Christianity 201

February 16, 2017

Ten Towering T’s of Spiritual Discipline

This is an excerpt from an article by William Barrick at Parking Space 23 in an article titled:

Hi-def Leadership in a Hi-def World: Attributes of Godly Leaders

…As an aid to examining the characteristics of Christian leadership, I have outlined my thoughts by means of “HI-DEF” as an acronym:

  • Humility
  • Integrity
  • Discipline
  • Excellence
  • Faith

The section below appears in the discipline category.

Discipline

One of the greatest causes of failure in leadership relates directly to one’s failure to manage himself properly—in other words, a lack of self-discipline. Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn, could not become a leader: “Uncontrolled as water, you shall not have preeminence” (Genesis 49:4). Self-control (self-discipline) must be carried out in ten major areas of life—the Ten Towering T’s:

  1. Thought. Self-discipline begins with managing our minds, our thoughts, our daydreaming. We waste mental energy in worry, anxiety, and over-thinking each situation we face. As leaders the best use of thought involves developing priorities and focusing on a plan of action and how to implement it efficiently.
  2. Time. Too often we end up piddling around with minor matters, or exhausting valuable time avoiding the difficult matters. In the Facebook age, we begin by looking at what one friend has posted and end up three hours later on an online rabbit trail that leads us away from the things we ought to be doing offline.
  3. Transformation. The task of becoming a man of God continues unendingly. We must begin every day seeking God’s presence and “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:14).
  4. Tasks. A godly leader must order his tasks according to their priority before beginning to do the work itself. A Hi-def leader must identify, define, and prioritize pertinent tasks.
  5. Toil. A persistent devotion to labor marks every great Christian leader. Paul spoke of how he surpassed others in the amount of labor he expended in gospel ministry: “I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10). Such leaders “who diligently labor” are worthy of respect (1 Thessalonians 5:12).
  6. Talents. Skills and abilities, as well as spiritual gifts, come from the Lord. Great leaders know how to manage their gifts and how to maximize their efforts. They recognize where they lack skill and seek co-laborers who make up that which the leader himself lacks.
  7. Treasures. Wise and prudent management of one’s finances and possessions also characterizes godly leaders. Being “free from the love of money” (1 Timothy 3:3) does not mean that a godly leader should ignore proper management of what God has given to him and to his family. Such good management includes honoring “the LORD from your wealth” (Proverbs 3:9).
  8. Tongue. With Hi-def clarity James 3:1–12 reveals the importance of controlling one’s words. The same teaching abounds in the Old Testament in passages like Psalm 39:1—leaders must guard their mouth “as with a muzzle.” The Hi-def leader chooses his words with care and keeps silent when it is wiser not to speak (James 1:19).
  9. Teaching. A leader must practice what he teaches (Romans 2:21). Paul exhorted Timothy to “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching” (1 Timothy 4:16). This discipline must be passed on to future leaders: “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2).
  10. Thanks. Being thankful takes discipline and management. A godly leader will excel in giving thanks when and where thanks is due—first of all to the Lord, then to others. Thanksgiving was such an important aspect of corporate worship that David appointed Asaph as “the leader in beginning the thanksgiving at prayer” in the Tabernacle and the Temple (Nehemiah 11:17).

I encourage you to click the title above to read the full article.

October 3, 2016

Serving with Determination and Perseverance

This devotional came recommended to us, and is from Seeds of the Kingdom the devotional page of  Ellel Ministries*, an organization with branches on many continents.

Keep On Keeping On

by Denise Cross

Let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not loss heartGalatians 6:9, NIV

Many years ago, when I was a young Christian, I was taught that believers should expect that doing God’s work would always be challenging and difficult. Indeed, this very fact of contention, they believed, proved that the work was a ‘good’ work.

However, later I discovered that other believers had a different expectation. They believed that, if something was a God-ordained plan, it would all fall into place with no struggles, because God Himself had gone ahead and prepared the way.

After a good few years of being involved in Ellel Ministries, it seems to me that neither of these extremes is true. There may be times when things go easily, and we feel the path ahead is easy, but there may also be battles, and discouragement along the way.

I can only think that Paul himself might have been feeling a little weary and discouraged when he wrote this letter to his friends in Galatia. They were obviously showing signs of being tired and discouraged, and needed to remember that perseverance and determination were what was needed. They had, perhaps, started with enthusiasm and excitement, but they’d hit difficulties of some kind, and their energy seemed to be running out. Paul is saying “Don’t give up. It will be worth it in the end. Keep your eye on the finishing line. What you’re seeking to achieve will come to fruition, and you’ll see the completion, and feel rewarded”.

I wonder if you’re feeling weary today, or losing heart about something you’re doing. Have you started something which you feel sure God’s laid on your heart, but it’s all taking longer, or proving much more difficult, than you first expected? Are you wondering when, or if ever, you’ll see the harvest of your efforts?

We may just need to ‘keep on keeping on’, because it’s just a matter of time until the ‘due season’ arrives, or maybe we need some rest to catch our breath, so we can re-focus on the goal, and push onward with renewed determination. Perhaps we need some extra support in prayer, or practical help, before we can totally reap the reward

If you’re feeling tired of doing good, you can ask God to refresh you, to refocus you and to give you a new determination to complete the work He’s put before you. Then you will, in the fullness of His perfect timing, see the end results of your efforts, and have the delight of hearing His ‘Well done, good and faithful servant’.

Prayer: Father God, You’ve called me, and trusted me to do good works, Kingdom works for You, in ways You’ve planned for me. Thank You that, if, and when, I grow weary, I can turn to You for refreshing, re-inspiring and re-energizing to continue with those good works. Please speak Your encouragement to me today. I ask it in the precious name of Jesus. Amen.


* What does Ellel mean?

Ellel Ministries takes its name from its first building in England, Ellel Grange, which is near the village of Ellel, in Lancashire.

