Christianity 201

September 6, 2021

Terminology: Missionaries or Workers?

Today we’re back for a third time at Disciple All Nations. The author is teacher, administrator, pastor, missionary, researcher, college professor and writer Russ Mitchell. This first appeared in the spring of 2020, and clicking the header which follows will get you there. (For those of you in missions, there’s an excellent article there on June 15th you should check out.)

Is it Time to Put the Term “Missionary” to Rest?

Recently I read Amy Peterson’s book Dangerous Territory, which chronicles her two-year adventure as a Christian English Teacher in Asia, which she self-critically subtitles “my misguided quest to save the world.” Early on I was struck by Peterson’s aversion to the term missionary. She shares:

“Despite my sincere and passionate desire to change the world for God, I hated that term –missionary—for all the connotations and baggage trailing behind it. I dreaded being aligned with the long history of abuse that educated westerners commonly associated with “missions” – destruction of indigenous cultures in the name of Christ, introduction of foreign diseases, wars in the name of evangelism. …I was terrified that I might accidentally live into this horrific, ethnocentric, imperialistic tradition.” (pages 18-19)

Peterson’s remarks reminded me of research findings of the Student Volunteer Movement 2 (renamed Global Mission Mobilization Initiative in 2019). Through interviews with young people around the world they too discovered an aversion to the term “missionary” for many of the same reasons Peterson lists. In addition, young people either viewed missionaries as “super saints”  – a measure they could never attain – or as cultural misfits, something they never wanted to become. Sensing that the term “missionary” was a hindrance to mobilizing students for service, SMV2 championed “message bearer” as a replacement for “missionary.”

I have also noticed that sending organizations avoid the use of “missionary” for practical reasons.  As many work in limited access countries where local governments do welcome foreign Christians, the term “workers” is preferred. Here are two personal examples.

Earlier this year my wife and I led a group of students to Central Asia. Our local hosts warned us to never use the M word in any of our communications. Otherwise the security of the entire work could be jeopardized. Also a few years ago, when reviewing our sending organization’s website, I was shocked to discover that the term “missionary” was not to be found anywhere on our public website! Upon inquiry, I learned that this was intentional.

So, I wonder, it is time to put the term “missionary” to rest? And if so, what shall replace it?

I was nurtured in a theological tradition that championed calling biblical things by biblical terms. How does missionary” fare? First, nowhere in the scriptures does the term “missionary” occur. So, it is not a biblical term. “Missionary” comes from the Latin verb, missio, to send. This is a semantically equivalent to biblical term, “apostle”, which literally means “sent out one.” Theological considerations, however, commonly restrict the use of “apostle” to leaders in the first century church. It is prudent to not go down that path.

Is there biblical alternative to “apostle” or “missionary?”

I believe there is, and it is a term that already is finding broad usage: worker.

Jesus tells his followers in Luke 10:2 (NIV), “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Consider too the parallel passage in Matthew 9:38.)  Here we see an early instance of people being sent out into the harvest field and the term used is worker.

Paul in his letters refers to numerous people as “fellow workers” or “co-workers” among whom are Urbanus (Romans 16:9), Timothy (Romans 16:21), Titus (2 Corinthians 8:13), Philemon (Phm. 1) and Stephanus (1 Corinthians 16:16). In the case of Stephanas, we see an even broader use of the term: “Now I urge you, brothers—you know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints— be subject to such as these, and to every fellow worker and laborer (1 Corinthians 16:16 ESV). Also, when writing Timothy Paul also uses “worker” in a general sense. “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 Timothy 2:15 ESV).

The term “worker” also eschews “super saint status.”  A saying of Jesus reminds us, “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty’” (Luke 17:10). “Workers,” then, are not super saints. They have only been obedient. They have done their duty.

What, then, are the advantages of the term “worker”?

  • It is a biblical term.
  • It has the connotation of being sent out by God.
  • It implies that one can rightly handle the “word of truth”
  • It shows that one is devoted to serving God’s people and is a trustworthy leader.
  • It already is used by sending organizations and churches with activity in limited access countries.
  • It is a humble term, that avoids the “super saint syndrome.”
  • It has none of the baggage associated with the term “missionary” that hinders mobilization

So, it seems prudent to lay the term “missionary” to rest and use the biblical term “worker” in its place. What do you think? Are there any other advantages or disadvantages to using the term “worker”?

 

August 12, 2021

Should Christians Watch the News?

If this were a century ago, the title would be, “Should Christians read the newspaper?” I also realize the phrase, “watch the news” implies the legacy television networks, whereas many of you get your current events through the internet, one way or another. Should Christians have a daily (or every other day) input of current events in their reading diet?

And I would answer with a resounding yes, which I recognize will indeed alienate some readers.

But this is 2021, post-Covid’s outbreak, and post-America’s federal election. Some people are simply “newsed out” while others debate the validity of certain media which disagree with their biases.

When the Sadducees came to Jesus in Matthew 16, it’s not immediately clear if they were asking for a miracle on the spot, some revelation of the divinity of Jesus, or, in the terms of which Jesus grants their request, some eschatological insight. He answers them,

NIV.Matt.16.2,3 He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.

It’s an analogy to be sure, beginning with the idea that today we might express as “wet your finger and hold it up to see which way the wind is blowing.” But on a deeper level he’s saying there are signs and it’s incumbent on us to be able to interpret them. That implies knowing what’s going on in your community, your nation and your world.

