Search

Changed By Glory

"And we all… beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another." II Cor. 3:18

Would Paul Trust You With His People?

Now I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon so that I too may be encouraged by news about you. 20 For I have no one else like-minded who will genuinely care about your interests; 21 all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.

Philippians 2:19-21 (CSB)

Writing to the Philippians, Paul desires to send Timothy to check up on how they were doing. Why Timothy? Because Paul says he had no one else “like-minded” who would genuinely care about the interests of the Philippian church. He goes on to bemoan that “all seek their own interests and not the those of Jesus Christ”.

Even in his day, Paul was having a hard time finding pastors and teachers who had the best interest of the church at heart, because their interest were not aligned with those of Jesus. It is crucial to see and understand, though it might obvious, that the interests of the church and the interests of Jesus are one and the same. The fulfillment of the goals and priorities of Jesus are what the church needs, and therefore, it needs leaders, pastors, teachers whose aims are aligned with those of Jesus.

Apparently, the list of those who cared about the interests of the church was quite small, which should be alarming to us and cause us to pause, check our life, our heart, our mind, and wonder:

“Would Paul trust me with his people?”

In order to answer that question, I think you take a good, hard look at the ministry of Jesus and at the ministry of Paul and you prayerfully consider if you ministry aligns with theirs in its aim and in its shape. Based on what we are trying to accomplish, based on what we teach, based on how we spend our time, would our lives and ministry be recognizable to Paul as being aligned with the interests of Jesus Christ?

A good start to this is to consider the summary statements Jesus gave for his purpose in coming to the world. This is helpful because the work of the apostles would be an extension of that ministry.[1]

One of the best, overarching statements of the ministry of Jesus, in my opinion, can be found in John 6, which reads:

“Everyone the Father gives me will come to me, and the one who comes to me I will never cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. 39 This is the will of him who sent me: that I should lose none of those he has given me but should raise them up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father: that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him will have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”[2]

The reason Jesus came was to guarantee the eternal life of all of God’s people for His glory. This was the ultimate interest of Jesus, this was what shaped all that he did. And how would Jesus accomplish this? Through the cross.

The interests of Christ led to the cross, and this reality would profoundly shape the content of the ministry of Paul, who made it clear that he sought to make nothing known “except Jesus Christ and him crucified”[3].

Furthermore, the ministry of Jesus shaped the attitude and posture of Paul’s ministry. It took the swagger out of it.

Keeping in mind how Jesus said, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”[4], we see Paul adopt this posture, eager to share not only the gospel of Christ, but his own life also, enduring labor and hardship for the church.[5]So much so that his philosophy of ministry could be summed up as “For we are not proclaiming ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’s sake.”[6]

Informed and shaped by the gospel which he proclaimed, the ministry of Paul was directed by the interests of Jesus – which meant sacrificially seeking the salvation of God’s people through the preaching of Christ crucified. It meant loving God’s people at great personal cost, to the end that Christ would be formed in them. It meant giving yourself to see the church glorified.

And apparently so rare was this kind of ministry, finding workers who shared Christ’s interests, that Paul had no else he could really trust besides Timothy.

I wonder if Paul would trust me? Would he consider me to be like-minded?

There is much that can shape the trajectory of our ministry and flavor our teaching, but nothing will warp our trajectory or spoil our flavor more than seeking our own interests or the interests of any other besides Christ[7]. To build a reputation, to be loved, to feel justified, to get affirmation, to grow influence base, to increase the size of our church, to be relevant to the culture, to pursue economic prosperity – all of these things risk rendering us as untrustworthy servants. Every day our own interests or the interests of our culture can creep in and begin to corrode our ministry. We need to return to Christ, to the cross, we need to fix our eyes above and be daily recalibrated to his interests, which are also the interests of his church.

I am challenged by this to look to Christ, to remember how he loved me and gave himself for me, and to serve and speak out of the overflow of living by faith in that reality. It is through burning love for Christ that his interests become ours and when his interests are ours, we are in a position to serve the interests of the church.

So what do you think?

Would Paul trust you with his people?

 

[1]John 14:12, 17:18, 20:21

[2]John 6:37-40

[3]I Cor. 2:2

[4]Mark 10:45 (CSB)

[5]1 Thess. 2:8

[6]II Corinthians 4:5

[7]This highlights the reality that sacrificial service, in of itself, is not virtuous or ultimately God-glorifying. Only service that is directed by the interests of Jesus Christ is finally of any value.

Advertisements

Changed By Relationship

Relationships change us, for better or for worse. When Paul says that we should not be deceived, that “bad company ruins good morals” and that “a little leaven leavens the whole lump”, he does so as an affirmation of what the whole Bible teaches about humanity, that is the natural, shaping power of relationships in our lives.[1].

We were made to be shaped by relationship. This is not a bad thing. It is the way we were made. Bad company corrupts us and a little bad “yeast” affects many because sin piggybacks on good things God has made and distorts them. We were made to be shaped by relationship – ultimately by our relationship with God. In right relationship to him we bear his image, mirroring his character which we know and experience in that relationship. We were made to be shaped, in what we do, what we think, in what we love, by our relationship with God. This is how we are formed into true humans. Righteousness, in heart, mind, and hands, occurs in the context of relationship because it is a reflection of what we are in intimate relationship with. This is why reconciliation with God apart from the gospel is impossible.