In old English, the name Ellel means ‘All hail’ which means ‘All glory to God’
In Hebrew, Ellel means ‘towards God’
In Mandarin Chinese, it means ‘love flowing outwards (愛流).

So Ellel could be said to mean ‘All hail, Jesus, All glory to Him’ and be expressed as ‘Love flowing outwards’ into a fallen and broken world, where we are helping people move ‘towards God’. It is all for His glory.

June 18, 2016

Are we required to submit to a vision by a pastor?

When people leave comments on my various blogs, I often check out their writing if they provide a website. That’s how I ran into Australia’s Luke Goddard, who along with his wife Peta, writes at From Frightened To Father and hosts the Filtered Radio podcast. (Don’t worry, he explained it to me!) I asked him if he would consider writing something for readers here, and he came up with a rather interesting topic. The situation described may be foreign to some of you, but in the modern church it can be far too common. Either way, I hope it gets you thinking… For my U.S. readers, Luke used the Anglicized spelling of honor so many times that I decided not to change it today! 

•••by Luke Goddard

Are we required to submit to a vision by a pastor? This is a valid question as it is an extremely common trait in modern churches to have a visionary leader who is like a miniature god that the congregation must “honour at all costs.” This honour is often driven into the members as if when they open up a discussion about theology, practices or ecclesiology in general is an attack on their God given dream for the church.

Scripture disagrees.

The qualifications for a pastor of a congregation are laid out very clearly in Titus 1:

5 The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. 6 An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. 7 Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. 8 Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. 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.

These qualifications include “not pursuing dishonest gain” and, “not overbearing,” and finally encouraging others in “sound doctrine…refuting those who oppose it.”

These qualities are lacking in many pastors, and our submission to them is not meant to be a compulsory, overbearing honour that weighs down and puts into bondage the congregation member. I have witnessed this type of leadership and realized that I was trying to support a vision for church that clearly was unbiblical, yet loved the hype, music, relationships and modern facilities of church and it kept me quiet. I had solid convictions about word-faith doctrine, heretical teachers that spoke blasphemous things that were being promoted by our old congregation, and many instances where visiting preachers said some grievous things from our pulpit… yet my “honour” principle taught from a young age told me to shut up and let it go. They’re a minister, I’m a member… there’s nothing I can say to change anything.

But Christian pastors are literally required to refute those who teach heresy, and also preach in accordance with sound doctrine the whole counsel of God! So I have come to learn that approaching a pastor in a friendly way is OK to discuss theology, but that in most modern churches this is completely unwelcome. Their vision from God for the church is usually “gospel” and unchangeable, and handed down from higher authorities in the Pentecostal movement through young people camps and leader training. It’s a battle for the Bible and souls in reality.

So back to the question: Do we have to submit to a pastor’s church vision? No! But we do honour them as our feeding shepherd, and if they are faithful and rightly handle God’s word then they’re actually due honour for doing so, but those that preach faithfully usually don’t have a “vision” for their church that is infallible. If they do, they end up sliding down a slippery slope anyway. We are in no way obligated in scripture to honour a pastor’s vision. We are, though, under the God given submission to a local pastor if he has “shown himself approved” by studying the word of God. This will be evident in his life, his kids, his teaching and his relationship with his elders and staff. This takes time to visibly witness, but is there for our good. We are to lovingly support our pastors, and speak openly with them about doctrine as it arises if anything is said out of line, but the truth is that heretical teachers usually abhor questioning. In fact, many have gone on record saying they will openly throw out any church member who dares question their way of doing church. This is dangerous. Dangerous because they stand in the place of Jesus as the builder of the church, and the author and finisher of our faith. Jesus becomes the tacked on message to the end of motivational speeches, pep talks, self esteem boosting sermons and mini-movie stories loosely to do with spiritual things.

I think the Bible makes it clear that Paul and Timothy were given very specific directions for pastors to follow, and that those that deviate are not faithfully serving Jesus flock as they should, and as such are liable for questioning. It is how we approach this questioning, though, that often gets us into trouble.

In the end, we need to pray for faithful men of God to proclaim Christ crucified, and support those who do, and listen in to what our current pastors are saying with an open Bible to make sure that they are preaching in context, with the right message, given in season and with faithfulness to the text.

That is the only way a church can grow healthily, and the flock be fed nutritionally.

January 17, 2016

The Good News, Bad News of Ministry Life

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

I Corinthians 16-9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew Henry writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greater opportunities = Greater opposition.

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

Greater opposition = Greater opportunities.

Romans 5:20b (KJV) says,

But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

August 21, 2015

For Those Who Serve, Preach, Teach…

This post was in our draft file for nearly two years and I discovered it last night. The link is to a blog called Justified and Sinner, which redirects to A Simple Christian. The author is not named. This will resonate with those of you have devoted time to helping people in their spiritual growth.

Is it insane to keep doing/teaching/preaching the same thing over and over, and expecting…

 1  In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and because he is coming to rule as King, I solemnly urge you 2  to preach the message, to insist upon proclaiming it (whether the time is right or not), to convince, reproach, and encourage, as you teach with all patience. 3  The time will come when people will not listen to sound doctrine, but will follow their own desires and will collect for themselves more and more teachers who will tell them what they are itching to hear. 4  They will turn away from listening to the truth and give their attention to legends. 5  But you must keep control of yourself in all circumstances; endure suffering, do the work of a preacher of the Good News, and perform your whole duty as a servant of God. 2 Timothy 4:1-5 (TEV)

\573         Please don’t abandon the task, don’t deviate from the way, even though you have to live with people who are full of prejudices: as if you thought the basis of arguments or the meaning of words were fixed by their behavior or by their assertions. Do try to get them to understand you… but if you don’t manage it, carry on anyway. (1)

There is a point in ministry that occurs when you realizing you are bashing your head against the wall.

An example – someone comes to you looking for spiritual guidance, and you offer it, and they go – thanks, and then going back to the same behavior that caused them to come to you in the first place.

