Friday, March 14, 2014

Reaching the unreached has been popular to the point of horrendous results

Over the past twenty years, many mission agencies and their missionaries pushed to reach the world’s “unreached.” This emphasis in countries that are considered “reached” led missionaries to seek out pockets of unreached and lesser-reached people groups. This push resulted in new Christians and fledgling churches in these pockets. The leadership vacuum that exists now in these groups is a logical one. The primary reason that these people were unreached is that they were marginalized from the dominant cultures; their mother tongue and culture were not the same. They were usually the poor and disenfranchised who had not been able to assimilate into the dominant culture and, therefore, were left uneducated, nonliterate, and part of the working class.
As one would expect, the Holy Spirit is calling out leaders in these new churches (Eph. 4:11, 12). The problem is that these pastors may have been called by the Spirit to do the work of a pastor, but they lack the means to be trained for such work. As the heresies of history demonstrate, having a Bible and the Holy Spirit are not sufficient to ensure doctrinally sound leaders.

Only 20 percent of the existing EPHQ churches have pastors. The overwhelming nature of this need is heightened even more when one considers the number of churches that need to be planted, in addition to the ones that cannot be pastored now.

This is just an isolated example of what has happened in a particular region with a particular people group.   Reaching the unreached sounds ambitious and romantic enough but the reality is there is far more to the great commission and discipleship than simply "reaching" a people group.  You can probably observe this is in your own neighborhood or church. The work of teaching and discipleship etc. is far from over just because a handful of people are Christians.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Why Train Indigenous Leaders? Especially if the church overseas seems to be growing quickly on its own?

The rapid growth of the church yields a need for leaders in terms of sheer numbers. The peculiarities and difficulties inherent in intercultural ministry make the work slow down. There is an ever-present temptation to drop all efforts to train the leaders that would be necessary under the old models and simply continue to let the new churches continue without trained leadership. History shows the great danger in such an approach.  
For instance, the fledgling churches in China were extremely dependent upon the missionaries who had planted and guided them. When a new Communist regime required the departure of the missionaries, the young churches were left to fend for themselves. For decades, Western missiologists wondered what had become of the churches left behind in China. In recent years, a door has been cracked open that allows a peek inside. Instead of the few Christians that were left behind, missiologists have found many times the numbers of believers that existed when missionaries were forced to leave. The church had continued to grow in the absence of the missionaries.  
The tragedy is that a great many of these churches teach and practice non-salvific heresy, and others are saturated with aberrant doctrines and practices. Missionaries had spent their efforts bringing people to the Lord, and since that was what the Chinese believers had seen modeled, they successfully continued this aspect of Christian ministry. The missionaries never stressed the need to teach the nationals, much less to teach them how to teach.  
The churches that were left behind became a growing mass of new converts who were left to devise their own theology and church order. Those who felt called to the ministry were bereft of trained teachers and so were left to teach themselves. It is no wonder that the faith and practice of many leaders are often far afield from what the Bible prescribes. In addition to the dangers of rapid church growth without biblical leadership, there is the plea for help from the churches themselves. They recognize a need that we often overlook.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident.  I could write multiple examples here of what has happened when missionaries failed to "go deep" with the people they were ministering to.  Scholars far more learned than I am could share story after story from the world over telling what happens when there is a lack of deep discipleship in a region or people group.  Perhaps you have seen the results of this in your own life or church.

Has missions the last century been a massive failure, no.  And thankfully the Lord makes his power known in and through our weaknesses.

At Reaching & Teaching, we don't "teach a man how to fish". That wouldn't be going far enough and would be leaving the job half done.  We "teach him how to teach others to fish".

Monday, February 17, 2014

Real Christian Maturity - It's in the Heart

How tempting it can be to think that Christian maturity lies in knowledge, especially the right knowledge - knowing the right things, right doctrine.  I should know. That's been the story of my life. Learn, learn, learn. Study, study, study.  But Christian maturity isn't all about knowing all the ins and outs of theology or a particular branch of theology.  Nor is it in possessing certain skills or having experience.  

None of this is to discount the importance of doctrine or knowledge.  After all, Paul tells the church at Collosae, "Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ." And in Hebrews it says, "Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity..."

The distinction is that mere knowledge - knowing things about God is different than knowing God.  It's one thing to know the Gospel, it's another to truly live out of the truths of the gospel.  

Paul Tripp, in "Dangerous Calling" says, 
It is clear from examining Scripture that...fruitfulness or failure is seldom only about knowledge, strategy, skill, and experience. 
Romans 4 tells us something very significant about Abrahams' heart.  Think about it: when you and I are called by God to wait for an extended period as Abraham was, often for us our story of waiting is a chronicle of ever-weakening faith.  The longer we have time to think about what we are waiting for, the longer we have time to consider how we have no ability to deliver it; and the longer we have to let ourselves wonder why we have been selected to wait, the more our faith weakens.  But not so with Abraham.  We're told in this passage that during this time of protracted waiting, his faith actually grew stronger, and the passage tells us why.  Rather than meditating on the impossibility of his situation, Abraham meditated on the power and the character of the One who had  made the promise.  The more Abraham let his heart bask in the glory of  God, the more convinced he became that he was in good hands.  Rather than a cycle of discouragement, and hopelessness, Abraham's story was one of encouragement and hope.  Why? Because he meditated on the right thing."

(C.f. Rom 4:18-21)

We could walk through the Bible looking at different decision points God's people had.  What always made the difference was the condition of the individual's heart. It is "the inescapable X-factor" as Tripp puts it.  