If it were not for the gospel – the good news that we are reconciled to God by grace alone through faith alone in the person and work of Jesus alone- we would be incapable of producing the righteous behavior needed to bring us into relationship with God because it is the relationship which creates the behavior.[2]In John’s gospel, Jesus testifies that his character is directly related to his union – perfect relationship – with the Father.[3]He is not from God because of what he does, he does what he does because he is from the Father. All his actions, indeed his very will, are a direct reflection of his relationship with the Father. In the gospel message, we are reconciled to God in Christ, through his perfect obedience and flawless bearing of the imago dei imputed to us and through our sin and impurity which keeps us from right relationship with God, being imputed to Christ and dealt with on the cross. Thus being reconciled to God we are then changed in relationship with God by the Spirit through whom we experience true, personal communion with God. Put in the context of modern psychology, the answer to the “nature versus nurture” debate in the gospel is “yes” to both. In Christ we receive a new nature, and with it our status as God’s children, thereby being established in a new context for nurture – the family of God under the care and promise of our heavenly Father who has sworn our translation into the likeness of Jesus. The new nature is the ground of our transformation and provides the new context for our nurture into the image of Jesus. In Scripture this transformative relationship is referred to in many ways, such as “abiding in the vine”[4]or in Romans 8, transformation is the result of God living in us by the Spirit, which is the source of our relationship, or “sonship”. This all works to the end that just as the life of Jesus showed his relationship with the Father, so will ours. But all of this is of divine grace, for there would be no transforming relationship if we were not first brought into that relationship through the Spirit’s application of the cross-work of the Son and his perfect “imaging” of the Father.[5]

What we learn in Ephesians is that in Christ we are not only brought into a unified relationship with God, but also with others who are united with Christ.[6]This is crucial, because we see there that transformation is intended to occur only in the context of relationship, certainly with God, but also with others who also know God.[7]When one considers a biblical anthropology, this should not be surprising. Man and woman in Genesis 2, the founding seed of all human relationship, uniquely bore the divine image in community; an image that was broken when man’s relationship with God was fractured – an image which is seen in its fullness with the perfect fulfillment of “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”[8]Once man fell into rebellion, he was then unable to bear the image of God as an individual due to his alienation from God, which necessarily then led to a breakdown of that image in community. Which of course then we see immediately in the disunity of competing wills as self-actualization became man’s chief goal, this is exemplified in the self-serving excuses of Adam and Eve and then in the jealous rage of their son, Cain and on and on through the biblical narrative.[9]We still were made for relationship and shaped by relationship, but it was now twisted, distorted, and ultimately destructive instead of constructive.[10]Our craving for unity and intimacy is evidence of this, but without relationship with God all dreams of unity are a vapor. We see this futility expressed today as a type of counterfeit unity among humanity is only achieved through placation, domination, or an ever-increasing affirmation of individual autonomy, which history has shown cannot be sustained but always devolves into an ugly cycle of anarchy supplanted by tyranny.

But by being reconciled to God, a new kind of horizontal relationship is created – or rather, recreated, which changes us. A community made up of individuals who being in relationship with God through the gospel of Jesus are changed so that the image of the triune God begins to be reflected in community. In fact, being in relationship with God as an individual shapes us so that we seek and create community and we feel incomplete, incapable of being what we were made to be, without that community. For instance, we experience self-giving love from God in all his kindness and good gifts to us which he gives not of necessity to himself but as a free gift – a reflection of that love in creation requires a theatre for mimicking that love, such that there is no such thing as love for God without it being expressed in love for others which reflects the love we know in relationship with God![11]

The end result of being in relationship with the God who is Trinity, is that we move toward being one as a community, just as the Father and Son and Spirit are one, while maintaining our distinction as persons.[12]This inevitably molds and sharpens us, it changes us in relationship because you cannot come together to a place of shared goals, share authority, and shared love without each individual being changed to form a unique whole.

Of course the human relationship that is created by our relationship with God is what forms the church. The church is both the necessary result of our relationship with God and the context where our relationship with God ultimately becomes visible and can actually be vouched for as genuine. And it is this horizontal relationship then that by its very nature serves the end goal of a growing intimacy with God that changes us.[13]

We are programmed to reflect what we are in relationship with.[14]The dark side of this in a fallen word is that “bad company corrupts good morals” – examples of which abound in Scripture and human history, so much so that this is generally embraced as a truism across cultures. The reality is that we cannot help but be shaped by relationship – be that with friends, family, society, or our broader cultural context. But this should not cause us who have the Bible to be hopeless. Instead, we see being changed by relationship as something beautiful, wonderful, something that makes us truly human, when our fundamental relationship is that of a son or daughter of God through Christ by the Spirit; a relationship with a God that can be known, that can be observed in history, and that through knowing shapes how we think, what we value – in the end, who we are, not merely as individuals, but as individuals made for relationship with others. Embracing this has incredible implications on marriage and friendship, on our life in the church. In the west we largely believe that good relationships are those that accept us for who we are, but the Bible gives us a vision of relationships that serve to form us into who we are meant to be. And becoming what we are meant to be is something that can only occur in relationship. We were made for this.