Some people devour local news. It’s good to be invested in your community. I’ve seen pastors who have never bothered to listen to local radio or subscribe to the local paper. Within a few years they’re off to another community, and I suppose they consider themselves citizens of heaven first, and getting to know the nuances of their city, town or village simply not worth the investment.

But other people major on world developments and then go to extremes trying to do the interpretation. A large container ship gets stuck in a canal for several days, and it’s a sign we’re heading toward one world government, they say. Because a boat got stuck.

In my youth, I was taught that “a wise person keeps abreast of the times.” When I went to find this verse however, I could only locate this rendering in the original edition of The Living Bible:

TLB.Proverbs.24.3,4 Any enterprise is built by wise planning, becomes strong through common sense, and profits wonderfully by keeping abreast of the facts.

All that to consider a quotation from Karl Barth, with a short post which appeared in 2015 at the blog of Geoff Sinibaldo. Click the header appearing next to read it there.

On Barth, the Bible and the Newspaper

Most preachers know the quote attributed to famed theologian Karl Barth:

We must hold the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.”

We have an inherent need to be relevant to our hearers. It is important to us as Christian leaders to both make the Bible come alive and speak to the real world concerns in which people live. The Bible and the newspaper balance those needs, but there is a cost. Sometimes we have such a desire to stay relevant we try to prove our relevancy by starting with the newspaper and working our way back to scripture and the tradition. Observation and revelation are not mutually exclusive, but they are not necessarily equal partners either. One interprets the other as a lens to read the other. It seems in our contemporary age where the church as a trusted institution and scripture as a trusted authority hold less sway with people, for well-founded and explicable reasons. As a result, we have inverted the relationship of revelation and observation, giving more weight to what we can see and experience with the hope that our faith might have something to say in response.

I recently discovered that the more accurate version of Barth’s quote is:

Take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible.” (Time Magazine, May 1, 1966.)

This makes me a little less nervous than the popularized version of this quote.  We are not to give equal value to God’s word revealed and handed down through the generations and the daily word reported and experienced with the fresh voice of a journalist this morning. We don’t just read the newspaper and figure out what to do about it on our own. Nor do we keep our head in the book, and shut the doors to our churches and leave personal experience aside.  We need a contemporary voice and one of wisdom that scripture provides.  The preacher’s task (as is the task of every believer) is to connect the stories of God and God’s people with our own. Our story is interpreted in light of what we know about God, and what we know of God primarily comes be what is revealed. For Christians that revelation is given in Jesus; so that the themes of God walking alongside us, welcoming us, including us, forgiving us, healing us, raising us and sending us become the interpretive lens in which we engage the real world around us with all its corruption, pain, division, violence and suffering.

The ancient stories of the Bible are not out of touch with life filled with technology, travel and the influx of ideas. The truths told in those stories are just as relevant to our lives as they have been to former generations. Stories of jealousy, selfishness, greed, destruction and betrayal – can be ripped right from our own headlines today, and stories of compassion, forgiveness, sacrifice and faithfulness are needed now as much as ever before. The constant voice of scripture within those ancient texts is one of discernment – “Where is God in all of this and where is God leading us?” Those are not questions the newspaper asks, but one we can continue to ask as we read it.  We certainly could use that voice in our world and in our relationships today.  Martin Luther once reflected that Jesus only matters when he is Jesus, “for me.”  Faith is always a contemporary exercise revealed in the present. Our task is to pay attention – not just to the world around us; but to God’s story entering our own lives and experience so we can better engage our neighbors’ concerns and challenges. Barth’s reflection about the news and the Good news provides both wisdom and relevancy. We need both voices, and too often sacrifice wisdom for the sake of relevancy.

One more piece on relevancy is an honest confession: I don’t read newspapers; at least not in their printed versions.* I find they often offer one voice and/or perspective in a time where many voices compete for our attention and allegiance, and it is helpful to find a variety of thoughts on any given subject.  Yet I must also claim my own bias – and that is to see the world through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and take it from there.

So I offer this 21st century update, on what I think what Barth was trying to say:

“We must hold the Bible in one hand, and our hand-held device in other – filled with Twitter feeds, Facebook updates, blog subscriptions, news articles from a variety of sources and perspectives, societal studies, and local gossip. We must open our own experiences to reflection, and listen for God moments in the stories of others. We must look beyond our doors, books and screens, and spend some time in the real world, in our community among our neighbors and through our networks as we pay close attention to those voices too.

Yet at its heart, scripture still interprets them all, interprets us all, and brings us into God’s timeless truth again and again to us…right now.”


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


*  I know it is a contradiction, but in our digital age I do still love the feel of a real paper book. For those who love the feel of a real newspaper, I understand that too.

August 5, 2021

Many, Many, Many Words

When I’m looking for articles to use here, I have to confess I do look for a certain length of each piece of writing. I don’t want to shortchange readers, and when I find something that’s only one- or two-hundred words, I usually dismiss it, no matter how insightful it might be. This isn’t Twitter, and I’m not composing memes here. I want to know that the writers put some effort into it.

I will admit that’s an incredibly superficial criterion.

There are people whose 200 word posts are formed out of the crucible of a life situation unimaginable to some of us. There’s a lot more to a devotional blog post than the words actually typed on a keyboard.

But I also want to give my readers good value for their money, even if Christianity 201 is always free!

A verse which came to mind was Matthew 6:7b

“…do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words…”
 (NIV)

God clearly isn’t interested in quantity.