Friday, November 22, 2013

[Marriage has taught me] Humility

I could probably write my own version of Philippians 3:4-6. This is where the apostle Paul says, "If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee..." We all could probably have our own "if anyone thinks he has.....I have more..." mantra. It may not have to do with theology, but perhaps a sport, a school subject or other skill or accomplishment.

One of mine could have been: If anyone thinks he knows the Bible better than Ben does, he's probably wrong: grew up in solid churches, listens to sermons on podcasts, read the Bible many times over, etc.  Considering all that God has given me in life, it's very very easy to take pride in it, thinking I know more than the next guy. 

Reality strikes with marriage in many areas of life and one of them is in how much I truly know and understand about the Bible.  It is much less than I would have presumed.  Many times my wife will be reading the Bible and she'll ask me what something means. Most of the time I do not know the answer.  And we're not talking about obscure and cryptic messages of the Old Testament prophets here.  Most of the time the questions have referred to passages in the New Testament and ones that I have read many times.

I am thankful to the Lord for giving me my wife to show me how little I really know, and thus how much I need Him.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

What is your gospel for?

Jesus offers himself as God’s doorway into the life that is truly life. Confidence in him leads us today, as in other times, to become his apprentices in eternal living. “Those who come through me will be safe,” he said. “They will go in and out and find all they need. I have come into their world that they may have life, and life to the limit.”

intelligent, effectual entry into this life is currently obstructed by clouds of well-intentioned misinformation. The “gospels” that predominate where he is most frequently invoked speak only of preparing to die or else of correcting social practices and conditions. These are both, obviously, matters of great importance. Who would deny it? But neither one touches the quick of individual existence or taps the depths of the reality of Christ. Our usual “gospels” are, in their effects—dare we say it—nothing less than a standing invitation to omit God from the course of our daily existence.

- Dallas Willard

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Spiritual Disciplines are not Deeds of Righteousness

This has really struck me recently.  I believe that I used to look at the spiritual disciplines (like prayer, reading the Bible, etc.) as inherently spiritual acts, or more specifically, a "good deed" that must be done (because we must do good deeds, right?).

So the more spiritual disciplines I did - perhaps how many in total, or how intense they were, or how consistent they were - I thought - would determine how my account was "balancing out" in God's eyes. Not that such acts determined my salvation.  I saw them as determining how happy God was with me, because God must be happy if I'm doing deeds of righteousness right?

So what are the disciplines then?  They are things that we can do to help us become the kind of person God wishes us to be.  They are not an end in and of themselves, and if they are then we have made an idol of discipline.  A track runner may have a discipline of training on inclines even though he never actually races on hills.  But he knows that going through the rigor of hill sprints will help him like nothing else can for the race on the track.

In the same way, reading and studying the Bible is not an end in and of itself, and one wishes for much more than to simply become good at reading and studying the Bible (Just like the runner ultimately wants more than to be good at running hills.).  But it is through this discipline, and with the aid of the Spirit that the person now becomes made more in the image of Christ - something he couldn't do on his own, but via the discipline he put himself in a place where God could do what only God could do.

Again, though, this is not a "deed of righteousness".  The above disciplines will not "automatically work".  If one approaches the disciplines from a legalistic, or performance mindset he will miss the benefits and purpose altogether.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Why we shouldn't try to glorify God; Part 2

-Jesus never told his disciples or the crowds to glorify God
-The disciples never asked Jesus how to glorify him (they did ask him how to pray; that is far more significant than we realize.)

-In our culture and in our time we have a strong bias towards figuring everything out.  How can we be most efficient, and most effective.  Double whammy there.  Trouble comes when we take that mindset to the Bible and the Christian life.  And we have looked at the Bible and narrowed it all down to one bullet point (how concise is that?!) "Glorify God".  And then how do we glorify God?  "Well, you see there are all these things that the Bible tells you to do (aka, ways you need to behave) and to the extent you do them and make sure you truly have the right motivation you're glorifying God."

But that is so legalistic.  Christianity isn't about what we do it is about who we are.  Put another way, Christianity isn't about producing fruit. It is about abiding in Jesus, letting him produce the fruit.  Jesus didn't visit earth and the New Testament wasn't written just to give the gentiles a bunch of rules and remind us of all those old laws so we would know how to glorify God.  Jesus came to live a perfect life, give us abundant life (what is "truly life" (I Tim 6:19)), announce the availability of the Kingdom of God to all, die for our sins, and conquer death, then finish preparing his disciples for apostleship - when the Holy Spirit would be in them and he would be with them yet invisible.

The ESV Study Bible has a great article overviewing Biblical doctrine. From the section on the Holy Spirit:

The ultimate goal of all of life is to know and love God, make him known, and thereby glorify him. This goal is accomplished primarily through the work of the Holy Spirit. Reading the Bible, going to church, Christian fellowship, spiritual disciplines, service, and worship are merely playing at religion if all of these activities are not empowered, guided, and filled by the Spirit. If he is not present, even these good things are fleshly, empty, and repugnant to God: “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Rom. 8:13). A life pleasing to God involves daily dependence on the precious Holy Spirit. He is to be known, sought, and loved. His awakening and empowering have always been the essential ingredients of true and lasting works of God in the lives of his people. His work in the transformed lives of believers is the key to a Christian life that experiences God’s blessing and becomes an effective witness to a cynical, skeptical world. 

I am struck again by the western bent this is written from. Look at the third word..."goal". Now, there's nothing wrong with goals.  Goals are good, especially when scored by the Detroit Red Wings.  But we should be aware that looking at life this way, while not wrong, and many times beneficial, can also get us pretty whacked up.  Why? Because the Christian life isn't about a set of goals to accomplish or "score".  The Christian life is about living life with God and doing this by following Christ.