Or someone who asks you to help them understand a Bible passage, you take the time to work it through with them, and then watch them return to the confusion, only to ask the same question in a similar manner a few weeks down the road.

It has been said that insanity can be defined by doing the same thing repeatedly, but hoping for a different outcome.   In this case, many pastors, priests, teachers, counselors are not just simply insane, but completely insane.

There see to be two options to this insanity, first – keep doing the work in the same way, but give up caring about the results, or second, change things regularly, looking for the precise combination that will work in your community, in your parish, in your classroom.  Sometimes we even bounce between the two, depending on who we last heard that appears to be successful, that appears to at least give an answer to our dilemma.

This glass half full/half open pendulum, and the second guessing and thinking that our “return on investment” must result in a immediate result that is satisfactory dominates our churches.  We are blown about by winds of, not of doctrine, but of some definitions and measurements of “faithfulness” and “success.”.  We are hurt because we get into these fields because we desire to change the world, and would like to at least change some lives.  We know the answer is Jesus, (as does every pre-schooler !) we know where people will find the answers, we are trained to give them both clearly and in a way that should appeal to people.

And then we wonder if they will ever hear us…

And eventually we wonder if we are insane (in the sense above) or we act on the lack of success and desperately try new ways.  Even to the point where we don’t give them time to see if they will work.

The nearly identical advice is seen above, (I saw St. Josemaria’s first – my Bible devotional reading was somewhere else).  Our endurance in the midst of our preaching, teaching, counseling is not based on their changed lives.  It’s not about “faithfully” doing it by dialing it in either.  It is about realizing our role is to give the message, Because Jesus is coming back, and that is news that is incredible to anyone who trusts in Him, and if they don’t hear it, they won’t be able to trust in it.

Days preaching and teaching and counseling aren’t supposed to be easy, they often demand great sacrifice, it often requires us to carry on, to keep looking at Christ and realizing the treasure that they need.  Ministry and teaching and counseling isn’t about our strength, its about the glory of God in which we work, sustaining us, encouraging, helping us endure, and driving us when needed.  We are going to have to suffer in this role.  Not just because of persecution, but because of those who do not hear the message, who we weep for, even as Christ wept over Jerusalem.  We need to realize that this struggle is okay.

That’s the example we have in Christ, and in our Father in Heaven.  They have kept calling us, hounding us even though the results haven’t been all that spectacularly different.  We still sin, we still forget about God, we still struggle, then repent, then worship.  And still God loves and calls, and forgives and comforts and is here with us.  He doesn’t change… He never will… although the results can’t be seen by us yet, He knows them, and dances with joy as He realizes those who trust in Him, who treasure His love.

In Him, we find the strength and the patience to avoid the insanity of reacting to what the world thinks is insane.  So let us keep our eyes on Him, He who begins faith and completes it is us, and in those who hear our message.


(1)Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 2448-2452). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

July 4, 2015

Passing the Torch of Leadership

“Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them–to the Israelites.
~Joshua 1:2 NIV

Brian StillerToday’s post is by Brian Stiller, former President of Youth for Christ Canada, former President of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, former President of Tyndale University College and Seminary and now Global Ambassador for the World Evangelical Alliance. Brian has lived many lifetimes! You can read more about him here.

What makes what follows so interesting is that it was written in 1987. It appeared in an EFC communications piece, The Sundial, and my wife typed this out so we could share it here.

When we fail to pass the torch

As we look at churches and organizations today, we can see that there are many in need of torch passing. But either the senior leader desperately holds on too long with no attempt to train or give opportunity to the younger, or the tension produces so much conflict that the younger leader heads off to some other more flexible opportunity. Out of it all, energy and vision are suppressed. This leads to an increasing loss of touch with reality and a lack of clear goals and effective strategy.

How can the torch be passed?

There is a wonderful example in the Old Testament of the passing of the torch – from Moses to Joshua.

The announcement, “Moses, my servant, is dead”, boomed out across the tents in the valley. What would happen now? many wondered. Fortunately for the people of Israel, Moses had carefully nurtured and developed a younger leader – Joshua.

What Moses did then lends powerful ideas to this generation.

Leadership includes different styles

Moses recognized that leadership emerges out of different styles. Whereas he was a crusader, Joshua was a manager.

Moses was angered by the treatment of his kinsfolk. Later he defended some young women who were being harassed while tending their sheep. Ultimately his crusader instinct led him to say yes to God’s call to lead the people out of Egypt.

How different Joshua was. Right from the beginning we see his obedience. Never is there conflict between himself and Moses. There was no sign of trouble because of a strident spirit or a self-centered personality.

Moses didn’t look for someone identical to himself. A different style was needed. Moses’ and Joshua’s backgrounds, personalities, styles, means of operation and public profiles were vastly different. Yet each was a leader and each, from his base of strength, was used by God in a particular way and particular time.

Different times call for different styles

It’s easy to be trapped into believing in a “best” form of leadership. My generation has grown up thinking its cloth must be cut from a certain model. Since World War II church leadership has been characterized as aggressive, charismatic, individualistic and outgoing. This view of leadership, however, has been typecast from a specific time and culture. It’s time we looked for other models.

Moses was a restless and dominating figure who led his people out of bondage and defined the basis of the community by his special contact with God. How different was Joshua! Learning from his tutor, Moses, he took the patterns and ideas expressed by his predecessor and molded them into a working society. Each leader was competent but their styles were different.

Passing the torch is inevitable

It’s not always easy to make the transition from one generation to the next. My generation has lived with the “long shadow” syndrome. The long shadow occurs when a key senior leader, often a creative and crusading “Moses”, continues for so long that his or her shadow blankets the one who is following. And the up and coming leader never gets an opportunity to nurture his or her own vision. Instead, the potential leader gets trapped by serving the older and never really develops the fine edges of his or her own leadership.