(That brings us to 173 words so far… see the problem of being absorbed with numbers, data, stats?)

Contextually, Matthew 6:7 is about prayer, not the crafting of sermons, homilies, podcasts, YouTube videos, etc. The first part, verse 7a reads,

“And when you pray…”

But I do see a general principle here. We don’t have to be wordy when we talk to God (especially falling into the repeated use of the word ‘just’ or the phrase ‘Father God,’ as if we might forget who we’re speaking to, or he might stop listening), so why should we be verbose when we speak about God?

You’ve heard people say, “God doesn’t want your ability he needs your availability.” To that we could add, God doesn’t want you eloquency. (For the record, that’s not an actual word, but it fits the pattern. The word is eloquence.)

The English Standard Version uses the phrase, “heaping up empty phrases.”

“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.”

We do that. Especially in the Evangelical church where extemporaneous prayers are the norm, and more concise, crafted prayers are often looked down on, though that stereotype is changing, as many Evangelicals, Pentecostals and Charismatics are seeing the value of manuscripted prayers and classical prayers from previous centuries. (Again, for the record, there’s no such word as manuscripted, but hey, I was on a roll.)

Back in 2014, we quoted author Christopher Smith on this,

When he warns in the Sermon on the Mount against “heaping up empty phrases,” he’s specifically saying that we shouldn’t expect God to hear us and grant our requests based on how many words we’ve said—that is, how much time and energy we’ve put into saying long and repetitive prayers.  This is really a form of “works,” of trying to earn something from God by our own efforts.  Jesus directs us instead towards grace:  “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”  What we receive from God in prayer is an expression of His love and goodness towards us, not our efforts.

Again, remembering that the context is prayer, I still think Smith has hit the nail on the head when it comes to a possible wider context, namely that any attempt to try to meet a minimum number of words, or preach for a preset number of minutes, or have our book contain a certain number of pages is just allowing us to fall into a works category; of believing our standing our acceptance before God is going to based on the length of our dissertation or sermon or book, instead of the depth.

At the end of the day, perhaps the wisest thing, the best thing, the most fruitful thing, and the most God-honoring thing you can do today might be to create a 20-words-or-less meme and post it on social media; rather than believe that God is impressed with your verbosity. (Surprise, that one actually is a word!)

Furthermore, your eloquence may not compare to those who don’t have the gift of public speaking, or those for whom English is a second language.

In Luke 18, we see that a six-word prayer by a tax collector leaves its speaker “justified before God” and not the Pharisee who majored in public speaking. Again, the context is prayer, but I see a wider context.

NIV.Luke.18.10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”


For those who do write, preach, teach, podcast, etc., here’s a 2017 article from our sister blog on learning to be concise: The Essential Art of Concision. (Yes, that one’s an actual word also!)

May 1, 2021

The Day the Grade Five Sunday School Teacher Taught Reincarnation

We begin with 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

I am 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. True story. 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.

I would suspect that at the most elementary level, correction 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.

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.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.”

The Bible’s truth and Christianity’s orthodoxy is not comprised solely of doctrines about God, but also teachings about the nature of man and the world.

But we’re digressing from our Sunday School teacher.

For the record, I 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.

I’m not sure at this point that it would be helpful to revisit a 25-year old discussion, nor to reveal I was party to something that might have been considered confidential at the time. 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. In a very, very early post here on Christianity 201, I looked at 2 Timothy 3:16 (the one that begins, “All scripture is inspired…”) and suggested the following paraphrase:

All scripture has its point of origin in God’s mind, and

■ shows us the path God would have us walk
■ highlights when and where we’ve gotten off the path
■ points the way back to the path
■ gives us the advice we need to keep from wandering off the path in future

The second point is most applicable here, but some remediation along the lines of the last point is important as well. Over the years I’ve seen that some people are simply “prone to wander.”

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 ministry
  3. To try to restore that person to sound doctrine

As to point #2: This 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

We brighten the corner by shining light where light is needed.


The person in the story still attends the same church and still serves in a somewhat lesser capacity. They are in regular contact with people who are well-versed on the truths of Christianity and I believe are able to hold unorthodox beliefs in check.\


Previously on Christianity 201:

March 27, 2021

Today’s Church Needs a Dose of Tov

One of the most talked-about books among pastors in the last 12 months has been A Church Called Tov by Scot McKnight and his daughter Laura Barringer. I would love to have posted an excerpt here, but instead decided to peruse various reviews to see what I could stitch together. For those who are concerned that this is a sales pitch to get you to buy a book, I assure you there is no link at the end for you to make a purchase, their publisher doesn’t send review copies to Canada so I did not receive a copy and C201 is not monetized in any way. Still, I feel the book worth mentioning, and if nothing else, you learned a new Hebrew word today!

What is Tov? For that I went to “And Sons” Magazine:

Tov is an almost ludicrously small but infinitely expansive Hebrew word. Today’s native English speakers may be vaguely familiar with tov only because of hearing the Jewish/Yiddish saying “Mazel Tov” (“Good Luck” in English), but it’s arguably one of the richest words out there. The explosive power in tov can be felt right from the beginning.

Tov first arrives on the scene in the creation story—the first story detailed in scripture. It’s the word God uses to describe what God sees after completing various acts of creation. God’s use of tov in Day 3 of creation does a spectacular job of unveiling for us what tov is.