Note what I bolded above.  This work is done by the Holy Spirit.  This is significant yet quickly read over. The work is done by the Holy Spirit...not you or me.  God is glorified, yes.  But not because we set out to glorify him and then do that by trying to have the right motives and do the right things. God is glorified when we depend on the Spirit for strength and help.

I will finish with an illustration.  We might think of a parent and a child.  Let's say the child is in middle school and that the parents have concern for the child's grades at school, friends they hang out with, sporting activities and so on.  The father or mother may encourage the child by saying "Susie, we want you to please us."  Well, they may get exactly that - a child that does everything she can do to make her parents happy.  That's not exactly setting a child up for what we'll call "a life well lived", or put more theologically, to be "a mature and equipped follower of Jesus."

If the parents motivate Susie well, she will do all she can in all areas she can to please the parents, working hard at school, finding friends her parents are happy with, and so on. And of course, if anything comes to their attention that they wouldn't be happy with, the story must be spun to minimize the unpleasing elements.  And then there are those things that Susie knows would be not all that pleasing to her parents and so she must hide them as best she can.

This is not what her parents want from Susie. They are well meaning for sure. But their verbal encouragement to her that "she should please [her] parents", and their nonverbal messages that life will be better for her if she makes them happy, i.e. gives them pleasure in her has totally twisted her heart.  They have developed someone who simply lives for approval, because life is better that way.  Put your finger in the air and figure out which way the wind blows and go that way.  Ask around for their opinions and modify behavior accordingly.  Then each and every time feel their pleasure.

In the end, that is what they have made - someone who lives for their approval and pleasure. Someone who looks for all the rules, goals, metrics, doctrines, etc. as possible that she can believe, talk about, and do to make her parents happy.

Deep down, that's not what the parents want. What they want is for Susie to love learning. And they know if she does well in school (an indicator of having learned valuable material) she will be set up for college and thus set up for a good job, etc.  They want her to have quality peers because they will be there for her when they can't and we were made for community - the deep giving and receiving with other humans that is an image of The Trinity.  And let's assume Susie's parents want her to do well in sports (whatever that looks like) because that will indicate to them that she cares...she cares about her body, is not lazy but diligent, likes to be outdoors and have fun, etc. whatever.  Fill in the blank with a proper and noble motive.

Sadly, the parents will miss all that by stressing to Susie verbally and treating her as if what ultimately matters to them is that she please them - live for them.  Any good parent, deep down, doesn't want that.  The interesting thing is that they will very likely get what they want - pleasure in her, to be pleased with her - if they don't aim for that, or actively pursue that.  So what will truly please her parents? Probably deep character qualities.  Her honesty, her sincerity of heart, her effort, watching her grow in the way which God has designed her and only her to grow, and watching her embrace and live out of who God has created her to be.

Yes, her parents still wish to be pleased with Susie. There is nothing wrong with that. But make sure we understand that they wish to be pleased with Susie, not Susie's performance.  And they may still from time to time mention in passing that they are pleased with her or mention that they wish for her to please them. But these will not be overt or put forward as a significant motivator for her.  Instead her parents will coach her, disciple her, teach her how to discover and learn, perhaps even learn from her, rejoice with her and mourn with her, pursue her heart and seek to understand her, all the while leading her toward the beauty and excellency of Christ over and against the ugliness of rule-based religion.  Sooner rather than later, Susie will come to discover the purpose for which she ought to live, and that it is the same purpose for which her parents are living - to make mature and equipped disciples of Jesus who live out of who He made them to be.  She becomes someone who finds her fullest satisfaction in simply living with  Jesus, not for Jesus.  People begin to notice that the typical things that matter to most us like socio-economic status, the things we own, or the things we do, or who we know, or what others think of us, or the unknown future, or our kingdom accomplishments (whatever that means) don't matter to Susie. What matters is that she follows Christ, that she is one with him and in fellowship with him - whether she is eating or drinking, or sleeping in or getting up early.  And if she isn't one with him, she hears his voice calling her back to repent and seek His forgiveness then enjoy his fellowship again.

Of course, there is theory on paper by someone not yet a father and then there is reality in the real world.   But the above is simply an attempt to illustrate my point about us not making our motivation to give glory to God (not a treatise on good parenting).  

Why worry about or wonder about if God is glorified or not glorified?

The prodigal son worried about it and he was wrong in his conclusions. It’s not about if God or not glorified.  Never are we told, "there are two kinds of people in this world. Those who glorify God well and those who don't." No. There are those who are in relationship with Jesus (known by him), and those who aren't. Sure, the father in that story wasn’t pleased with his son’s actions, but he loved the son. That is what matters. And it is God’s kindness (or forbearance) that calls us to repentance. It isn’t “Hmmm, I feel God’s displeasure right now, I better repent.” Not at all. It is his kindness. Amazing. And when we realize it is indeed all about God (and not his glory, which is simply wherever God is and wherever he is displaying himself and his work) we embrace him after he has come running to us.

We can't glorify God if we try, so don't try

I do not even need to repeat the first question and answer of the catechism - that is how universally known it is.  But perhaps a side effect of it being so well known and acknowledged is that we attempt to live it out.  That is to say, we make as our life mission something to the effect of: "glorify God in everything."  Or, "my goal is to glorify God."

Well that's good, but how are you going to do that?  I mean, when you wake up in the morning what's the first thing you do to give glory to God?  Yesterday, on a scale of 1 - 10 how well did you glorify God?  Did you glorify God at lunch?  These are rhetorical questions because I don't think you can actively give glory to God like we so often talk about it.