Managing Moses’ ideas

Joshua became the manager of Moses’ ideas. And how necessary it is that crusaders nurture and train managers to put their ideas into order and practice. Joshua succeeded because he refused to succumb to the weakness which plagues all managers: maintaining the status quo. Rather, he nurtured his vision and risked beyond the borders of Moses

June 30, 2015

The Sin of Self-Importance

We end the month with a return visit to a blog with an unusual name, re-Ver(sing) Verses.  I love the format used there each day, when you click the title below, take a minute to look through other recent devotionals. (The format is also a good model how of to present Bible study material.)

3 John 1:9

 I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will not welcome us.

3 John 1:9 | NIV | Other Versions | Context

Brief

By the time John got to writing the book of 3 John, it was understood that he was already very old, nearing a hundred. By then all the other apostles had been martyred – indeed, according to history (not the Bible), it was said that all the apostles except for John were martyred. Imagine living till that age? Almost ever single one of your peer would most likely have departed. While you will likely have a lot of friends, most of them would be a lot younger than you, and your friendship is based on your mentorship to them. Hence why the title of ‘the Elder’ that John calls himself by is doubly apt – whether or not he truly was an Elder in title or not, or simply in connotation. We know little about the Early Church except from what little the authors of the New Testament tells us, but most of those writers – Paul, Peter etc were all prominent leaders who regularly speak to different churches or visit different churches. Little is known about what goes on in a normal, regular church with a normal, regular leader. In 3 John we were given a glimpse of 3 obscure leaders in the early church days – Gaius, to whom John addressed the book of 3 John to, Diotrephes, who is our character of interest today, and Demetrius, who was the least mentioned but probably most commended. In this study we will focus on the very obscure Diotrephes from the very obscure book, and identify the common traits in a church leader that John has condemned as evil – that which we should not imitate.

Analysis

I wrote to the church – the assumption here is that this was the same church that Gaius was most likely a part of. The idea here was likely, John wrote something to the church, most likely some greetings and teachings, only to be rejected by Diotrephes. In order to reject them, he would have to be of a certain ministerial position – a position of certain authority and leadership powers, at least within the church itself. As a result of Diotrephes, the letter was likely destroyed or not read out to the church, and hence, John was now writing to Gaius, most likely another church leader, so that his message can be passed on to the Church. This was perhaps also an explanation for what he did not bring up the matter of Diotrephes with the Church but with Gaius, as any letter to the church would probably end up with Diotrephes and not paid heed to.

but Diotrephes, who loves to be first – the love of preeminence is pointed out specifically by John here. If Diotrephes is, as we assumed, a man holding a certain office in the church, likely pastoral, and likely amongst a core few key positions, there will certainly be a certain importance to this man. Indeed, even till today, we do afford our pastors and ministers higher importance as a respect of their positions. However, Diotrephes was likely being too self-important, even to the point of abusing his authority. It was out of his own pride, ambition, and self-interest. There are some scholars who believe that Diotrephes preferred a different gospel to the one the apostles preached, and thus did not welcome John, but that is something I cannot speculate on.

will not welcome us – there are two possibilities here, firstly, that John was physically unwelcome when he tried to visit the church, and secondly, his voice and words were unwelcome as Diotrephes disregarded his letter, paid no heed to his words, and withheld the letter from being read to the Church. Either way, this emphasizes the tyrannical rule that Diotrephes has over the church. While a church leader was meant to lead while walking in the truth (like Gaius, as praised by John in v2), Diotrephes not only rejected them and sought preeminence, he also had malicious words for them and chased some of them out of the church. John had harsh words for Diotrephes, implying that he was evil, and he implores Gaius never to follow his example – do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God [3 John 1:11].

Conclusion

Wow, this is like First Century AD Church politics, no? How dramatic, really. We see John, most likely a reputed figure in the Christian world and a mentor figure over several church leaders – the last of apostles, an old man with lots of respect reserved for him, being undermined by a pompous Diotrephes, who had some power in a church where Gaius, a commendable man, was also in. How complicated, but in truth, it happened in the first century, and it’s still happening today. Many times in the midst of our love for preeminence – let’s face it, we all like to be important – we lose sight of what is most important, what the church is about. We lose sight of God, and John’s warning is harsh – do good, or you are not from God.

As much as 3 John was a letter that commends Gaius, and as much as it reads, for a bit, like a complaint letter against Diotrephes to Gaius, the message is clear: lead the church properly, righteously, with the love of God. Do not imitate what is evil, but imitate what is good. And that Diotrephes?

Evil man!

For us modern day Christians, we may not be church leaders, but let us not become modern day Diotrephes, but instead imitate the good of Gaius and Demetrius.

 

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!

July 25, 2014

The Macedonian Call

Come over to Macedonia and help us

This verse is often used at missions conferences or other contexts to challenge people to consider Christian service:

During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”
(Acts 16:9)

I don’t know the exact timeline between this passage and one where apparently Paul answered the call but there was obviously a definite need for Paul’s time there was not easy:

For when we came into Macedonia, we had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn–conflicts on the outside, fears within. But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus,
(II Cor. 7:5-6)

Answering the call

In most cases this verse is presented as a direct confrontation: Will you stop what you are doing and consider going to some other part of the world in Christian service?

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
(Matthew 9:36-38)

I’ve included verse 36 here to see that Jesus call to his disciples was based on seeing genuine need and responding with compassion.

And knowing our propensity to procrastination, wanting to put off our response to the call, scripture includes this verse:

Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.
(John 4:35)

But where I want to land today has to do with another aspect to this we often don’t consider:

Issuing the call

If you’re reading a “201” devotional, it may be that you already are playing a ministry role in your local church, with some other parachurch organization, or are simply deeply involved in 1:1 ministry with individuals in your sphere of influence. And sometimes you need to reach out to other people because you can’t — and were not made — to do it all alone.

