)

I/We Need an Apostle

This means, that we’re looking for a “sent one” to come into our community who wants to do ministry or just shake things up. Right now, where I live, I often speak about “watching the horizon for some young buck to appear over the horizon with a guitar slung over his shoulder, who is interested in doing a church plant, so that we can support them in what they want to accomplish.” Maybe you need someone to help you with an existing ministry project. Maybe you’re a pastor who needs help. Maybe you need someone with an expanded vision who can give you the extra kick you need to get something done for The Kingdom. (See Romans 10:14)

I/We Need a Pastor

I know this applies to so many of you reading this. You need someone to put their arm around your shoulder, or give you a good hug. Someone who will pray with you. Someone who will walk with you through a tough time. Maybe you’re in a church led by a rancher, but you really need a shepherd right now. Maybe you’re alone and just need to know that someone cares. In a megachurch world, we tend to focus on great preaching at the expense of great pastoring. You need someone to pray with you for help, for wholeness, for healing.  (see I Peter 5:2)

I/We Need an Evangelist

Maybe someone you know hasn’t crossed the line of faith, and you’re praying for someone to step into the picture who can help close the sale. Maybe you’re having a tough time defending the faith with people who are closed or apathetic to the Christian message. Maybe it’s you, yourself, who isn’t clear on how salvation happens, or maybe you’re a seasoned veteran of this whole church thing, but suddenly riddled with doubts and needing assurance of salvation. You need to connect with someone with the heart of an evangelist. (See Romans 10:14 this is a different take on the reference for Apostle.)

I/We Need a Prophet

Either individually or as a church, you know you need someone who will speak into your life or the life of your congregation; someone not afraid to tell it like it is; someone possessing insights that can only come through supernatural words of knowledge and wisdom; someone willing to identify sin.  (See I Corinthians 12: 7-11)

I/We Need a Teacher

You know when you’re hungry. You know when you’re thirsty. Sadly, many individuals and churches are dying of thirst and dying of hunger; ironically, at a time when more Bible study resources, courses and Christian colleges  are available than have ever existed at any time in history. There are, to be sure, some great Bible teachers out there, but in many local churches, there has been a weakening in the richness and substance of Bible teaching. You know when you’re getting milk when your body craves meat. (See Hebrews 5:12-14 also Luke 24:27)

God gave these gifts to Christian leaders — and the rest of them — because he knew that we needed them individually and collectively. Seeing the available list of gifts can help us identify what particular needs should presently be met in the hours, days and weeks to come. Perhaps now, you’re clearer on what specifically to pray for.

~Paul Wilkinson

April 20, 2012

Diggiing Deep Into God’s Word

Apologies to those of you who came yesterday and couldn’t find the devotional. I only found out 24 hours later that it got posted to the wrong blog — I manage eight different ones — and it’s now available.   

Today’s post is a little longer than what’s normally here, but it’s a subject that we all need to be reminded of.  When the early church was birthed in Acts 2, the thing that everyone noticed wasn’t the education or skill in oratory of the disciples, it was that they had spent time with Jesus.

This is from a blog that was new to me, Answers from the Book, and appeared earlier this month under the title Be A Berean. As always, you’re encouraged to click that link and read at source. If for some reason you stay here, please note there’s a page break in this one; be sure to click through to read the whole article. 

“And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” (Acts 17:10-11)

A couple of weeks ago, I received a comment on a post that disagreed with my interpretation of a particular Bible passage. This was not the first time someone has shared a dissenting point of view and, I am quite certain, will not be the last. To be completely honest, I welcome thoughtful, sincere comments whether they agree with what I have written or not. Opposing viewpoints can have a way of sending us back to the Word of God to re-evaluate our position and to make sure that Scripture really supports it. Anything that leads us to spend more time in the Bible isn’t a bad thing, is it?

What concerned me about this specific comment wasn’t the fact that it criticized my conclusions, it was the reason the person gave for disagreeing. Apparently, this individual had heard a Bible teacher speak about this particular passage of Scripture on Television. The conclusions reached, according to the writer of the comment, were significantly different from what I was sharing in the article. Rather than offering Biblical support for these conclusions or citing corroborating passages, the only basis for accepting the interpretation seemed to lie in the identity and credentials of the man on the T.V. Program.