You see, God doesn't need our glory. For starters, we really don't have glory to give him.   We so often think...and, I so often used to think...that I could bounce from one God glorifying activity to the next.  Or such and such a church can put on big events where God is glorified.  It doesn't matter what kind of music was sung or played and how many people showed up...who are you to say that God was glorified at the event?  And was not God being glorified prior to the event and after the event?  Again rhetorical questions.  It's not things that we try to do that glorify God.

[part of this is thanks to enlightenment thinking.  The enlightenment told us we should have a divide between the sacred and the secular.  Sacred things are sacred and secular things are, well, at minimum, not sacred at all.  Sacred things would be religious activities, religious beliefs, and so forth.  Sacred things are God glorifying, of course. However, in this paradigm, the purpose of secular things (that is, anything not sacred - driving to church, your job, cleaning out the garage) is the sacred, and the secular may even be a necessary evil, to get you through life and to one sacred activity to another.  That's what enlightenment thinking says anyway.  Your job, for instance, is just a means to an end. It isn't a good in and of itself.  Try going to work for 40+ hours a week with that kind of attitude!  Maybe the enlightenment was more of an endarkenment, but anyways...]

God's Glory is where God is.  It's not "five minutes behind him." And it's not something you can give him.  In fact, you have nothing to give him.  Likewise, you owe God nothing. "But he died on the cross for me!" Yes, that's the wonder of it all. He died for you, gave you everything and you owe him nothing.  He simply desires a relationship with you. And in that relationship he will clean up your heart and make you more and more in his image (you will join God in that work; grace is not opposed to effort).  Where God is, you can be sure his glory is there.  Are you in his presence in this very moment?  Then there is his glory as well. And it wasn't from you either - it was from him and to him.  But how did that happen? By your simply being with him, or put more "doctrinally" united with Him, in fellowship with him.

Again, God's glory isn't something you can produce, try as you may, follow as many rules, or commandments, as you may, do as many random acts of acts, and act as loving as you possibly can. None of that glorifies God.  At best, he might be tickled a bit, and at worst he'll likely be saddened by your feeble attempts to be and do what only God can be and do.

So where does God's glory come from then? How does it happen? It is a resultant issue of what we should be doing.  Just like fruit. You can't produce fruit. You can't produce pseudo-fruit, but you can't produce real Christian fruit on your own strength, will power, and heart desire.  It might look like fruit and it might taste like fruit, but if God did not give the increase then it ain't fruit.

So what should we be doing then?  Living life moment by moment in his presence, walking in his will for us, every moment of every day.  Thinking "godly thoughts" and having "godly motivations" and doing "godly things" is not anymore glorifying to God than not doing those things.  Again, we cannot do such things on our strength.  Apart from Christ we can do nothing. So on our own strength, such things are actually empty, even if they look good to others impress lots of people.  For the one who is walking with the Lord (remember Adam and Enoch, among others?) everything, absolutely everything they do while walking with the Lord in his desire for them, is glorifying to God.  Driving in the car to church is no less "glorifying" than is singing the worship songs at church.  And taking out the trash is no less glorifying than giving to money to charity-- AS LONG as these are done in obedience to God's leading and desires for us in the moment.

Were we created to glorify God forever? Yes, but that is not our purpose, or mission.  Our "chief end" will happen when we forget about the chief end and simply live every moment in the presence of God and listen and follow his leading.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Who are the real untouchables? (Hint: it's not who you think)

Recently, a Christian author wrote about his trip to India, where they encountered dalits, the lowest of the low, the untouchables.

They're rat catchers. Their job in life is to catch rats and those rats become one of the main staples of their diet. These people are so neglected, so down-trodden, so uneducated that they have no culture of cleanliness or hygiene. The first thing that impresses you is how dirty these people are. Dirty clothes, dirty children, and matted hair were the order of the day. 
I have to be honest; I was repulsed by these people. I didn't want to get near them. I didn't want to be touched by them. I was afraid of what diseases they may have that I could catch. I’d seen enough and I just wanted to get out of there. 
As we were riding away from this village in a nice, modern SUV, I sat looking out of the window, torn by conflicting thoughts. I was glad to be out of that village, I was repulsed by what I saw, but I had another thought. Although these people were the lowest of the low, although they live at the end of humanity, each one of them is a creature of God, actually made in his likeness! 
The moment I had that thought another profound thought came exploding into my brain. What those people looked like to me is exactly what I look like to God. Sin has made me filthy dirty. Sin has destroyed in me any sense of spiritual hygiene. Sin leaves me isolated, ignorant, and dirty. 
But God didn't run out of our village. He wasn't relieved to be separate from us. Shockingly, he moved into our village. He came and lived with us. In his love, he took on our dirtiness and he gave his life so that we could become clean.

This is all well and good but it is rather incomplete.  In addition to the above, we can say "because of what Christ did, I can, more joyfully, be among those dalits and share the love Christ."  

An interesting twist to his whole idea of untouchables is that we tend to see other people as "untouchable". But it is in our arrogance that we actually see ourselves as untouchable.  We are too good for them, too clean for them.  It's not that we don't want to touch them, as that we don't want them or their dirty stuff to touch us.  But to make sure that everyone, including ourselves, knows that they are the dirty ones, not, of course not, us, we call them untouchable.

There are likely "untouchables" for most every one of us. It might be people who smell different, look different, have tattoos, have piercings, different clothes, different religion, maybe even some different theology (gasp!), different part of town, different skin, different traditions, etc.  In our arrogance, we look at these things and build a wall.  Jesus died to tear these walls down though.

Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. 
Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body.  (Col 3:11-15)
"But those people aren't in the body of Christ!"  Yes, not yet.  Christ has made the Kingdom available to them and who will go announce it to them and raise up disciples of Jesus among them inviting them into the body?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

the redundancy of "missional living"

If one is truly out of the abundant life from Jesus, living in Him and by him, then it is redundant to say "missional living".