 

[1](1 Corinthians 15:33; 5:6 ESV)

[2]John 8:34-41; Romans 8:12-17; 1 John 3:1-10

[3]John 5:31-47;14:6-11

[4]John 15:7-8

[5]Ephesians 2:1-10

[6]Ephesians 2:11-22

[7]Ephesians 2:22;4:1-16

[8]Galatians 5:14

[9]One of the key ways that the image of God is reflected in community is when community us united with a common foundation and common goal, such as we see Christ having with his Father in John’s gospel.

[10]A good example would be Babel in Genesis 11:1-9

[11]1 John

[12]John 17:20-23; Ephesians 4:1-3.12-16

[13]I will try to flush out the biblical mechanics of that in a later post

[14]Friedrich Nietzsche famously observed “the herd mentality” in humanity, however, as we might expect from a nihilist, he doesn’t see this as having any redemptive root, but is the result of human boredom with self, laziness, and indolence. Without a biblical worldview, like the preacher in Ecclesiastes, we might be tempted to also see our natures so easily shaped by our relationship to others as dark and undesirable, especially when time and again we run as a blind heard to our ruin.

Madness In Missions Methodology

The quest for the “silver bullet”.

Have you ever noticed in the movies how there is always that discovery which works perfectly, albeit magically at times, to fix the problem, provide the cure, or divert the crisis? A potion that restores youth, a hospital capsule that automatically does surgery, an arc reactor that can keep the shrapnel away from your heart, or a silver bullet that can slay the otherwise immortal.

We have an insatiable desire it seems for results and quick fixes. This desire spills over to every area of our lives. It has touched our churches and over the years that I have been serving for the cause of the gospel overseas, it has become clear that this yearning has touched our mission methodology as well. As I have read books and sat through seminars over the years, I can’t help but sense that as a church that has been given a mission -a mandate- we are obsessed with finding our “silver bullet”. In our mission methodology, like an alchemist of old, we have gone mad trying to unlock what everyone since the days of the apostles has apparently missed – the formula for explosive, exponential kingdom growth. A silver bullet to the monstrous need of the unreached.

In most cases such a search comes from compassionate hearts and a desire to glorify God. But as the methods come and go, each claiming to be more biblical, useful, replicable than the other, it seems that we need to be reminded that we have not been given the mandate of seeking a “silver bullet”.

We all end up employing some kind of methodology in missions. But we are in danger of sacrificing faithfulness to our Scriptural mandate on the altar of success, when our focus gets locked onto our methods and their ensuing results. In fact, we can become so concerned with seeking the “silver bullet”, that when we think we find it, like some miracle cure that actually makes us into monsters, we sometimes fail, and even refuse, to see the negative impact of that “miracle” method (Anyone see I Am Legend?) When our methodology seems to be working we may fail to see that our biblical basis is not as biblical as we think. And perhaps we are then inhibited from discerning the fruit from faux results.

Some Classic Examples

Books and articles, training courses and seminars abound promoting “the biblical pattern” for rapidly multiplying churches and disciples.

The Four Fields approach claims to have unlocked the “kingdom principles” in the parables of Mark 4 which will lead to the reaping of a great harvest. The “person of peace” approach looks to the sending of the 72 in Luke 10 as the pattern for kingdom expansion. T4T, “training for trainers”, uses passages like 2 Timothy 2:2 and John 4 as its model for rapidly multiplying “trainers” to take the message of the kingdom to others.

There is actually a lot of good in a number of these programs. The problem with them is that they often flow from less than careful exegesis, they are judged on pragmatic criteria, and the whole counsel of God’s word is not taken into consideration in the use of them.

For instance….

Four Fields looks to parables which describe the kingdom of God and its growth, without considering the purpose those parables were spoken – which was to expose the misunderstanding the religious leaders had of the nature of God’s kingdom and as judgment on them for their rejection of the Messiah.

The “person of peace” approach, appeals only selectively to Luke 10 as the model for kingdom expansion – the commands found there to hurry, to take no clothes, and to eat only what is served are ignored. Other methods which led to kingdom expansion, like sermons to large crowds in Acts 2, are also ignored by this philosophy.

The T4T approach appeals to 2 Timothy 2:2, without pausing to consider the context it is written in – the local church – and the qualifying requirement of “faithful men”. Not just eager men, not just willing men, but faithful men. How do you know if someone is faithful? It takes time in a community of accountability. And what are they being trained to do? To preach, something which is often downplayed or redefined because traditional preaching and the development of preachers is seen as cumbersome to rapid multiplication – which seems to be the primary virtue by which all tactics are judged in this approach and others like it.

All of these methods are promoted for their supposed source in Scripture and their proven track record of yielding results, of bearing “fruit”. (And there may indeed be fruit.) But there are some potential flaws with many of these systems which lead to other problems, some of which may not be seen until years down the road. The hurried development of “trainers” or “kingdom agents” or “men of peace”, circumnavigates Paul’s long view for the training of “faithful men” seen in 2 Timothy 2:2. The focus on obedience in “discovery Bible studies” used in the CPM approach can confuse the gospel and simply lead to the exchange of one set of religious principles for another. That same CPM system can lend to a lack of clarity on conversion which can lead to a confused identity. A lack of understanding of why we are not disciples and how we become them, leads to people claiming to embrace Jesus as “king” without clearly understanding their need for him as Savior. This leads to a deadly ripple effect which ends in man-powered religion, the people you “reached” having something no different than what they had at first.