A Matter Of Authority

There is a great deal of overemphasis placed in the credentials and identity of individuals when it comes to Bible teaching and preaching. I remember browsing through a website a few years ago that advertised openings for pastoral positions in various churches across the country. It amazed me how many listings put the educational requirements first and foremost in their posting. “Must have a Doctorate in Theology or Pastoral Studies” was at the very top of a great many of the advertisements. Now, it is understandable that a church would not want to install a novice, ignorant of the Word of God, into their leadership, but it struck me as ironic that qualifications such as “must be of sound moral character”, or “must exhibit Christian virtues in their daily life” were listed at the bottom of the posting more often than not. It was almost as if these attributes were an afterhought! The most relevant credentials, in the minds of many of these church boards, had more to do with where a pastoral candidate attended school than the spiritual guidance he would bring to their congregation.

It seems that many people would rather put their trust entirely in the educational and experiential background of another person than evaluate their message against the Word of God. If a Bible teacher is famous enough, or has the right academic degree, then they are ready to unquestioningly accept any and all teachings that the person gives. But such a practice is never taught nor commended in the Bible itself. If anyone in Scripture had the authority to rest on His credentials, it would have been the Lord Jesus. Yet even He never urged anyone to accept His teachings uncritically, but frequently backed up His Message with references to the Old Testament (e.g., Mark 12:10, 12:24, Luke 24:27, 24:44, John 5:39). Luke describes the people of Berea in the Book of Acts as “noble” because they not only accepted the teachings of the Apostle Paul with an open mind, but because they “searched the Scriptures daily” in order to verify whether or not what he was teaching was Biblically sound (Acts 17:11). (more…)

December 25, 2011

Brennan Manning and Henri Nouwen on Ministry

This is from Abba’s Child (p 52)

If I must seek an identity outside of myself, then the accumulation of wealth, power and honors allures me.  Or I may find my center of gravity in interpersonal relationships.  Ironically, the church itself can stroke the imposter by conferring and withholding honors, offering pride of place based on performance, and creating the illusion of status by rank and pecking order.  When belonging to an elite group eclipses the love of God; when I draw life and meaning from any source other than my belovedness, I am spiritually dead.  When God gets relegated to second place behind any bauble or trinket, I have swapped the pearl of great price for painted fragments of glass.

Two pages later, Manning quotes from Henri Nouwen’s  Life of the Beloved (p.26)

I came to see that it was in my brokenness, in my powerlessness, in my weakness that Jesus was made strong. It was in the acceptance of my lack of faith that  God could give me faith.  It was in the embracing of my brokenness that I could identify with others’ brokenness.  It was my role to identify with others’ pain, not relieve it.  Ministry was sharing, not dominating; understanding, not theologizing; caring, not fixing.

Best wishes for December 25th from Christianity 201.

November 11, 2011

Having the Call of God

Pastor Kevin Rogers blogs at The Orphan Age, where this piece appeared recently under the title,  Tedious Boredom and Sheer Terror.

I spoke with a man whose job was to drive locomotive through Northern Ontario. When asked what his job was like he said, “It is days of tedious boredom combined with moments of sheer terror.”  

So why had he devoted his adult life to the rails?

Why do truckers endure the long haul and why do daycare workers put up with demanding parents and low pay?

Some work because it is a means to an end. They endure their job in order to pay the bills and put their kids through college. Still, others are engaged in their work (paid and unpaid) because they are compelled to. They have an inner sense of being in the right place. They see higher value than the task at hand.

Pastors, chaplains and community builders often have that inner sense. We name it ‘the call of God’. It may involve a ‘job’ that we do to pay the bills, but something deeper calls us to live each moment purposefully.