John 15:4-11

John 10:10

One does not simply get up in the morning and aspire to live for one "mission" or another. Or, for that matter, one should not get up and aspire to live for Jesus. Jesus does not desire to be lived for; He desires to be lived with.

The life that is lived in communion with Jesus, in communion with his saints, daily, houly applying the gospel to all situations and facets of life, and following The Spirit's leading whenever and wherever He may lead will be the most missional life in the world, and that without any thought of "trying to live missionally"

Remember that fruit is resultant.  You can bear fruit, but you cannot make fruit.  You can plant and water though, and you should, very much. But only God can give the increase.  Any fruit you see is from Him alone. Any pseudo fruit you see is bogus and of human origin.

Perhaps by now I am being redundant myself, but I will put it yet another way:  A Christian, that is, a disciple of Jesus, is by definition living "missionally" (that term is used so much these days I wonder what it even means anymore).  He is living as a herald of the kingdom of God and living in the kingdom of God. He says, "no more!" to the kingdoms and idols of the world.  You do not find disciples of Jesus who are not living missionally.  If you find some such person, perhaps they really are "missional" - you just don't see it - or, perhaps they aren't a disciple of Jesus after all and are instead a disciple of a pseudo-Jesus, and in reality a disciple of other pseudo-saviors, teachers of the world that only mislead.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Faith & Work

Earlier this week I was at The Gospel Coalition conference.  I most enjoyed the post-conference portion which was led by Tim Keller and on Faith & Work. Here are the notes I took:

Your work will make no sense to you unless it is a part of God's story.

  • Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration.
    • Creator of all things, everything created is good.
    • Sin distorts every area of life
    • you are a new creation
    • God is not simply taking us into spiritual nether world but restoring this world. Shows goodness of work and future of work.
  • Faith gives you an inner ballast without which work could destroy you.  your identity etc. can be wrapped up in your work. 
    • used to be work a means to an end. problems with that. In western culture, work is an end in itself.  "you can be anything you want to be."
    • IF work is identity - success then it goes to your head.  Failure then it goes to your heart.
    • you need to have deep identity and sense of your worth not in work but in Christ.
  • Faith gives you concept of dignity and worth of all work, even simple work, without which, work could bore you.
    • All work is God's work and way of God caring for his creation.  God's way of "strengthening the bars of your gates." The way to do work as a Christian is to do it well. - Luther  Ex. what does it mean to be a Christian airline pilot? fly the plane well.   Don't over think how to "be a  Christian" in what you do. Ministry of competence: just be the best at aha you're doing.
  • Faith gives you a moral compass, without which work could corrupt you.
    • So much pressure for profitability, to stay alive.  So tremendous pressure to cut corners.
    • strong inner moral compass will protect you from making wrong sin. honesty, integrity, etc.
  • Faith gives you a world and life you that shapes character of your work, without which work could master and use you.
    • how your Christian worldview will distinctively shape your work.
  • Faith fives you hope, without which you will lose heart and despair.
    • because of fall you can work for years and only ever get "one leaf out" (Tolkien story of man painting tree).

Focus on managing and developing creation value not on creating economic value.


**how to be a  Christian at work (or in life)
--SIMPLY do all that Christ and the apostles commanded!  Find your identity in Christ, do all things without grumbling and complaining, repent and ask for forgiveness, etc. etc.


Calvin - work is creative, reshapes the world.  (i.e. producing something new, like this blogpost)
Luther - work is caring for creation (cleaning/maintaining something that already exists, like proof reading and editing this blog post)

Adam was put into the Garden to work it and keep it

***Work isn't a calling unless someone has called you to do it.  Christians have the raw material for calling.  Thus, even menial chores are God's work!

What work takes priority in our lives?
-Calling.  See how God answers prayer, guides you and gives wisdom and let that help you prioritize.  Look at needs around you, what you're equipped with, and do you feel called to do.

Jeremiah 29 and common good.

Calvin - look inside at what you are gifted in
Luther - look out there and see what needs to be done.
-to find your calling, start with your one and go to the other, or vice versa.

Churches need to train people in wisdom, because there will be times when you are called to do things you don't feel called to or that you aren't passionate about.  


Teach Business Leaders to:
  1. Depend on God
  2. Integrate spiritual life and work life.
  3. Teach prioritization
    1. teach the basics, time with God, family, etc.
  4. Encourage us to be in accountability relationships.
  5. Understand that work is a calling
  6. The 9 to 5 window is just as important as the 1040 window
  7. Be generous.  Sacrificial giving for business leaders is often very very different than the typical person in the pew.  Give until it feels good!
we will be judged for our faithfulness in the workplace.


Business leaders want:
  1. Our leaders need a robust theology that informs their work.  
    1. Dorothy Sayers: "The only Christian work is good work well done."
  2. our leaders need a rich, compelling, liturgical regularity that affirms their work.
    1. take into account how we craft congregational worship.
    2. PSALM 90:17
  3. a respectful relationship that applauds their work.  
    1. Be in tune with their Monday world.  People do not understand at any level the complex and stress they often face.  
    2. take a sincere interest in leaders of all vocations.
    3. read things from their world
    4. visit their workplaces 
    5. be creative and thoughtful at finding simple ways to encourage market place leaders.  (call, write note)
    6. pray for them


Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Christian Life is the Easier Life

We often hear it said that the life of the Christian is one fraught with suffering and difficulty.  It is hard and the cost of discipleship is high.  These are all true depending on one's perspective.  It depends on what you treasure and love and how much.