“Help! I need somebody
Help! Not just anybody”
(The Beatles)

The help you need may consist of

  • Someone’s knowledge or expertise in a particular area of counseling or Bible knowledge. I list this first because sometimes we refuse to admit when we’re over our depth in something.
  • Physical help. You can’t move great weights but together with others the load becomes lighter. It’s nice that you offer to help someone move, but when you get to the refrigerator or the piano, probably a group is needed.
  • Respite. Sometimes you need a break. People in leadership are often the last to realize that. (I’m at that place right now!)
  • Financial assistance. Perhaps you’re trying to do alone something where the costs really need to be borne by a larger group.

It’s at that point, that The (capital C) Church needs to step up, but they can’t do this unless you ask.

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.
(Galatians 6:2 NIV, ESV)

How will people know you have a need unless you tell them? What keeps us from asking for help? Pride. I know this to be true in my life; I want to be able to do it all myself, to be the Lone Ranger who rides in and saves the day.

Why? Probably because I want to get the credit, the recognition, the earthly honor. The fact is, some people in ministry don’t want to share the blessing, don’t want to share the stage, don’t want to share the pulpit. They trust the promise that God is able to equip them to do everything, but fail to see sometimes he equips them to be able to recognize people who would provide great help and assistance.

Conclusion

By all means, listen for the Macedonian call and be prepared to respond if you are able. But don’t forget to be prepared to issue a Macedonian call when you find yourself completely over your head in ministry life.

July 15, 2014

You and Your Pastor

Twice before we’ve featured the writing of Scott McCown here, but sadly, it’s been awhile.  I visited his blog, The Morning Drive recently and ended up wishing I could post a whole handful of articles. I ended up going back this one which talks about the relationship you (individually and corporately) have with your minister/pastor/preacher.  Please click through and read this at source; click the title below.

Your Preacher

preacherA while ago, Adam Faughn asked me to write and article about preaching for his blog: Faughn Family of Four. As I was looking through some files I came across the article and updated it for today’s blog post.

About three years ago I posted a question on a Social Networking Q&A site. The question was, “What do you expect from your minister (preacher)? One answer stood out as the answerer simply described the preacher where she worships. I thought I would begin by sharing that answer with you:

First and foremost, he is someone who is dedicated to following Christ. He cares more about people than image, he is a servant rather than a celebrity. He is not power-hungry, but is willing to delegate tasks and trust people, even when they do things differently than he would have them done. He is willing at times to say “no” and make sacrifices so that he is able to meet the emotional needs of his family.

  • He is willing to admit when he’s made a mistake. And he is also quick to forgive those around him. As a member, it is easier for me to grow in Christ because I know that I am deeply, genuinely loved. That I am accepted as is, but encouraged to grow.
  • He has close, open friendships where he is able to be honest about anything in his life. He honors and respects his wife.
  • He is willing to laugh at himself, and by his example I have learned a little about how to laugh at myself too. In his sermons he passes on stories that lift people up–nice things his wife, children, and folks in the congregation have done…
  • He sees people for who they are. He is not a big talker, but he is an encourager and a good listener.
  • He tries to model his ministry after the image of Jesus washing His disciples feet. He makes it his goal to always be the lowest person in the room, to always be serving those around him, just as Christ served us and gave himself for us.
  • He prays. He prays a lot. And he devours the scripture.
  • He isn’t trying to share some sort of theoretical faith he’s learned about in his head. Rather, it’s a faith he is living–”join me in following Christ.”
  • He sees himself as equipping all members for ministry. He is not there to entertain us or to make us happy; he is there to help, teach, and encourage us, so that we can be the best ministers we can be to those around us in whatever role we find ourselves in.

The Apostle Paul was in many ways a “pulpit preacher.” He spent three years located and serving with the Church in Ephesus. He describes his time there to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20. By looking at his words, we can get an idea of what the pulpit is about: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. . . . for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.” (Acts 20:18-21, 27b – ESV).

Paul instructs a younger minister, his son in faith, Timothy, encouraging him in the following ways:

“ . . . For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth – 1 Tim 2:5-7.

. . . But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness – 1 Tim 6:11.

. . . Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth – 2 Tim 2:15.

. . . Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will – 2 Tim 2:23-36.

. . . preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry – 2 Tim 4:2-5.”

Here is what we learn from the Scriptures:

The Pulpit is not:

  • A venue for your soap box or personal point of view.
  • An avenue to vent anger or to speak to one individual’s struggle.
  • A place to push your political standings. There are times to take moral stands, but preach the morality issue and do not make it a political speech. Do not tell people how to vote, tell them what God says and let them decided what to do.
  • A way to make a living. You can make a living while filling a pulpit, but do not enter ministry just to make a living. My Bible College instructors were quick to tell us if we could make a living doing something else, then do it.

What the local congregation can (should) expect:

  1. Sound teaching: Make sure you are expounding the text and not reading into the text what you already believe.
  2. Studied material: A good sermon takes time to study, write, review, edit, and reflect before presentation.
  3. Significance: Sermons should have an impact on people lives. Messages need to have significance to the listener. This requires knowledge of peoples lives by being available to them.
  4. Simplicity: Theological babble sounds good and impresses other preachers at lectureships, but keep weekly sermons simple. The educational level in most congregation varies from children to well educated adults. Try to reach each group where they are.
  5. Servant mentality: A preacher is not the controlling officer of the congregation. He is a servant of the congregation where he worships and works. Look for opportunities and be ready to serve when called upon.

What the local congregation should return (pulpit can expect)

  1. Time to study: Those that fill the pulpit full-time receive support so that they can spend extra time in study. A number of years ago I stopped referring to the room I use at the building or the area of my home as my office, but as my study. When someone asks me if I have “office hours” I reply, “I am usually in my study at the building” during certain hours. Using the word study lets them know what I am doing while there, and keeps me from becoming a manager of church affairs.
  2. Taking lessons to heart and action: I love the story about a preacher who presented a lesson on Going the Second Mile in Love. One lady who always complained about others not treating her well, shook his hand saying, “that was a great lesson.” “Thank you,” he replied, “How are you going to put love in action this week?”
  3. Toleration: One person cannot be in more than one place at a time. “I called the building, but no one answered” and “That preacher never visits” are expectations that should not co-exist, but do.
  4. Togetherness in service: Every member is a servant “As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another . . .” 1 Pet 4:10.