The call of God is a bit like the call of the sea. It may not be very specific. It may not be a call to this ocean or that ocean, or to this particular port or that one; it is more like a restless, yearning, which can only be satisfied by going to sea. *

A look at the men and women God called in Scripture reveals seasons of restless yearning and times of faith to take great risk. You find yourself somewhere in that continuum. Can you look at your current community and say that you are there by God’s choosing? It might be good to know that.

The qualifier that separates picking a career from responding to God’s Call is the sense that you must do this. It is your love response to the God who beckoned you to Himself.

‘It is God Who saved us and called us with a holy calling. Not according to our works, but to further His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before the world began’ (2 Timothy 1:9).

When we struggle with contentment, challenge and uncertainty in our place of service we need to recall the First Call. The calling to be a disciple of Jesus is the highest calling that sustains you when your position becomes redundant, someone else is elected or you are unemployed.

God chooses to further His own purpose and grace through your life, in season and out.

Kevin Rogers

* A sermon preached by John Hull on February 4th 2007 in the Chapel of the Queen’s Foundation for Ecumenical Theological Education, Birmingham, to mark the end of a residential course on the Mission of the Church in Britain. www.johnmhull.biz/SermonTheCallOfGod.doc

July 15, 2011

Guard Your Doctrine

When you say your prayers at night you probably ask God to keep those close to you from falling into danger.  It’s normal for us to ask our Heavenly Father to keep us safe, strong and healthy.  And it’s equally normal for us to ask God to protect our spouse, our children, or perhaps our pastor or pastoral staff from wrongdoing.  Because we’ve all heard stories of people who fell into sin or into a pattern of sin.

But the Bible teaches us that in addition to guarding our actions, we need to guard our beliefs.  Never has this been more important than it is at a time when certain doctrines are under the microscope of challenge. 

1 Timothy 4:16
Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.

If someone were falling into negative behaviors, or addictive behaviors, or criminal activities, or feelings of despair or hopelessness, or dangerous thoughts; we wouldn’t hesitate to guide them safely back.  But what about when someone falls into a doctrinal belief that does not represent what the “church fathers” would have considered orthodoxy?

In another letter to Timothy, Paul writes:

2 Timothy 4:3
For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.

It’s not surprising therefore that it is also to Timothy that Paul writes the oft-memorized verse:

II Tim 2:15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. (NASB)

Here’s verses 14 and 15 in The Message:

Repeat these basic essentials over and over to God’s people. Warn them before God against pious nitpicking, which chips away at the faith. It just wears everyone out. Concentrate on doing your best for God, work you won’t be ashamed of, laying out the truth plain and simple. Stay clear of pious talk that is only talk. Words are not mere words, you know. If they’re not backed by a godly life, they accumulate as poison in the soul.

 

To Titus, Paul writes:

Titus 1

 6 An elder must be blameless…. 7 Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless… 9 He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.

We tend to think that someone in Christian leadership has failed when they have done something wrong, but clearly failure also happens when we believe something wrong.  Someone has said,

Collapse in the Christian life is rarely the result of a blowout, it is more often the result of a slow leak.

In a world of spiritual compromise we have to guard that our doctrine doesn’t ‘leak.’  Here’s our theme verse again, I Tim. 4:16 in The Message version:

Keep a firm grasp on both your character and your teaching. Don’t be diverted. Just keep at it. Both you and those who hear you will experience salvation.

April 16, 2011

Reproducible Ministry

Today’s post is from The Leadership Institute’s Alan Fadling.  It appeared on his blog Notes from My Unhurried Journey under the title, Discipleship – Reproducing Life and Ministry.

I recently heard again the saying:

“Give someone a fish and they eat for a day,
Teach them to fish and they eat for a lifetime.

What kind of a ministry do I provide. Am I making people dependent on me for their daily bread, or am I teaching men and women to listen to God for themselves in ways they will be able to continue over their lifetimes? This is the difference between producing and reproducing ministry.

One way I’m learning to reproduce ministry in others is to invite them into the processes I use to planning an event or gathering. I need to have thought deeply about the rationale and reason for what I do.