“Then God said, ‘Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.’ And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good [tov].” (Genesis 1:11–12 NRSV) …

…The difference between how modern society uses the word good and how God uses the word good is staggering. In our day and age, it’s not uncommon to hear good being used to describe a new craft beer or an entertaining sitcom or the latest pithy tweet by a celebrity. Scripture, on the other hand, is significantly choosier when it comes to applying the label “good” (tov) to something.

Let’s explore the story of Solomon receiving the gift of extraordinary wisdom and exercising it with the two-prostitutes-and-the-one-living-baby predicament. This story fleshes out what tov in action looks like. In the first part of 1 Kings 3:9, Solomon says to God, Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good [tov] and evil….”

What frequently gets translated as “an understanding mind” is לֵב שֹׁמֵע in Biblical Hebrew (pronounced “lev shomea”), which is “a hearing heart” if translated with simple literalness. The purpose behind God giving Solomon a hearing heart is so Solomon can govern God’s people and discern between good (tov) and evil…

I strongly encourage you to make that article your study for today, so much so, that here is the link again.

The book is designed, as I said at the outset, for church leaders. Reviewer Liam Thatcher writes,

This is a not a book designed to create scepticism about the church, or stir up division, but rather to call the church to be what it is meant to be: a safe and beautiful place of healing. A family.

The authors write,

‘This is a book about defending the redemptive value of the church while at the same time accepting the truth that broken and fallen people within the church – including pastors and other leaders – will sin, sometimes in shameful and damaging ways… Above all, this is a book of hope – about a better way, a way we’re calling the Circle of Tov (from the Hebrew word for good), and what it takes to form a culture of goodness in our churches that will resist abuses of power, promote healing, and eradicate the toxic fallout that infects so many Christian organisations’

A Church Called Tov, Scot McKnight and Laura Barringer, p7-8

He then includes one more citation from the book and ends with a point form outline of its major thrust. (You can sometimes gain some good thoughts just from studying a book’s table of contents!)

The Hebrew word tov means ‘goodness’ and appears more than 700 times in the OT. You could say that the Bible is the book of tov. In fact,

‘The word gospel could be translated as “the message of tov.” … The gospel is about God’s tov coming to us in Jesus, who is tov, and thus making us into agents of tov.’

A Church Called Tov, Scot McKnight and Laura Barringer, p94

A tov church will proactively:

  • Nurture empathy, and resist a narcissist’s culture (ch6)
  • Nurture grace, and resist a fear culture (ch7)
  • Put people first, and resist institution creep (ch8)
  • Tell the truth, resist false narratives, know Yom Kippur, and form a truth-telling culture (ch9)
  • Nurture justice, and resist the loyalty culture (ch10)
  • Nurture service, and resist the celebrity culture (ch11)
  • Nurture Christlikeness, and resist the leader culture (ch12)

The book was written to deal with the issue of toxicity in the church, and so much of its aims were prescriptive; this is a warning. Mary Stahl writes at CBE,

…For those who feel they are in a safe, healthy church community, it highlights any subtle messages that may be “warning signs” of negative aspects which may not be evident on the surface. It also gives a good summary of topics to study which can be introduced to a church if not already part of its culture. On the other hand, for those who feel they might be in a toxic church environment, the book outlines characteristics that will help put “words to feelings” for the messages that are being projected. The seven characteristics of a good/healthy church also can be used as a barometer for how any church is faring with actively pursuing goodness in its culture.

Read that last phrase again, “…how any church is fairing with actively pursuing goodness in its culture.” (italics added) May that be so.

To that end, Michelle Van Loon quotes the authors,

Church culture matters. As we live in our culture and also into our culture, our culture begins to live in and into us. A good culture will shape us toward goodness; a toxic culture will shape us toward evil. Yes, we can resist and change the culture of a church, but resisting, at times, is like trying to slow down a hurricane

She was once a student of Scot McKnight, and in her own words she adds,

I was brought to tears more than once as I read their descriptions of tov culture, in part because my old scars still ache when I read words like these, and in part because I have tasted tov in enough other faith communities to know what Scot and Laura describe is not ivory-tower theory, but submission to the kingdom of God at work shaping and refining church culture.

Again, that last phrase, “…submission to the kingdom of God at work shaping and refining church culture.” (Italics added)

Ray Miller summarizes the practicalities of what the book calls “the circle of Tov.”

The circle of TOV nurtures empathy (a resistance to narcissistic culture), nurtures Grace (resists a fear based culture), puts people first (resists institutional creep), tells the truth (resists false narratives), nurtures justice (resists loyalty culture), nurtures service (resists celebrity culture), and all those habits nurtures Christlikeness (resists the leader culture).

January 31, 2021

The Roller Coaster Ride of Ministry and Missions

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

I Corinthians 16-9

In my mind, I was hearing the KJV text from where I first learned it:

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.


Earlier today I launched a fundraising page at GoFundMe for an orphanage in Haiti that we’ve come to know over the past seven years. Our oldest son Chris has been on the ground there twice now and participates in their fundraising activities back home in Canada. If God has blessed you and you’d like to make a difference, I invite you to click through to the page and then consider any encouragement you can give through your donation.

November 28, 2020

Paul the Apostle Needed People to Support Him

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

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

Paul and the Corbels of Member Care

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then, in Macedonia,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Photo: Wikipedia (Creative Commons)

May 31, 2020

Currently, Where is Your Church Located?

Six months ago, we introduced you to Wes Barry, the pastor of Waypoint in North Carolina. It was the quotation at the beginning of today’s article which got my attention! Clicking the header below will take to this article at his website, where you can navigate to other helpful articles for church leaders.