May 8, 2014

Chaos in the Heart

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I’m a huge fan of Andy Stanley, but a lot of his writing online is limited to leadership issues. Still, a number of people who read C201 are leaders in their local churches, and while he made have had pastors in mind when he wrote this, it really applies broadly. This article appeared in 2011 at ChurchLeaders.com under the title The State of Heart Leadership.

In Matthew 15:19, Jesus warned that

“. . . out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.”

Can you think of anyone who derailed his or her organization or career because of anything on that list? I’ll bet you can. In fact, I know far more stories of failure rooted in these issues than those resulting from a lack of competence or skill.

Andy Stanley 2013The simple truth is that leaders who fail to monitor their hearts jeopardize their organizations. If we neglect the arduous work of monitoring what’s going on inside of us, our organizations will suffer.

Look at Jesus’ words again. Everything we say and do springs from our hearts. The implications of this verse are huge for those who manage people. What’s in our hearts eventually affects our ability to lead effectively. Consequently, learning to guard our hearts is critical to our success as leaders. There are three things in particular that if ignored have the potential to create chaos in the heart of a leader and, consequently, in his or her sphere of organizational influence.

The first is guilt. Leaders that carry unresolved guilt are forced to hide a part of themselves from those closest to them. They have secrets. They expend time and energy ensuring that no one finds them out because they know they are not completely trustworthy. And because they are suspect, they begin to suspect others. Their inability to trust others makes it almost impossible for them to build cohesive teams.

The second enemy of the heart is anger. Angry people live as if the world owes them something—something they can never quite identify. Angry leaders are impossible to please. They attract employees that are more concerned with making their bosses happy than doing what’s best for the organization. This leads to poor decisions, eventually putting them at odds with their angry bosses and the cycle of dysfunction continues.

The third heart issue that can derail a leader is jealousy. Professional jealousy is understandable, maybe even unavoidable to some extent. But when it is unrecognized and ignored, it has the potential to destroy the synergy of a team. Jealous leaders measure their success by the failure of others. An organization cannot sustain momentum when its leadership is focused on how well others are not doing rather than looking for ways to move forward. Maybe most crippling of all, leaders who carry jealousy in their hearts rarely surround themselves with competent and talented people. They feel threatened. And their insecurity stifles the growth all organizations need.

If you can identify with the ailments cited above, welcome to the human race. We all wrestle with guilt, anger, and jealousy at some level. That’s why we need a Savior. The good news is that through Christ we can bring these enemies of the heart under control. They might never be eliminated, but they certainly don’t have to control our lives or contaminate our organizations.

If you have a secret, tell somebody. Confess. Confession eradicates guilt. Chances are you’ve confessed to God. Now go confess to the person you’ve wronged. Angry? Forgive. Forgiveness is simply a decision to cancel a debt. Take time to decipher what you think the people who’ve hurt you owe you and cancel those debts. Otherwise, you will make the people closest to you pay. Jealous? Look for ways to celebrate the successes of people who’ve pulled ahead of you. Write ’em a letter. Praise their accomplishments in public. Refuse to allow jealousy to take up residence in your heart.

The writer of Proverbs summarized it this way, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” You live from the heart. You love from the heart. And yes, you lead from your heart. So pay attention to your heart. It impacts everything you do.

Adapted from Enemies of the Heart (Multnomah Books: 2011)by Andy Stanley.

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.

 

April 27, 2014

Teacher Trouble

This morning, the sermon I heard included these two scriptures:

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, because you know that we will be judged more strictly. ~James 3:1 NET

“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come! ~Matthew 18:6-7 NIV

As I listened, I was reminded of a something that happened many years ago. The church secretary’s ten-year-old son announced at lunch that his Sunday School teacher believed in reincarnation. There’s a family mealtime conversation for which I would love to have been a fly on the wall.

Needless to say, an investigation ensued, the child’s report was accurate, and the teacher was relieved of responsibilities.

I’ve probably shared this story about a dozen times in the twenty years since it happened, but only today did I ask myself, “I wonder if anybody ever set the woman straight?” Obviously, removing the teacher from the classroom was the first thing that needed to happen, but someone also needed to set her straight on why Christians don’t see themselves as having existed before in another form and then, at the end of this life, returning to earth in another life-form.

About a year ago, I discovered something I had previously overlooked; namely, that in the various doctrines which join together to form a systematic theology (or as I prefer, a cohesive theology) there is a doctrine of man and for that the term used is anthropology, the same term we normally use to describe a particular discipline in the social sciences alongside things like psychology or sociology or philosophy. Perhaps you took ‘anthro’ in school but never thought of it in a doctrinal sense.1  In the list of branches of theology at Wikipedia, it’s listed as “Theological Anthropology”

  • Bible – the nature and means of its inspiration, etc.; including hermeneutics (the development and study of theories of the interpretation and understanding of texts and the topic of Biblical law in Christianity)
  • Eschatology – the study of the last things, or end times. Covers subjects such as death and the afterlife, the end of history, the end of the world, the last judgment, the nature of hope and progress, etc.
  • Christology – the study of Jesus Christ, of his nature(s), and of the relationship between his divinity and humanity;
  • Creation myths
  • Divine providence – the study of sovereignty, superintendence, or agency of God over events in people’s lives and throughout history.
  • Ecclesiology (sometimes a subsection of missiology)—the study of the Christian Church, including the institutional structure, sacraments and practices (especially the worship of God) thereof
  • Mariology – area of theology concerned with Mary…
  • Missiology (sometimes a subsection of ecclesiology)—God’s will in the world, missions, evangelism, etc.
  • Pneumatology – the study of the Holy Spirit, sometimes also ‘geist’ as in Hegelianism and other philosophico-theological systems
  • Soteriology – the study of the nature and means of salvation. May include Hamartiology (the study of sin), Law and Gospel (the study of the relationship between Divine Law and Divine Grace, justification, sanctification
  • Theological anthropology – the study of humanity, especially as it relates to the divine
  • Theology Proper – the study of God’s attributes, nature, and relation to the world. May include:
    • Theodicy – attempts at reconciling the existence of evil and suffering in the world with the nature and justice of God
    • Apophatic theology – negative theology which seeks to describe God by negation (e.g., immutable, impassible ). It is the discussion of what God is not, or the investigation of how language about God breaks down (see the nature of God in Western theology). Apophatic theology often is contrasted with “Cataphatic theology.”