You may disagree with all my observations but the bottom line is that no method is a “silver bullet”. No method, as long as fallen and finite people like ourselves are at the helm, is going to be perfect. This article is not being written to write off all methodologies nor to offer yet another method to the madness of mission methodology. This is meant simply to help us latch onto some guiding principles for our methods, and to hopefully get us to admit that more methods are not what we need.

The Bible promotes a mandate more than a methodology. Therefore, all methodologies must be tested as to whether or not they are faithful to that mandate.

There is a madness in mission methodology that is driven by one ultimate question: “Does it work?” Admittedly that question is always surrounded by lots of biblical language and qualifications, but at the end of the day the argument made in defense of many methods is: “It works and you can’t argue with results.” As one man promoting CPM methodologies told me, “Numbers don’t lie.” But as Pastor and author, Mark Dever, once wisely said, “Numbers lie all the time.”

If the question “Does it work?” is driving our methodology, we are in serious danger of swerving from the mandate.

We must admit that different contexts may call for different methodologies. But how do we evaluate these methods?

It has to be on the basis of faithfulness to the mandate, in light of the whole counsel of God’s word.

What is the mandate? We can certainly look at the “Great Commission” in Matthew 28 to understand that, but to understand Matthew 28 we need to look at the whole counsel of God’s word.[1]

“Make Disciples”

How does someone become a disciple? Repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ in response to the preaching of the word of Christ.[2]

“Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded.”

How does a disciple come to obey all that Christ commanded? In the context of the church, led by faithful, trained, and appointed men, where they are equipped to speak the truth in love so that everyone is built up to maturity.[3]

One of the problems with missions today, is that very often the simplicity of the mandate – proclaiming the glory of God in the face of Christ, displayed at the cross – is overwhelmed by the complexity of the method. I fear that in our quest for the “silver bullet”, we have ceased to be stunned by the glory of Christ which compels us to say, “We cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”[4]

This was the heart of Paul as he drew near the end of his life. Motivated to a life of suffering by the grace he had been shown in Christ, he reminded Timothy of that hope and the necessity of speaking it.[5] “Preach the word, Timothy. And since you won’t be around forever, get some faithful men and train them to do the same thing. Preach the word to the end, that is our mandate, even if people don’t want to listen.”[6] There was no need for charts, or diagrams, or statistics, there was simply the fear of the Lord and the love of Christ which compels us to speak the word of reconciliation, resting in the knowledge that whether people receive it or not, whether we are “effective or not”, Christ always leads us in triumphal procession.[7]

Let us end the madness! Behold the glory of Christ and then proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. The woman at the well needed only mercy to release her to speak. The demoniac needed deliverance to proclaim his Savior. Peter needed grace to compel him to boldness. Paul needed love for the chief of sinners to control him. The result of hearing, believing and being transformed by the gospel is that we proclaim the gospel – this is our simple mandate. When we know the gospel, we speak the gospel, which leads to eager gathering around the gospel, resulting in transformation worthy of the gospel. This is how “the kingdom grows”, be it fast, be it slow, be it winter, or be it spring, there is no substitute for simple, genuine faithfulness flowing from a heart touched by the grace of Christ.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] This is precisely what many methodologies fail to do

[2] Acts 20:21; Romans 10:17

[3] Ephesians 4:11-16; 1 Timothy 4:6-16; 2 Timothy 2:2; 3:16-17

[4] Acts 4:20

[5] 2 Timothy 1:8-13

[6] 2 Timothy 4:1,6;1:12-14;2:2;4:2-4

[7] 2 Corinthians 5:14-20;2:14-16

Sustained By Glory

When Katie and I got married we had a pretty normal American, Christian life. We had a starter home we were paying the bank for, I had a good job in construction management, we had a good community group and a good church. Then about a week into our marriage, while reading the Bible together at our hotel in Sorrento, Italy, the words from Isaiah 6 jumped off the page. “Who will we send? And who will go for us?” This divine inquiry was met with the newly sanctified lips of Isaiah, “Here am I. Send me.” I turned to Katie and I said with moist eyes, “I think our lives are going to look different than we thought.” She smiled and said. “Okay.”

Fast forward literally 10 years from then to when I am writing this in early December 2017. We have six kids, we are on the other side of the world, we live off of support from generous gospel-partners, and this spring will mark 9 years of cross-cultural ministry in a part of the world where the unreached have converged. There have been many ups and downs, many things to rejoice in, and many things that have been and continue to be difficult. Probably among the greatest of those difficulties is what many of us face who have followed the call across cultures – which is that the people we have given ourselves to love, that we share the gospel with, that we point to Christ, just seem so hard, so unreceptive, and there just seems to be so little fruit.

What has kept us going these years and what is going to sustain us for many more? How do we keep from giving up or keep from sacrificing faithfulness out of desperation for something to “write home about”?

What I have found is that the answer to that question is found in the very passage of Scripture that God used to compel us to the field in the first place.