To the degree that one treasures Jesus, his promises, and abiding in Him greater than other, temporal things, then the coming and going of temporal things will hardly make things difficult for that person.  Not that he won't ever have hard choices or experience physical or emotional anguish.  He likely will. But amidst all that, he will be abiding in Jesus and thus he will have a perfect peace in his soul that nothing else can offer.  Here is an ease that cannot be had any other way.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
(Matthew 11:28-30 ESV)
To live life apart from Jesus one has a choice of two roads to take: legalism or license.  Believers can, for a time, live apart from Jesus as well. Perhaps this will be in certain situations or stages of growth for them or a time when they simply are avoiding God.

To walk the road of legalism is hard and heavy. No matter what kind of set of rules one tries to follow it will be hard, even impossible and it is a yoke that crushes the spirit. The rules could ones that are self made and self-imposed, or rules that are placed from the outside like from a church or religion, or perhaps simply living to look good or a certain way in front of others.  Jesus addresses this when he says "My yoke is easy, and my burden is light."  If we abide in Jesus we've no need to be legalists any more, following a set of rules to make ourselves feel better or to perform.

To walk the road of license is tiring and exhausting. It never satisfies. License is "freedom to behave as one wishes, especially in a way that results in excessive or unacceptable behavior."  In short, one is seeking pleasurable feelings and experiences as a way to be satisfied in and with life.  The rest people are seeking is never found which is why they keep going back for more - must watch another sitcom or episode to feel better, must go to the explicit website again, must eat that food item again, etc.  When it looks like others (or ourselves!) are having a good time, we may actually be having a restless and empty time and it is sad, no matter how big the smiles or cheerful the face.  Inside, deep down, the heart is yearning for something more.  Jesus address this when he says "you will find rest for your souls."  If we abide in Jesus, we've no need to be licentious seeking emotional or bodily pleasure or satisfaction.

The Christian life indeed is easier if we truly embrace it because only in Jesus can we have peace that surpasses all understanding and only he offers us a yoke that is easy and a light burden.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Can a Christian have too much Discipline?

Only in the sense that one could have too much joy or peace, patience or kindness.

Self-control, which I think is synonymous with discipline cannot be had in too great an amount and in the Christian life should always be increasing.  This means all Christians would be bores and have no fun, right (as if that is what matters.)?!  Well, only if you call the rest of the fruit of the Spirit boring and lifeless.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
(Galatians 5:22-24 ESV)

Why is discipline, or self-control, so important for the Christian? Because it is how they rule over (instead of submitting to, or being ruled by) the passions or desires of the flesh.  A "desire of the flesh" isn't always something overtly or grossly sinful, like say satisfying one's sexual cravings outside of marriage.  It simply is what it is: a desire of the flesh (that is usually against what we were intended for): more sleep, less work, more recreation, experiencing pleasure, watching a movie, experiencing good tasting food, etc. These things can feel/look/taste good to our physical body. But are they always truly good for us?  When something isn't truly good but only feels good is when we need to rule over our body and exercise self-control.

Does this mean eating brownies is always bad? Not at all. But it does mean that the person who always gives in to their urge to have a brownie, cannot say no, or worse, goes out of their way to get some is not exercising self-control but is being controlled.  Proverbs says such people are like a city without walls.  (Proverbs 25:28)

Indeed, love and self-control are the bookends for the fruit of the Spirit, and not on accident. How can one love if he does not have self-control?  Love is others oriented and love can only happen or can only happen to the degree that one is not focused on satisfying their own fleshly desires but instead wants to serve the wants and needs of others.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Indications of Idolatry

The past few months in my small group we've been working through Tim Keller's small group study on Galatians.  The emphasis in it is on legalism and idolatry in general.  We had a very good discussion the other night on what good indicators are to us as individuals that there may be an idol lurking somewhere in our heart that we ought to root out and replace with trust in and adoration of God.

1) If you are angry/fearful/anxious about something or someone, there is likely an idol of yours that is threatened or that you are trying to protect.  This is not always the case but a very good indicator.  If a lion jumps out at you and you run in fright, you are simply wise, not idolatrously protecting your life.  If the economy takes a turn for the worse and you become fearful for your financial well-being or that of others, you are not wise at all. Since it is foolish not to trust God whatever our circumstances our. [This doesn't mean that we shouldn't act, do our part, to still steward and plan well as best we can. But that's where it stops. We do the best we can and as led by the Lord and leave the rest of - or, in more dramatic terms, "cast" - our cares on the Lord.] He will provide for all our needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

2) If you are preoccupied with something that is not God then there is likely an idol you want to protect.  You are at work all day, but all you can think about is how the game, or the event, or whatever will turn out. Or you are at the ________ but all you can think about is work.   God does not call us to anxiously think about the future or to be preoccupied with events, people, and things out of our control. He does call us to, every single moment of our lives, live in obedience to him, trust him, and be present wherever we are,  entrusting even the trips we will take to other cities in the future to his care (and he does care, even when it doesn't necessarily feel like it.  If there comes a point where it doesn't feel like God cares for us because of an event, see the first point above, this is probably an indication that we have something on the throne of our hearts where God alone belongs.).

3) What you think about when your mind is in "neutral" may indicate what is an idol for you.  What do you think about when in the shower? What comes to your mind when first waking up? What is running through your mind as you go to sleep? Etc... What are the thoughts and emotions there?  God has an interest in every second of our lives and every ounce of energy we have.  Likewise, if he is truly our king, we ought to give him every moment of our lives and make every thought and desire subject to him and his will.  Now, this doesn't mean that every thought needs to be about Jesus or about Heaven or about theology (though those are certainly good thoughts to have in our downtime!), but every thought should follow God's desire presented for us here: " Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."
(Philippians 4:8 ESV)"  If all I am thinking about when in "neutral" is work, then I should probably examine whether work is an idol for me. Or perhaps all I am thinking about is politics or an election or my bitterness about something or against someone then there is likely an idol I am worshipping.