The Church is Not Best Buy

The Church has not been closed; it is public worship that has been suspended.

I am reminded of one of my favorite stories about Dr. Halverson, the pastor of a large Presbyterian church in D.C.

One of the students asked, “Dr. Halverson, where is your church?” This seemed like a perfectly reasonable question to me, but Dr. Halverson looked quite perplexed and hesitated to answer. Then he glanced at his watch.

“Well, it’s three o’clock in Washington, D.C. The church I pastor is all over the city. It’s driving buses, serving meals in restaurants, having discussions in the Pentagon, deliberating in the Congress.” He knew exactly where his church was, and he went on and on with his lengthy listing.

Then he added, “Periodically, we get together at a building on Fourth Street, but we don’t spend much time there. We’re mostly in the city.”

A bomb went off in my head. All of my out-of-joint ideas about the church suddenly snapped into place. The church is people!

Jerry Cook, The Monday Morning Church, Howard Publishing Company, 2006, p. 12-13.

Though I do not have a practical solution to the issue of reopening, I want to challenge the church to consider how it needs to approach this next phase with a Biblical mindset not a consumeristic one.

Recently I came across the recommendations that churches should restart public worship with these protocols: staggered seating 6 feet apart and temperature scans as people come in while limiting capacity to 50 people. The politician recommending these measures then said, “The sick and vulnerable should not be allowed in church.”

Immediately, I was struck by how anathema that is to specifically why Jesus came into this world: “On hearing this, Jesus said to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’” Mark 2:17.

The sick and vulnerable should not be excluded from public worship–again I do not have a practical solution to this problem–but I am perturbed by this attitude that public worship should be “for me” while we exclude others. As the Christ Hymn reminds us, we should look “not to our own interests but to the interests of others.” (Phil 2:4). Even in public worship attendance, are you going for your sake or for the sake of the person sitting next to you?

Take for example the suggestion that worship be limited to 50 people. How is a church supposed to monitor that? Suppose you are number 47 in the parking lot are you going to out sprint ahead of that young family who is struggling to get their kid into the stroller? Suddenly church is only available for those who are on time and have their acts together. This, too, seems counter to Christ’s command that: “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (Matthew 20:16).

Perhaps you would recommend that people could register online. Therefore, it excludes the marginalized who would not have internet access or those who are disorganized, depressed, and the ones so busy trying to keep their family afloat they cannot “register” to go to church. Jesus, however, did not wait for people to register online to be one of his disciples–He inserted Himself into their lives; He entered their homes: “When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.‘” Jesus tells Zacchaeus that He is coming over to Zacchaeus’ home because His mission was a rescue mission: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Luke 19:10).

Also I heard of one church that is assigning numbers to members alphabetically so that they can attend when it is their turn. While that is very effective for people on the list, what about the one not on a list? In fact, Jesus had a whole parable about rejoicing over that one:

Then Jesus told them this parable: “What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the pasture and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders,comes home, and calls together his friends and neighbors to tell them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my lost sheep!’ In the same way, I tell you that there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous ones who do not need to repent.” [Luke 15: 4-7]

So, as you prepare for worship, how can you make sure to leave room for the one who is missing?

There are two streams emerging in this drive for public worship. One is the desire for the community to gather again. It is a living out of the word “ecclesia.” This is the Greek word used to describe the church and means: “a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place.” It is the bringing out into the public square what is being done in our personal homes. It is God calling us to publicly demonstrate what He is doing personally in our hearts. It is a longing for our private lives to engage with others in praise of God.

The longing and drive we feel for this is good. And this season of shutdown should be a season of lament. We are sad that we cannot get together. Lament is good because it shows what our hearts desire: we need to publicly demonstrate our faith. However, this desire is in response to what we are doing on our own terms, in our own homes, in our private worship. This longing is good, and this desire needs to be cultivated. Cultivating this attitude can forestall public worship, however, through intentional private worship and relational connection with one’s neighbors.

The other drive–and the main one in our American church–is the selling of religious commodities. Like Best Buy needing to reopen, the church has been so heavily built upon the production of Sunday worship that the shutdown has stalled our religious economy. This desire for public worship is because we have an anemic understanding of private worship and an individualistic nature of worship being done amidst a crowd; We want the Church to do it for us so we can spectate.

In speaking to a fellow church planter, I appreciated his attitude when he said, “We want to be the third to last church to reopen in our city.” His intentional and thoughtful delay will place the emphasis upon a continued lament for the loss of community. His philosophy of ministry has an emphasis upon community groups, so this phased approach to reopening will allow him to place the focus back upon the gathering of people in their homes.

This season hopefully will cause us to consider why do we publicly worship in the first place? How can we be the Ecclesia by bringing into the public square what God is doing in our private hearts?

As your church considers restarting public worship, I would challenge you to make sure you consider how can you include the sick and vulnerable into the community? How can the last and lost be first and found?

May 24, 2020

For the Twelve, Answering the Call Came with Risk

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

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

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

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

It was an offer they couldn’t refuse.

Or could they?

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

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

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

First, they were signing up with a peripatetic teacher.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

repeated in Luke,

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

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

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

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

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

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

So when Jesus begins teaching, they ask

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

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

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

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

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

Knowing these three things, would we accept the call?

I will leave that question open.

There are three applications we can take from this:

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

 



October 5, 2019

If People are Hungry for God, Is Higher Education Necessary?