But we’re digressing from our Sunday School teacher. I’m not sure at this point that it would be helpful to revisit a 20-year old discussion, nor to reveal I was party to something that might have been considered confidential at the time.2 But I am reminded of this verse:

My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness… (Galatians 6:1 NRSV)

Brothers and sisters, if someone in your group does something wrong, you who are spiritual should go to that person and gently help make him right again. (same vs. NCV)

 

The context is more overt sin and wrongdoing, but the principle is the same: To gently guide that person to the right path, using scripture.  (See my treatment of II Timothy 3:16, especially the final paraphrase.)

The chorus of the old hymn, “Brighten the Corner” describes this. While you might not fully understand all the nautical imagery, it’s easy to see the gist of the sentiment:

Brighten the corner where you are!
Brighten the corner where you are!
Someone far from harbor you may guide across the bar;
Brighten the corner where you are!

Our responsibility is threefold:

  1. To identify (discern) false teaching
  2. To remove the person caught in error from public ministry3
  3. To try to restore that person to sound doctrine

1Not having engaged in this study formally, I would suspect that at the most elementary level, it would entail some notion of the teaching that “It is appointed onto man once to die, and after that the judgement” Hebrews 9:27 KJV, italics added. A Christian theological understanding of man would assert that we don’t come back in some other form as taught in Spiritism or Hinduism.

2I have however in my limited contact with this person over the years encouraged them along the lines of deeper Bible study. It grieves me to think that someone could be in church for so many years and hold to views that are so far from orthodox. However, there are times when spiritual confrontation is appropriate.

3This is for their benefit (to avoid being under judgement, as in today’s opening verses) and to prevent them from causing “little ones”(which can be literal in terms of children, or figurative in terms of people new to the faith) to stumble.

April 21, 2014

Should Christian Content Online Be Free?

When I first looked at this topical article, I didn’t think it would fit here at C201, where articles are more devotional and Bible-study oriented. But then I looked at how the author, Daniel Darling handled this, and decided this is exactly the kind of issue people wrestle with online. As always you are directed to read the articles at their original source, where this appeared as No, All Christian Content Shouldn’t Be Free. (Once there, be sure to also click through to read today’s scriptures.)

A few years ago, when I was a pastor, I had a hard time explaining to a rather cranky member why we, as a church, had to pay for a license to use Christian music in our worship services. “They should give it away freely. Why do I have to pay for it? I thought this was ministry. Why they are out to make money?” What made this man’s beef all the more interesting is that I had just concluded, a day earlier, a long conversation with him about what he considered unfair pay at his work. The irony was lost on him, but not me.

But alas, this complaint about Christian content costing money is one I’ve heard in a variety of forms most of my adult life. It goes something like this:

Christian publishers should not be so eager to make money. Why not give their books away free?

Christian musicians should not charge to sing at a Church. Why not sing for the Lord?

Christian conferences should offer all their content online, right away, for free, right now.

Well-known speakers shouldn’t charge so much to speak at someone’s church. They should just come to be a blessing.

So, the question is this: Should all Christian content be free? And to this I say a hearty, “No!”

I understand the desire to get resources into the hands of those who can’t afford them. The impulse to break down financial barriers so  people can hear the gospel and so God’s people can grow is good. I’m thankful for all of the free content, readily available online and elsewhere. But we must understand that good content always has a cost.

For free stuff, somebody, somewhere was kind enough to fund the spread of the good news. Praise God for this kind of generosity. May He raise up more Christian philanthropists in this generation.

But I want to tackle this idea that there should never be charge for Christian content–books, sermons, study guides, music, teaching textbooks. This is not a right argument on many levels.

First, the Bible says that hard work should be rewarded with adequate payment. Paul said to Timothy that “the worker” is worthy of his wages. Christians shouldn’t succumb to greed and materialism. This is a sin and can be a soul-sucking snare (1 Timothy 6:9). But money is offered in Scripture as a reward for hard work. Work was instituted by God at Creation, before the Fall. And the rewards of hard work are woven into the mandate to subdue the earth. To diminish reward is to cheapen, in my view, the value of hard work and to soften the God-glorifying act of creating.

Secondly, Christians should be rewarded for their ministry workWe have this idea that because someone is in “full-time” ministry that they should give their time and effort away for free. But Paul told the Galatians that those “One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches” (Galatians 6:6). In other words, those who benefit from the teaching ministry of others should support those who teach. How this works out in real life often differs. Some work full time and get their sole paycheck from a Christian organization. Others are “tent-makers” who, like Paul for a season, offer their ministry work in a part-time or free basis. Still, there are many who have some combination of an agreement. But, the principle still stands: there is nothing wrong with someone getting paid for their Christian content (music, books, preaching, etc). In fact, there is everything right.

Third, by depriving Christians of payment for their work, at times, we could be causing them to disobey ScriptureScripture says that a man who doesn’t provide for his family is “worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8). Paul scolded lazy men who refused to provide for their families (2 Corinthians 3:10). Sometimes in our desire to demand free Christian content or when we grow upset at Christian organizations for charging for content or services, we forget that the men and women working in those organizations would like to feed their families, have health insurance, and own homes just as we do. Many serve and work at drastically reduced rates. They consider their vocation a calling, a mission, a chance to serve the body of Christ. But, that doesn’t mean the should work for free. Imagine if you were asked to do your job for free–if you had no paycheck to take home to support your wife and children? Imagine if someone demanded you do your job for free? You wouldn’t do that. You couldn’t do that. And neither should we expect editors, writers, web guys, recording artists, pastors etc give us the best and most edifying Christian content without cost.