During a season of discouragement and wrestling with various ministry models I happened upon a lecture from D.A. Carson about the parables in Mark 4. In that lecture he necessarily spent a good bit of time looking at Isaiah 6, which Jesus quotes from as context for his parables. From Isaiah 6 Carson pointed out, and I am paraphrasing, that we often read the “Here Am I. Send me!” and then we fail to read on to see the description of the ministry that Isaiah was being given. He would preach and God would use his preaching to actually harden the hearts of his hearers! He would proclaim great promises and yet see no immediate fruit. And it was here that Carson, paused and said solemnly, “If you are not willing to accept that God may be calling you to an Isaiah ministry, you need to stay out of ministry because you’re dangerous.”

So the question is, if it wasn’t appreciable results the sustained Isaiah in his ministry what was it? What compelled him to embrace this sending into what would, for the time, be a thankless and fruitless ministry?

The answer? It is what Isaiah saw that compelled him and sustained him. He saw the glory of God. In this case, I believe he saw “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (II Cor. 4:6) It was this same sight of glory that would lead John and Peter to say in the face of persecution, “We are unable to stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” It was this same sight of glory that sustained Stephen as the condemnation of the Sanhedrin came down on his head. It was this sight of glory that would lead Paul to suffer for the sake of God’s elect.

If your people-group is your goal, then when your ministry looks like an Isaiah ministry you will either compromise or give up or be miserable. But when your proclamation is an overflow of the glory you have seen, continuing in it is not dependent on results but on the glory itself which will never cease to shine. When ministry is an overflow of seeing glory you live knowing as Paul says, that “God… always leads us in Christ’s triumphal procession and through us spreads the aroma of the knowledge of him in every place. For to God we are the fragrance  of Christ among those who are being saved  and among those who are perishing. To some we are an aroma of death  leading to death, but to others, an aroma of life  leading to life. Who is adequate for these things?  For we do not market the word of God  for profit like so many. On the contrary, we speak with sincerity in Christ, as from God and before God. (2 Corinthians 2:14-17)

Faithful ministry is being done when we speak in Christ, from God, and in the sight of God. Secure in Christ regardless of results, proclaiming a message from God despite how foolish it may sound, and for his approval alone when everyone around us seems to demand and only be impressed by measurable results. We endure in faithful ministry when it is not driven by our outward circumstances or results, but by our communion with God. So what sustains us in faithful ministry? Seeing him. Seeing him -having him as our greatest reality, our inspiration, our prize! Where am I getting this? By reading on to chapter 3, 4, 5! We now with unveiled face by the Spirit behold God’s glory, therefore we do not lose heart in ministry, and now knowing Christ and seeing him, we consider suffering, even the suffering of seemingly fruitless labor, as but preparation as we, viewing people differently now, live as reconciliation-proclaiming ambassadors of Christ.

We get the aroma by being around him. We get the glow by gazing at his face. And we carry that aroma and we shine that radiance regardless of how it is received. And regardless of what happens – we are triumphant. Isaiah was. He didn’t get to see it. But he was triumphant.

It is the sight of the glory of God that compels us to speak. It is the sight of the glory of God that causes us to not help but endure. And it is the perfect sight of that glory which will be our prize.

I don’t ever want to lose that as my motivation for endurance. Because it is there that we have peace, we have joy, that we know that we triumph in all circumstances. It is there that we do not lose heart. We proclaim what we see, we see because God has opened our eyes and we can’t help ourselves, and if anything comes from this proclamation it will be because God will make others see, because he makes others smell the sweetness of what we have come to smell – the aroma of Christ, the glory seen in his face.

“We are unable to stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” That is what allowed John to endure. What he had seen and heard. In the end, it didn’t matter whether people wanted it or not, it simply overflowed and God, in ways we see and ways we cannot, will use that overflow. So look. So smell. So endure until you get what you ultimately want – to see him face to face, to breath in the aroma of his robes as he embraces you and welcomes you into his uninterrupted joy.

The Comfort of Christmas – A Poem

What do lights have to do

With the sorrow we feel

Another year passed

With new wounds to heal

 

How does a tree

Green though it be

Brings peace to my mind

When regrets search for me – and find

 

The tune of sweet carols

Bring a moment of delight

That fades in the silence

When future comes to fright

 

The gift perfectly bought

Seems to satisfy nought

Though for a moment it touches

A deeper longing – it nudges

 

The comfort of Christmas

Not found in these things

Because the world tomorrow

Terror it brings

 

Our world it is broken

We dare not deny

No pageant, no party

Can this rectify

 

The comfort of Christmas

Is the Cure of the cause

Our regrets all forgotten

The record of broken laws

 

Our longing for light

Is an aching for sight

Our love of green trees

From death, something that frees

 

Our delight in the songs

The soul for harmony longs

Our gifts that we sought

Longing for what cannot be bought

 

Joy! Delight!