Make an effort to present yourself to God as a tried-and-true worker, who doesn’t need to be ashamed but is one who interprets the message of truth correctly. – 2 Timothy 2:15 CEB

So, dear brothers and sisters, work hard to prove that you really are among those God has called and chosen. Do these things, and you will never fall away. – 2 Peter 1:10 NLT

Today’s post was originally scheduled to run in the early summer. It spent three months in a pending file. It was a heartfelt case for higher Christian education; over 1,200 words penned by an employee of a theological seminary. If you know the first of the two scriptures quoted above, you know that the Bible fully endorses training for ministry. One will often hear this verse quoted:

And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth.  Acts 17:11 (NLT)

Possibly the first “discernment ministry” in scripture!

So I fully agree with training in ministry.

But today I trashed the entire post.

I felt that the writer simply had too narrow a view as to the people that God uses. Perhaps even people like you; the reader.

The first generation church narrative is known to us as The Book of Acts, or The Acts of the Apostles. It begins with God using a rag-tag bunch who Acts 4:13 describes in these terms:

The members of the council were amazed when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, for they could see that they were ordinary men with no special training in the Scriptures. They also recognized them as men who had been with Jesus.  (NLT)

Of course they had said the same thing about Jesus himself. In John 7:15 we’re told

The people were surprised when they heard him. “How does he know so much when he hasn’t been trained?” they asked. (NLT)

The problem that we encounter in the modern church is that we have so many people who have received so much training that it’s easy for the “lay people” to be easily intimidated. Those who don’t have the letters after their name. Those who can’t necessarily define all the big words. Those who don’t know the secret handshake.

It’s all about academia. This hit home in our family with full force this week — someone excluded from future ministry opportunities on academic grounds due to educational requirements — and I’ll tell that story at some point in the future on the other blog…

…Nine years ago we posted a song here titled Ordinary People by Danniebelle Hall. It was the only version we could find at the time, but I’m glad to see there’s now a studio version online. I like the bridge of the song especially:

Just like that little lad
who gave Jesus all he had
How the multitude was fed
with a fish and loaves of bread
What you have may not seem much
but when you yield it to the touch
of the Master’s loving hand
then you will understand
how your life could never be the same

The purpose of this is not to undermine the role of formal theological study. I am a book guy. I believe in training. I believe in the mentoring that takes place through formal programs of study.

But I also believe our modern church should make way for those people whose life journey and natural gifting have combined to give them what the early Calvary Chapel movement would — when setting people apart for ministry — refer to as a ‘proven ministry.’

Recently a well known megachurch posted the job of senior pastor. I inwardly rejoiced that they set no specific educational standard. But one respected writer noted that the church in question “wants a leader who is both theologically grounded and (or but) that person does not need a theological degree. That’s a very very rare combination. So rare that this… job description is stomping recklessly on thin ice.” Seeing this as symptomatic of larger problem — and one which I would not necessarily disagree — he added that, “those who devalue theology don’t think theology is needed.”

So training needs to be seen as normative, but our title question concerned whether it is necessary, and I would want to argue that it is not in all cases.

He chooses people,
just like me and you
who are willing
to do what he commands


 

 

January 11, 2019

Paul’s Perspective

Again we’re back highlighting The Life Project written by Don Merritt who is currently in the book of Philippians. If you’re looking for more in your Bible study time, this will be an excellent overview of one my personal favorite epistles.

Paul’s Unique Way of Looking at Things

It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.

Philippians 1:15-18a

Paul has been telling the Philippians that he is rejoicing because as a result of his imprisonment the gospel is being preached in Rome, and now he continues his thoughts on that subject. It would seem that there are people who are preaching the gospel with impure motives, that they would like to stir up trouble for Paul.  He hasn’t told us exactly how this would happen for him, so I will leave the speculation to others, but let’s be honest; there are those today who preach for the wrong motives as well.

I have seen and heard of some who preach out of envy and rivalry, have you?  I have seen some who simply can’t stand the thought of anybody else serving Christ in that way, who are always afraid that someone might supplant them or their ministry.  Maybe they are afraid for their job or their position, or maybe they just have a sense of inferiority. Whatever the reason, they are only good “team players” if everyone else is on their team.  It’s sad really, for it should never be this way in the Body of believers, for all of us are on His Team!  Most that I have seen, however, serve out of goodwill.  As Paul has noted here, they serve out of love for others. As Paul put it, they know that he was put here for the defense of the gospel.  Yes, isn’t that why all of us are “put here”?

“Selfish ambition” may be a reason that many preach, thinking that they can “be somebody” by attracting followers, just as a celebrity might attract fans.  This sort of thing has no place in the church, and yet perhaps it is more common than we might like to admit.

I know about a particular case where there was a minster leading a growing church. He was doing good work, and yet like all of us, wasn’t good at everything. His leadership considered adding an “associate” to staff who was much more experienced and who could handle the areas that the minister had problems in.  When the minister heard about this, he became quite upset; all he could see was that the leaders were thinking he wasn’t doing the job right.  He felt that if they added someone to help him, the people would see him as having been rebuked in some way.  When the other guy heard of this, he removed himself from consideration, not wanting to cause any division.  Was the growth and health of that church damaged by this?  Would it have been even more vibrant had things worked out differently? We will never know; maybe that guy coming on board just wasn’t God’s plan, but I think you get the idea of what can happen… Right about now, we might want to jump on the bandwagon of condemnation and indignation, but before we do, maybe we should see how Paul reacts…

Paul recognized the situation, and while he did not endorse false motives in any way, he saw that good was coming out of it in spite of everything.  What did it matter anyway? For whatever reason, the gospel of Christ was being proclaimed, and that is the most important thing.