There is much more than can be said about idols and idolatry (e.g. we become like our idols, our idols will always ultimately fail us, our idols will drain us of true life, etc.)  but these are some decent indicators we can use to examine our hearts.  And this is key - the issue is our hearts. If all we do is adjust our behavior, we have not actually worked with The Spirit to address what really needs fixing.

Here is a case in point from my own life.  I've been told before that I lacked thoughtfulness in some situations.  An immediate indicator of an idol is that I was hurt that didn't feel recognized for how good I thought I actually was! My pride was hurt! A wrong response would be to simply try to be more thoughtful, or to try to be serve others more, etc.  Why? Because then I could simply be turning my own good behavior or thoughtfulness into an idol, so that I could get more compliments or feel good about myself or whatever. Point is, I would be a slave, serving something else other than God.  Or I could be turning other persons into an idol, serving them primarily, and not God!  Sure, I may be thought of as a more thoughtful person for a time but that is all I gain (which isn't much in an eternal perspective).

The right response is to go to the Spirit and have him examine my heart, while recognizing that I certainly can be more thoughtful and eager to be more thoughtful, with the right motives (out of service to God alone!).  Go straight to the heart! Find the idols that are perhaps there and instead of replacing them with another idol, replace it with God.  The results will follow. Instead of focusing more on how I can be more thoughtful (simply behavior, and serving something else) I, with the help of the Spirit pray more for Him to work in my heart, set more of my thoughts on God, set more of my thoughts on esteeming others of more significance than myself.  The fruit will follow from this, without me even having to think of how I will go about "producing" it on my own!  (I don't mean to say that acting charitably or thinking well does not require forethought or planning. The question is where does one turn to ultimately fix the issue: the heart, or just surface behavior?)

By the way, here is Keller's Galatians Study. I heartily recommend it.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A Marvelous Liberty

I've been thinking a lot lately about the unshakeable peace I have in God.  (And not just thinking about it, but really enjoying the peace too!) This peace can only come by, as noted below, not submitting to a "yoke of slavery."  Here, this slavery can be of two kinds: either indulgence or idolatry.  This is the narrow road we walk as Christians - tempted on one side to indulge with the freedom in Christ we now have, and on the other side, tempted to serve and worship something that is not God, be it legalism, or our appearance, etc.  To avoid these pitfalls, particularly the temptation towards idolatries (be it a morally good looking one, like that of the Galatians, or one that isn't so good looking, like materialism or control) we trust in the promises and work of God.  This brings perfect peace to our soul.

Tonight in d-group someone read from a superb passage of Luther's commentary on Galatians as we talked about the meaning of Galatians 5:1. It's posted below.  Note the the repeated emphasis on the thought life - how important it is that we continually think on (and subsequently appreciate) the work of Christ for us.  As we do this, as we think on God's promises and what has done and will do for us, our thoughts and feelings that have not been taken captive to Christ will soon vanish, being crowded out by inestimable delight and many thoughts on the greatness of our good God.   (Bolding is my own).

On Galatians 5:1, "For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery", Martin Luther says:
Paul is speaking of a far better liberty, the liberty "wherewith Christ hath made us free," not from material bonds, not from the Babylonian captivity, not from the tyranny of the Turks, but from the eternal wrath of God.
Where is this liberty? 
In the conscience. 
Our conscience is free and quiet because it no longer has to fear the wrath of God. This is real liberty, compared with which every other kind of liberty is not worth mentioning. Who can adequately express the boon that comes to a person when he has the heart-assurance that God will nevermore be angry with him, but will forever be merciful to him for Christ's sake? This is indeed a marvelous liberty, to have the sovereign God for our Friend and Father who will defend, maintain, and save us in this life and in the life to come. 
As an outgrowth of this liberty, we are at the same time free from the Law, sin, death, the power of the devil, hell, etc. Since the wrath of God has been assuaged by Christ no Law, sin, or death may now accuse and condemn us. These foes of ours will continue to frighten us, but not too much. The worth of our Christian liberty cannot be exaggerated. 
Our conscience must he trained to fall back on the freedom purchased for us by Christ. Though the fears of the Law, the terrors of sin, the horror of death assail us occasionally, we know that these feelings shall not endure, because the prophet quotes God as saying: "In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment: but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee." (Isa. 54:8.) 
We shall appreciate this liberty all the more when we bear in mind that it was Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who purchased it with His own blood. Hence, Christ's liberty is given us not by the Law, or for our own righteousness, but freely for Christ's sake. In the eighth chapter of the Gospel of St. John, Jesus declares: "If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed." He only stands between us and the evils which trouble and afflict us and which He has overcome for us. 
Reason cannot properly evaluate this gift. Who can fully appreciate the blessing of the forgiveness of sins and of everlasting life? Our opponents claim that they also possess this liberty. But they do not. When they are put to the test all their self-confidence slips from them. What else can they expect when they trust in works and not in the Word of God?
Our liberty is founded on Christ Himself, who sits at the right hand of God and intercedes for us. Therefore our liberty is sure and valid as long as we believe in Christ. As long as we cling to Him with a steadfast faith we possess His priceless gifts. But if we are careless and indifferent we shall lose them. It is not without good reason that Paul urges us to watch and to stand fast. He knew that the devil delights in taking this liberty away from us.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Holiness is Proactively Doing Good

Matt Perman:

Biblical holiness is not simply about avoiding evil, though that is important; it is about proactively doing good. The call of the Scriptures is that we are to be eager and creative and proactive in doing all the positive good we can — and doing it in humble reliance on God’s power. That is the essence of a holy life.We are to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God,” not simply “stay squeaky clean by avoiding evil.” In fact, if the essence of your Christian ethic is what you don’t do, you’ve failed to grasp that you’ve not succeded in avoiding evil at all — for the greatest of all evils is right in your heart, in your refusal to proactively take action on behalf of others, “loving your neighbor as yourself.”
His entire post is good, the main thrust being that to live a purposeful, intentional live, making the most of our time (proactively doing good), is the practical outworking of holy living before God.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Should Christians Own Guns?