Comfort now…

All of our longings in Him

May be found

 

Like light that warmly shines

He shows us what is real

The God that has made us

That in the silence we feel

 

Like a tree that is cut

Yet whose color is unfaded

He stands with eternal life

For all in Him shaded

 

Like music that soars

He has ascended above

With sacrifice perfect

To make many one

 

He purchased the gift

We could not afford

By falling for us

Under his own divine sword

 

The comfort of Christmas

Is ultimately this

The wooing of rebels

With a heavenly kiss

 

The comfort of Christmas

Is the message of peace

Because our striving against God

Can eternally cease

 

The comfort of Christmas

Divine come from above

To mend what is broken

With eternal, sacrificial love

Undermining Discipleship, By Focusing On Discipleship

Did you know that it is possible to focus on discipleship in such a way that undermines discipleship? I say that understanding that one of the things that has plagued evangelicalism in the past century, perhaps stemming from revivalism, is that the church has focused so much on decisions for Christ, on “conversions”, that it has failed to “make disciples” as we have been commanded. The reason that has happened is multifaceted and I won’t try and address that right now, but one must suspect the message that was being preached that led to those conversions if discipleship was not a natural overflow of those decisions. And it is that “natural overflow” that I am concerned with when I say that it is possible to focus so much on discipleship that we undermine discipleship.

It is true, the magnitude of the damage done when the aim is not discipleship, I have seen it with my own eyes. A mission team rolls into a village in India, presents the gospel, ask everyone if they want to go to heaven, many say yes, you mark down the decisions. Tada! Mission accomplished. Off course not much, if anything, has been accomplished because a church has not been planted, the biblical context in which discipleship happens. This is a problem. But it seems we could have an overreaction to the conversionism that has marked many evangelistic and missions efforts, an overreaction that would lead to a problem just as bad. We could overreact in a way that results in a kind of discipleship that is not what Jesus had in mind when he commissioned his church (Matthew 28:19)

This requires us to ask the question, what is discipleship? The simple answer we usually give is “following Jesus.” This is not wrong. But it is incomplete. It leads to many more questions. Because if we simply call people to follow Jesus, we could inadvertently end up simply calling them to trade one religious system for a another one that offers a better deal. And trust me, I see people do that all the time! We could look at discipleship as what Dallas Willard has rightly called “long obedience in the same direction”. But this too is incomplete because it doesn’t deal with the root and nurture of discipleship which is essential.

I will argue that biblical speaking, discipleship is:

Love for God expressed in glad obedience to the Lord Jesus

And I want to argue that the distinctives in that definition are immensely important. To acknowledge that Jesus is Lord and his truth is right, over against secularism, or Islam, or Buddhism, is good. But it will not end in the kind of discipleship Jesus calls us to. It is not enough for a person to say Jesus is God and to begin to follow his life and conform themselves to Scripture. All obedience is not good or acceptable, but only obedience that is glad obedience because it is an overflow of love for God.

So the question we have to ask is, “Where does that love come from?”

It comes from the knowledge that God first loved us (1 John 4:19). But why is understanding that God loved us first significant? Because at “first” we were not disciples, we were not even trying. We were enemies of God, sinners against Him, incapable of pleasing obedience. And yet, despite our situation “he loved us and gave His Son as the wrath-bearing sacrifice for our sins”, “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”(1 John 4:10; Romans 5:8,10)

It is this knowledge that ignites love for God in our hearts that leads to glad obedience to the Lord Jesus and this is true discipleship.

So true discipleship begins with the understanding that I have sinned against God, not cognitively, but with conviction from the heart. It begins with a glimpse of the glory of God in Christ that makes the heart desperate for relief from sin’s guilt and power. And then with gladness the heart embraces the good news that despite my helpless, hateful state “ God, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our sins made us alive together with Christ.”(Ephesians 2:4)

When like David in Psalm 51 you come to know the bone-crushing reality of your guilt, and you receive the good news that Jesus was crushed for you, this leads you to gladly embrace him as Savior and bow to him as Lord – and this is discipleship. Discipleship is the journey that begins with the cry “Woe is me! I am ruined!” and “Brothers, what must we do?” or “What must I do to be saved?” It is the life that begins with calling upon to the Lord to be saved at the preaching of the word of Christ. (Isaiah 6:6, Acts 2:37,16:30; Romans 10:13)

So what does this have to do with focusing on discipleship in a way that undermines discipleship? Discipleship begins with conversion. Despite what some methods in missions seem to be promoting these days, someone does not become a disciple by osmosis. I fear that in our desire for results and in our legitimate desire to move away from “conversionism” (I don’t know if that is a word), we have undermined discipleship by erasing the clear and shining line that is crossed when someone goes from darkness to light, when someone is transported from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of God’s Son, when someone comes alive, when the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness” shines into the heart to give the light of knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:9; Colossians 1:13; Ephesians 2:4; II Corinthians 4:6)

I am convinced that true discipleship begins with sound, clear, obvious conversion. Why? Because of how the Bible testifies that disciples are made and motivated.

If we lose sight of conversion as how disciples are made and an integral to how they are motivated, it is possible that we end up with people who have traded one religious system for another religious system. You end up with faulty discipleship because it is not motivated by the kind of radical, life-altering love that is infused into the soul by the Holy Spirit when we come to see that Christ suffered and died in our place to bring us to God. (Romans 5)

Examples of this kind of false discipleship can be seen all throughout John’s gospel, but nowhere is it more clear than in John 8. There were new disciples, listening to Jesus’ teaching, following him around. But what was the problem? They didn’t see their real need. So when Jesus confronted their sin head-on, they turned against him. I fear that much that we do in the name of evangelism, and especially in missions, calls people to follow Jesus, expecting they will move to repentance and faith by osmosis of some sort without ever bringing them to the point of seeing their hopelessness, the depth of their sin, their real need. And this means they aren’t brought to a place of crisis where they call on the name of the Lord as one who is desperate for saving grace. Which means they never truly become disciples: those whose lives are marked by love for God expressed in glad obedience to the Lord Jesus.