Of course there are many caveats to this. There are legitimate and illegitimate ways to make money in the Christian world. There are, sadly, pastors who fleece their flocks and live lavish lifestyles off the backs of poor widows. There are some who claim that financial prosperity is a sign of God’s blessing. This wicked and destructive teaching is anti-gospel. And there are times when Christian organizations make decisions based on revenue streams rather than what is enriching for the body of Christ. That is wrong.

But let’s trust that these are a few examples out of the many faithful believers who serve the body well and deserve to be paid fairly for their labors. Let’s not simply rush to the conspiratorial idea that “That publisher/organization/church/pastor is just out to make money.” You actually don’t know that. It could be they are serving with an earnest desire to bring the good news of the gospel to those who need to hear it.


Daniel Darling works with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention (ERLC), the same organization as Dr. Russell Moore, who we’ve featured over the years here at C201 and Thinking Out Loud. His blog at DanielDarling.com ranks in the top 100 Christian blog list.

December 28, 2013

Is Full-Time Ministry a Higher Calling?

Today’s article is by Paul Burleson, who has been in pastoral ministry for 54 years. It appeared at his blog under the title Is Full Time Ministry a Higher Calling Than Any Other Calling?  (You’ll also find two articles from December 2013 exploding seven specific myths associated with Christmas.)

In Ephesians 4:1 Paul says this….

“Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called….” [the New American Standard Bible (1995)] The King James version uses the word “vocation” but it is better understood as “calling.” It is a reference to the general calling of grace that the first three chapters have described. So all Christians have a “calling” and we’re to walk accordingly.

Roman Catholic writer Michael Novak wrote a book on ‘Business as a Calling’ in which he presented four aspects of a “calling.” [His idea was in the context of business remember.] He said a calling will have …

1) An understanding that it is a personal and unique calling to you….

2) A requirement for the talents needed for the task and a love for the drudgery that may be involved in the task to which you’re called….

3) The presence of an enjoyment for and renewed energies from the doing of the task that is your calling….

4) A period of discernment and testing for [learning all about] the task to which you’re called.

Not bad.

I would think, in the Ephesians 4 context, our calling, which is to the same “Lord” Paul said he was a prisoner of in verse one and that “Lordship” calling is for EVERY true believer, might have the same characteristics about it…

1) It IS personal and unique to each of us…

2) We HAVE been gifted for our Life in Him…

3) There IS joy unspeakable in our life in Him and strength provided for the living of life…

4) We then spend the rest of our lives learning what life is all about by “hearing Him” as commanded of the Father. As I said, not bad!

I would also add what someone else has called a “fifth aspect” of a true calling and it is..

5) An orientation away from self so our goal would be the glory of God and the good of others in all things. That makes it even better.

It is obvious from all this that I believe we as Christians have accepted the universal vocation [calling] of following Christ and Novak’s ideas can be seen as relevant to that task/life.

But… is there in life a calling to a more specific vocation for all of us through which we make a living, provide for our families and, generally, live out our days on earth?

In other words, are we “called” to a career? And if we are, how do we know what we are to do for a career or livelihood? Add to that the question… is the “calling” to “full-time ministry” [career] a GREATER calling than the calling to other careers?

It is this that concept that I’m addressing today.

Since I believe ALL of life is sacred and there is NO division in scripture between the sacred and the secular [See 1 Corinthians 3:21-23.] I think we are to view ANYTHING we choose to do in life as a “calling.” A better way of saying it is we are to see anything we choose to do as an opportunity to “life-out our Lordship calling.” Choose anything you wish, but see it as a commitment to express His life in you and understand that what you do choose is a gift from Him to you.

Someone may be saying “Wait a minute Brother Paul, it sounds like you’re saying we can choose however we wish in matters of life instead of finding God’s specific will in those matters.” I am. The only WILL God has revealed to you and me specifically is that we are to live as what we are…’Sanctified people.” [1 Thess. 4:3 the rest of the chapter shows what that looks like.]

When we are committed to Him as Lord we will reflect that in whatever we choose. Our life is not to be lived trying to find out what He wishes we would do in each decision but, rather, in celebrating who He is as our Lord and making ANY decision accordingly.

So, I say marry whomever you choose, go to whatever University you wish, get whatever degree you desire, and live doing wherever you long to live doing. But in EVERY CHOICE YOU MAKE, see it as that which allows you to be effective for God in this world and bring glory to Him and good for other people. Your vocation or marriage or career or whatever, will only allow you to establish God’s order and virtue in your life and to assist other people to do the same. This is Christianity to me.

This isn’t to say that there isn’t an eternal and secret will that God is working out for us in His Divine Purposes. But it is to say that, by definition, that will is “secret” and we’ll understand in all only in “eternity.” Don’t worry. You won’t miss God in decisions. He really is in control. He’s unique that way.

By the way, as to whether a “calling to full-time ministry” is more sacred than anyone else’s, my answer is NO. It is different. It is unique to the one called. There are greater responsibilities for certain areas of life affected by that calling. But remember, all that is true of every christian’s life, as well in their unique way of living that life in employment. It’s ALL sacred and satisfying and spiritual when He is Lord.

So you obviously can see I believe every christian IS a full-time minister. Some are just placed as gifts to the Body as shepherds/pastors/elders/deacons, recognized by the body as gifts, but all Christians are gifts to and gifted for the Body of Christ in some fashion, [for ministry] and for the living of life however we live it. [Which is what ministry is.] “Whatsoever you do, do ALL to the glory of God.”

By the way, if I’m out in left field with this, don’t tell me. I’m having too much fun out here. ;)

Just kidding!

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