Doug Wilson addresses this and other questions relevant to our time:

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Monday, January 28, 2013

What's the Difference Between Confidence and Presumption When It Comes to Taking Risks for God?

This is a good video by Piper.

My own thought is that this has much to do with following the leading of The Spirit.  Many cultures have different levels of awareness and worry about certain things (such as time, tasks, and risks, etc.).  We should be careful that we allow the cultural way of thinking about things to dictate our way of thinking about things as we live in the Kingdom of God.  Is Time orientation better or Event orientation better? Well, neither. It will depend on the circumstance and the revealed will of God, as well as following the prompting of the Spirit.  The same thinking applies to taking risks.

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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Jonathan Edwards on Holiness

Last weekend I attended the Desiring God conference in Minneapolis. The fellowship with others and the messages were all tremendous blessings.  Sunday morning, John Piper started his message by quoting Edwards on Holiness. Since it's a beautiful quote I've placed it below.  O to be have a God entranced vision of all things like Edwards!

Holiness is a most beautiful and lovely thing.  We drink in strange notions of holiness from our childhood, as if it were a melancholy, morose, sour, and unpleasant thing; but there is nothing in it but what is sweet and ravishingly lovely. ‘Tis the highest beauty and amiableness, vastly above all other beauties. ‘Tis a divine beauty, makes the soul heavenly and far purer than anything here on earth... ‘Tis of a sweet, pleasant, charming, lovely, amiable, delightful, serene, calm, and still nature. ‘Tis almost too high a beauty for any creatures to be adorned with; it makes the soul a little, sweet, and delightful image of the blessed Jehovah.

Oh, how may angels stand, with pleased, delighted, and charmed eyes, and look and look, with smiles of pleasure upon their lips, upon that soul that is holy; how may they hover over such a soul, to delight to behold such loveliness!...What a sweet calmness, what a calm ecstasy, doth it bring to the soul! How doth it make the soul love itself; how doth it make the pure invisible world love it; yea, how doth God love it and delight in it; how do even the whole creation, the sun, the fields, and trees love a humble holiness; how doth all the world congratulate, embrace, and sing to a sanctified soul!...

It makes the soul like a delightful field or garden planted by God...where the sun is Jesus Christ; the blessed beams and calm breeze, the Holy Spirit; the sweet and delightful flowers, and the pleasant shrill music of the little birds, are the Christian graces.

Or like the little white flower: pure, unspotted, and undefiled, low and humble, pleasing and harmless; receiving the beams, the pleasant beams of the serene sun, gently moved and a little shaken by a sweet breeze, rejoicing as it were in a calm rapture, diffusing around [a] most delightful fragrancy, standing most peacefully and lovingly in the midst of the other like flowers round about. How calm and serene is the heaven overhead! How free is the world from noise and disturbance! How, if one were but holy enough, would they of themselves [and] as it were naturally ascend from the earth in delight, to enjoy God as Enoch did!

the Miscellanies; on Holiness

Sunday, September 23, 2012


A couple weeks ago my girlfriend surprised me by taking me to an old cemetery in Rome, GA.  I suppose that wouldn't really do it for some people but I happen to really enjoy walking or jogging through old cemeteries.  Here are a couple pictures. Note to self: When in Rome...bring your real camera. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Grammy is there!

The other night while I was working Abi came outside to "give me some company."  Very thoughtful of her!

 (That's Zelda the monkey, and please excuse the graininess as it was getting dark)

 She said something profound and blogworhty...hence this post.  Somehow we got on the subject of "Grammy's" house.  She mentioned she really likes going to Grammy's house.  I then asked her to give a detailed explanation of her reasoning.  Just kidding. I said, "Why do you like going to Grammy's house?"

I was expecting an answer to the effect of: "Because she has lots of toys", or "Because she takes us to restaurants." (I don't know the validity of either.)

However, instead, she said, "Because Grammy is there!"  That's quite a compliment to Grammy and the way Abi's learned to enjoy the person as an end and not a means to an end.

This instantly reminded me of the Spiritual parallel.  The reason we ought to desire God, and desire heaven is because of God himself.  (As John Piper says, "God is the Gospel".) If other things are our motive for heaven or what we imagine we will desire and enjoy when there we have just devalued God, putting something much lesser than Him in His rightful place. 

Why do you e could say, because loved ones will be there, I will never be sick again, I will play golf or go hiking for years on end.  However, when in heaven those things likely will be in the back of our minds as we are taken by the beauty of Christ and the infinite greatness of God. 

This is not to say we shouldn't look forward to the many fabulous things we'll have in heaven we don't have here (glorified bodies, sinless living, absence of all evils, etc.), or that we shouldn't enjoy the many physical and spiritual blessings God has given us to enjoy here on earth. It is to say we should be careful though that we always see enjoying God as an end in and of itself, and not a means to other things that we actually value more than God.

Way to go Abi on reminding me of that!