So perhaps a better definition of discipleship would be: Obeying God because you love God, loving God because he first loved you, and knowing he loved you because he sent his Son to be the wrath-bearing sacrifice for your sins.  

There is a reason Paul, and John and Peter, build their calls to obedience upon the truths of the gospel. In Ephesians, before Paul says a word about ethics, about action, he prays his readers will understand the power at work to save them, he prays that they would comprehend the magnitude of the love of Christ and in between those two prayers he unpacks the glories of the gospel and he does this because he knows that getting that from the heart is what makes real disciples. (Ephesians 1:19;3:17-18)

So how do we keep from focusing on discipleship so much that we undermine discipleship? We preach the gospel, we call people to repent and believe in the good news, and then we help direct them to understand what that good news means for their lives, what shape love takes as it overflows out of their hearts toward the One who loved them first.

 

I Will See Him

1 John 3:2

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.

No more pride. No more lust. No more anger. No more envy. No more anxiety. No more doubt.

One day that will be true of me. My heart aches for that. In my 19 years as a Christian there has never been a day that I have not come to end and groaned at my weakness and failure. I long to be completely free from ever warped motive, from every sidewise glance, from every idolatrous fixation. And one day I will be.

Why?

Because I’ll  see him.

Because I will see Jesus.

And in that moment all my remaining pride and idolatry will evaporate in the light of his beauty.

I will look on him who was slain for me, who has moved history to make me his own. I will see the scars. I will see the radiance of his perfection. I will be gazing on the most complete and beautiful thing in the universe and just because of that I will be changed into a living mirror. All that is ugly in me will be obliterated.

I will see him and I don’t know exactly what I will see, but I will see him. I will see the one who by God’s grace and power I have come to see by faith as the most precious and wonderful person that ever has been or will be. Now I see him dimly. My flesh and the sin that clings onto me like cataracs clouds my vision from seeing his beauty in its fullness. But I know he is there and that one day I will see him. Not because I have been good. But because he is. Not because I paid my crimes, but because his scars show that he already has.

I long for that. I hope for that. I keep going even as I claw at my chest with languor of longing for a clearer glimpse of his majesty. Because I know that the clearer I see him, the more free I become.

Oh! I will see him! And in an instant my pride will seem so foolish, my anxiety so silly, my lust so disgusting, my lack of assurance so unfounded,  my envy so petty – all because I will suddenly see with clear view that which is of ultimate worth and beauty.

And Oh The Glory!

Because of his cross! Because of his wounds! That glory that would have consumed me will change me! The beauty that would have devastated me will make me whole!

I long for that day. I reach for that day. I want to see his beauty. And I want you to see it too.

 

Cruciform Marriage

When an argument is made for God’s design for marriage as the best pattern for married life, perhaps in the vein of Ephesians 5, people are quick to point out that many people who do not follow the Bible enjoy long unions where both people are fulfilled. We need to admit this is true, and even be thankful for it. God has designed marriage to be something that last “until death do us part” and when this happens in a broken world, we should give thanks! But at the same time we need to acknowledge that as Christians we are not pragmatists, not even in marriage. So in other words, just because a marriage works doesn’t mean it is healthy, just because it is happy does not mean it is holy,  just because a marriage last doesn’t mean that it is a reflection of what marriage is supposed to be.

The world most commonly says that a marriage works through compromise. Successful relationships, many will say, is about living with an understanding of “give and take”. This philosophy when held to can indeed make marriages last a long time. And when we hear it, it seems right and fair, like a good formula for a successful marriage. But this is where I think we need to slow down and remember that just because something works doesn’t mean it is how it should be done. We need, rather, to be asking what God has designed for marriage and furthermore, we need to consider how marriage should look in light of the good news of free salvation through Jesus Christ.

So back to the most common pragmatic approach to making marriage work. Compromise. Give and take. When held up in light of Scripture, is this really a biblical philosophy for marriage? I am arguing that it is not. Because think about it. The strategy of “compromise” for an enduring marriage is built on maintaining the union by feeding the individual selfishness of the two parties involved. “Okay, fine. You can go bowling on Thursdays, but that means I get a day at the spa”. Or “Okay, fine. You can buy that dress but I get to buy those new tires I have been wanting”. It is not always that obvious, or even put into words, but you get the picture. Marriages work, or I should say, they happily maintain in this way. But those involved ultimately remained unchanged. And for Christians, this is unacceptable. It is unacceptable for any meaningful relationship – be it the church or marriage or friendship – to be maintained by placating the inner pride and selfishness of the other person involved.

Christian marriage isn’t about maintaining for the sake of keeping the marriage going. Christian marriage is about transformation. If the man and woman were originally created to complement one another in their calling, Christian marriage follows this same design. And what is the calling of the Christian? Ultimately, it is to be conformed into the image of the Son of God. Yes, into the image of Jesus who in love offered up himself as a substitute sacrifice for sinners! So Christian marriage serves the purpose of our calling as Christians – to be conformed into the image of Christ, to reject the status quo, to throw off the tyranny of sin and this through the same means that Christ did. Through death.