One key to reproducible ministry is profound simplicity in what I teach, counsel, and plan. I’m not talking about being simplistic. I’m talking about what Thomas Kelly called “the simplicity that lies beyond complexity.” He says that “the last fruit of holy obedience is the simplicity of the trusting child, the simplicity of the children of God. It is the simplicity that lies beyond complexity. It is the naïveté that is the yonder side of sophistication. It is the beginning of spiritual maturity, which comes after the awkward age of religious busyness for the Kingdom of God–yet how many are caught, and arrested in development, within this adolescent development of the soul’s growth! The mark of this simplified life is radiant joy.”[1]

When we are simplistic and reductionist, we don’t inspire many to reproduce what we are doing. Being profoundly simple inspires people to try their own hand at ministry. Profound simplicity inspires people to believe, “Hey, I could do that!”

Ministry is reproducible when it flows with integrity out of my own life. Instead of thinking of ministry merely something I prepare to do, I am learning that ministry is rooted in who I am becoming and how I am relating with others. I reproduce ministry when instead of only sharing the finished product of my preparation process, I share the process. I can prepare a Bible study and then creatively walk students through the basic process that I went through (on a smaller time scale), rather than just giving them the fruit of my study. Reproducible Bible study would be discovery-oriented, not just delivery-oriented.

Reproducible events or gatherings would involve not just planning them behind closed doors and then delivering the finished product. It would involve doing some groundwork, then walking through the process together with a few who are willing, even hungry to learn.

Reproducible ministry will appeal to external motivation, but seeks to influence through modeling, inspiring and other increasingly internal motivations.

Reproducible ministry is more cooking school then chef, more cultivating learners than just teaching, more developing leaders than just personally leading. This is a paradigm shift. It always feels faster to do it myself than to teach another to do it, whatever it is.

Reproducible ministry requires a healthy sense of self-esteem and confidence in God. If my leadership is the means by which I try to establish my value and importance, I won’t be willing to share that role with others. I won’t want to share my “trade secrets.” I may resist reproducing ministry out of fear that someone else might do it better than me!

Father, help me learn to be one who reproduces ministry in the lives of those around me, even as I learn to receive from You a reproduction of Your own ministry in my life. Reproducible ministry is “Christ in me.”

~Alan Fadling


[1]Thomas Kelly. A Testament of Devotion. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1941, p. 36-37.

March 27, 2011

A Letter to Pastors from The Congregation

I’ve often believed that the most interesting part of any church sermon is not found in the text the pastor takes with him to the pulpit, but rather, the parts that end up, to use a film analogy, on the cutting room floor.  Author and speaker Rachel Held Evans posted this in February, and it seems an appropriate Sunday post here.  It appeared on her blog under the title, Dear Pastors — Tell us the Truth.

Dear Pastors,

Tell us the truth.

Tell us the truth when you don’t know the answers to our questions, and your humility will set the example as we seek them out together.

Tell us the truth about your doubts, and we will feel safe sharing our own.

Tell us the truth when you get tired, when the yoke grows too heavy and the hill too steep to climb, and we will learn to carry one another’s burdens because we started with yours.

Tell us the truth when you are sad, and we too will stop pretending.

Tell us the truth when your studies lead you to new ideas that might stretch our faith and make us uncomfortable, and those of us who stick around will never forget that you trusted us with a challenge.

Tell us the truth when your position is controversial, and we will grow braver along with you.

Tell us the truth when you need to spend time on your marriage, and we will remember to prioritize ours.

Tell us the truth when you fail, and we will stop expecting perfection.

Tell us the truth when you think that our old ways of doing things need to change, and though we may push back, the conversation will force us to examine why we do what we do and perhaps inspire something even greater.

Tell us the truth when you fall short, and we will drop our measuring sticks.

Tell us the truth when all that’s left is hope, and we start digging for it.

Tell us the truth when the world requires radical grace, and we will generate it.

Tell us the truth even if it’s surprising, disappointing, painful, joyous, unexpected, unplanned, and unresolved, and we will learn that this is what it means to be people of faith.

Tell us the truth and you won’t be the only one set free.

Love,


The Congregation

 

 

HT: Chris Hyde, who also has a response to the letter from author Adam McHugh.