Have you noticed how Paul views things?  He isn’t overly concerned with his unfortunate circumstances, he isn’t overly concerned that everything isn’t always ideal, his sole concern is that the gospel of Jesus Christ goes forth so that some will be saved, that their sins may be forgiven, and that they may inherit eternal life.

I wonder, is there a lesson in this for us today?

 

 

 

November 19, 2018

Running from a God-Assignment

The mission given to me by the Anointed One is not about baptism, but about preaching good news. The point is not to impress others by spinning an eloquent, intellectual argument; that type of rhetorical showboating would only nullify the cross of the Anointed. – I Cor 1:17, The Voice

When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I didn’t come preaching God’s secrets to you like I was an expert in speech or wisdom.  I Cor 2:1, CEB

Once again we’re back with J. Lee Grady who blogs at Fire in My Bones. He was editor of Charisma Magazine for 11 years before he launched into full-time ministry in 2010. Today he directs The Mordecai Project, a Christian charitable organization that is taking the healing of Jesus to women and girls who suffer abuse and cultural oppression.

As this article is joined in progress, you are strongly encouraged to read the whole thing; click the title below to read this at source.

Are You Called to Speak? Don’t Run From Your Assignment

…When I tell friends that I stubbornly resisted the call of God to preach because of my lack of confidence, they act surprised. They think most people who stand in pulpits want to be there. Think again!

We assume God always chooses gifted orators. But true preaching is not a natural exercise, like any other form of public speaking. It is one of the most supernatural tasks anyone can ever be called to do. It requires an imperfect human vessel to yield himself (or herself) to speak the very words of God.

If we deliver our message in our own human ability, the results will be miserable; but if we wholly trust the power of the Holy Spirit, prophetic preaching unleashes supernatural anointing.

Most preachers in the Bible were reluctant. Moses made excuses about stuttering. Gideon tried to disqualify himself, blabbering on and on about his weaknesses. Jeremiah complained about the responsibility of carrying a prophetic burden. And Jonah bought a one-way ticket to the other side of the Mediterranean Sea so he wouldn’t have to give his unpopular sermon to the people of Nineveh.

As long as God has been anointing people to speak for Him, people have been running from their assignments—and giving God all kinds of creative excuses for their delinquency.

The apostle Paul, who was a silver-tongued Pharisee before he met Christ, was stripped of his eloquence before he preached the gospel throughout the Roman empire. He felt weak and totally incapable when he spoke.

He told the Corinthians:

I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God (1 Cor. 2:3-5).

Think about it: The premier apostle of the first century trembled as he spoke. Yet God used his words to spread the message of Jesus Christ throughout the known world.

Revivalist Arthur Katz, who died in 2007, wrote about the power of true preaching in his 1999 book Apostolic Foundations:

The only one qualified to preach … is the one who wants to run the other way, like Jonah. … The man who sighs and groans when called upon to speak, who does not want to be there, who feels terribly uncomfortable … is the man out of whose mouth the word of true preaching is most likely to come.

That is certainly not the way most of us view pulpit ministry today. We celebrate the smooth and the polished. We look for the cool, hipster delivery style. We measure the impact of a sermon not by whether hearts are slain by conviction but by how high the people jump when the preacher tells them what they want to hear.

That kind of carnal preaching may win the accolades of men, boost TV ratings and even build megachurches. But the kingdom is not built on smug self-confidence. We need God’s words. The church will live in spiritual famine until broken, reluctant, weak and trembling preachers allow His holy fire to come out of their mouths.

If you have a message from God, stop making excuses. Run instead to heaven’s altar, raise your hands in total surrender and let the Holy Spirit touch your mouth with a burning coal. Die to your fears, doubts and excuses, and let a holy anointing intensify within you until it becomes like fire shut up in your bones.

November 17, 2018

Politics in Ezekiel’s Time

Six months ago we introduced you to David Ettinger who has been widely published including “various LifeWay publications, Single Parent magazine (Focus on the Family), Zion’s Fire magazine, and Real Life magazine.” David was born and raised in a Jewish family in New York, and converted to Christianity in 1986. As always, we urge you to click through to read this article at its source website.

A Perfect Biblical Description of Politicians

A Cause for Worry
A few years back while listening to the radio, I heard an interesting news item. Apparently, United States politicos were up in arms over a tell-all book by an ex-congressman who promised to expose the rampant corruption occurring in our nation’s capital and beyond.

The book is called Confessions of Congressman X, the author’s identity concealed for safety reasons. Here are some excerpts:

  • “Most of my colleagues are dishonest career politicians who revel in the power and special-interest money that’s lavished upon them.”
  • “My main job is to keep my job, to get reelected. It takes precedence over everything.”
  • “We spend money we don’t have and blithely mortgage the future with a wink and a nod. [Forget] the next generation.”[1]

Controversial indeed, but nothing new; the Bible has spoken of political corruption for millennia.

Ezekiel’s Denunciation
Perhaps it was only a coincidence that I had been reading the Book of Ezekiel, one of the Bible’s “major prophet” books. And perhaps it was only a coincidence that my reading took me to Chapter 34, and that my reading followed my hearing the news account of Congressman X.

It occurred to me while reading Ezekiel 34 that everything the feared book is rumored to touch upon was covered – minus specific names and offenses – by the great prophet about 2,600 years ago. Chapter 34 is addressed to Israel’s “shepherds” – her king, princes, and other political leaders. As shepherds, Israel’s leaders were to look after and care for their flock – God’s people. God had put Israel’s political leaders in place to shepherd His people and to tend to their needs. So, how did Israel’s leaders do? Verses 2-6 give us the answer:

Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them.

Sound Familiar?
Hmm, this doesn’t sound like something written 2,600 years ago, rather it sounds more like today! Read this portion one more time, but with your nation’s politicians in mind. Does Ezekiel 34:2-6 look like a perfect fit to you? Isn’t it true that the vast majority of today’s politicians look after only themselves while neglecting their constituents? Don’t they seek to make themselves wealthy while those who voted them into office suffer? Don’t they all too often neglect the welfare of those they are supposed to look after, noticing them only at election time in order to secure their votes?

Of course they do, and it is a stench in God’s nostrils. While politicians make a mockery of mercy and justice, the Word of God says something quite different:

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter – when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? (Isaiah 58:6-7).

The Lord directed this passage to all of Israel, but how remarkably the world would be changed if all men and women were to live this way. But how can “all” men and women live this way if our leaders so ignobly ground such compassionate and gracious directives under their feet? Yes, there are good and well-meaning politicians, but they are few and far between; tragically, far more of them are “Ezekiel 34 Politicians.”

Making it Personal
What about you? Do you, without even realizing it, fall into the Ezekiel 34 category?

No, you’re not an elected politician, but as a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ you are a shepherd in the sense that you have been given a “charge,” an area of responsibility the Lord expects you to tend and nourish. In a general sense, all Christians are “shepherds” of our own holiness. God has given us charge over the way we conduct our lives, the way we tend to areas of sin and righteousness. Are you applying yourself to these areas, or are you treading them under foot. What about you who are parents? Are you putting your children first in your life? What about a neighbor the Lord has lain on your heart? Are you nurturing your responsibility to be kind to him and sharing Christ with him?

Just because Ezekiel 34 focuses on political leaders does not mean that you and I shouldn’t take it to heart. I urge to you reread verses 2 through 6 one more time and allow God to convict you of any area in your life where any one of these indictments apply. If so, ask God to redirect your focus away from yourself and onto your “flock,” and He will most certainly do so!


[1] http://www.wnd.com/2016/05/confessions-of-congressman-x/#PIUZmT7EqC2R2SUs.99

 

 

May 1, 2017

Devotional Potpourri

Three parts today. One a comparison of two similar Biblical texts. The second from the liturgy my wife wrote for our Sunday worship yesterday with particular emphasis to how we were created in God’s image. The third some advice to pastors and church leaders, or anyone else who finds themselves so very busy.


Sitting in church yesterday, I was struck by the ways in which Paul’s opening words to the Ephesians in chapter one were similar to his opening words to the Colossians. Here’s Ephesians in the NLT:

15 Ever since I first heard of your strong faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for God’s people everywhere,16 I have not stopped thanking God for you. I pray for you constantly, 17 asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God. 18 I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance.  19 I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him…

And Colossians in the CEB:

9 Because of this, since the day we heard about you, we haven’t stopped praying for you and asking for you to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will, with all wisdom and spiritual understanding. 10 We’re praying this so that you can live lives that are worthy of the Lord and pleasing to him in every way: by producing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God; 11 by being strengthened through his glorious might so that you endure everything and have patience…

For deeper study, print off this section and underline the specifics of his requests for both churches and their spiritual maturity. It’s also interesting to note that his sentences — where we’ve cut off the last verses in the middle — run on as he switches from the quoted sections to the basis on which they can place their confidence in Christ.

  • He made it so you could take part in the inheritance
  • He rescued us from the control of darkness
  • He transferred us into the kingdom of the Son
  • We can trust in the incredible greatness of God’s power
  • We can trust in the power that raised Christ from the dead

If you want to read the full chapters click here for Col. 1 and Eph. 1 in the translations quoted.


Creation Meditation

by Ruth Wilkinson

Heavenly Father, Creator, Sustainer, World Filler –
You created us with eyes because
You see beauty and joy, pain and brokenness
And so must we.

You created us with ears because
You hear words of faithfulness, promises of love and cries of need
And so must we.

You created us with mouths because
You sing joy, shout truth and whisper comfort
And so must we.

You created us with hands because
You create and build, reach out and touch and embrace
And so must we.

You created us with feet because
You are the God who goes where You are needed,
who walks alongside those who need you
And so must we.

Heavenly Father, Creator, Sustainer, World Filler –
You are the God who named us because
You have a name.
You gave us our true name.
You know who we are.

We are yours.


A Word for Weary Pastors

by Mark O. Wilson
(click here to read at source)

Come unto me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).

As pastors, our calling is to be be with Jesus, as his beloved children, rather than slaving away as his hired servants. Our work for Christ must flow from his overwhelming love for us. Otherwise, we’re living in frantic illusion.

Souls require breathing space to be healthy.

Consider these words from veteran pastor, William C. Martin:

If you fill your calendar with important appointments
you will have no time for God.
If you fill your spare time with essential reading
you will starve your soul.
If you fill your mind with worry
about budgets and offerings,
the pains in your chest and the ache in your shoulders
will betray you.
If you try to conform to the expectations
of those around you
you will forever be their slave.

Work a modest day
then step back and rest.
This will keep you close to God.

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.

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