Marriage means death. That is how Christian marriage works. Through glad death for the joy set before us. Through the realization that unless a grain falls into the ground and dies it cannot bring forth life. When a marriage is marked, not by the mutual compromise of two individuals, but through the death of two that have become one – God is glorified as the marriage speaks to what God is like.

Or to put it in biblical terms from Ephesians 5, the husband dies, the wife submits. In the end it looks like the Gospel – it is cruciform. It requires not that they meet in the middle, not that each becomes weak, but that each dies. Both the leadership of Jesus and the submission of Jesus, both driven by love, led to his being offered up to death. But what is the result? Glory.

And I want to argue that glory is the result in a marriage when a marriage takes the shape of the cross.

Think of it this way.

As the husband goes the way of the cross in his role as head in the marriage and the wife goes the way of the cross in submission to her husband both are honored. When the husband lays down his life for the spiritual flourishing of his bride, she is uplifted, she shines. When the wife dies to herself by submitting to her husband, he is uplifted, he shines. And with each passing moment and year, taking the shape of a cross, their relationship builds through death into in a Gospel-gleaming monument that stands in defiance to a fallen creation that maintains itself ultimately through self-preservation.

In the original creation, marriage that reflected the Maker would have been marked by a self-giving generosity, joy out of seeking the good of the spouse, reflecting the generosity and self-giving that God showed man and woman, which would ultimate redound to the glory of God and the lead to the good of creation. And now marriage in the history of redemption is a reflection of that same divine generosity, that same grace, now taking the shape of a cross.

Seeing this and pursuing this in marriage may actually make your marriage more difficult in some respects than the compromise-based marriages in the world. As you, husband or wife, pursue cruciform marriage, such an approach may not be reciprocated and as you die to self with no acknowledgment from your spouse, you will be tempted in that moment to climb down from the cross and return to a “better”, “easier”, “more realistic” strategy for maintaining your marriage. But I pray, as a married person for other married people, that we will learn to stay there and endure, trusting in the joy that awaits on the other side of the pain. A cruciform marriage will be difficult, it is in the shape of a cross after all! But in the end it will be a marriage that is what marriage was made to be, it will be a marriage that makes sense in light of the gospel, it will be a marriage that glorifies God and is glorified.

 

As Long As It’s Green: a ministry lesson from my sad lawn

Where I live green grass is a prized possession. In fact, green grass, green trees, and the accompanying freshness to the air are rare things. The general lack of color and staleness can drive you to the point to where anything green is welcome.

This was my attitude toward my small lawn last year as summer was in the midst of its fury. Water is expensive, care takes time, but I tried. I went out every day and judicially watered. But as I did this, I noticed that grass wasn’t the only green thing growing. Other greens things were growing, weeds, some even with thorns. And I remember joking to my wife, “As long as it’s green, I’ll take it!”

Fast forward about six months. Portions of my lawn are green. From a distance you get that refreshing glimpse of life on the parched earth. But getting close you realize that I have a problem. There is very little grass. And one day as I was praying and watering my weeds, I was struck with the danger of having this same attitude in ministry, to look at my church or the pioneer field I have been called to and think, “As long as it’s green!”

How did my lawn get to the place of being green but unhealthy? Filled with weeds and thorns?

I) I was looking for the wrong results

I was more concerned with my lawn appearing green, than I was with the health of my grass. Perhaps if I done the patient work of nurturing the health of the grass there would have eventually been little place for the weeds. In my desire to see green I failed to see that the long-term goal was not greenness but the health of the grass.

So also in ministry we fall into the mistake of seeking the green rather than seeking the grass. We are content as long as there are results. The problem is that what we judge as results may not be what they appear from a distance. The seats may be full on Sunday, but is discipleship happening? Churches may be multiplying rapidly, but is conversion unclear? People may be excited, but is their excitement based on any kind of doctrinal depth? People may be caring, but is there a disturbing lack of holiness?

I have seen many pastors and missionaries so desperate for any results that they have essentially redefined what the goal of ministry is. They have veered from a biblical understanding of the gospel, of conversion, of discipleship, of the church – all because they just want some results, some green. Much like I redefined what a healthy lawn looks like, because I just wanted a green patch in a desert place.

The other thing, which relates to ministry, that led to the demise of my lawn was…

II) I wasn’t doing the difficult work of weeding

Out of fear of the bare spots that would show, the brown, parched earth that would be exposed, I left those weeds and continued to nourish them in their growth as weeds. As a result the good work of watering was actually being wasted. I was spending time and money to maintain something that would eventually rob my lawn of its health.

So also in ministry, we can end up encouraging the growth of weeds by failing to slow down and do the painful, patient work of persevering in faithful preaching and discipleship. Sometimes ministry is as much about weed clearing as it is grass growing. As the word of God is faithfully preached, the gospel is clearly heralded, and the hard work of discipleship is maintained, this may lead to many green sprigs proving to be nothing more than weeds. This can be one of the hardest and most heartbreaking aspects of ministry, but it is there and it is real. And we must not allow the pain and the desire for “green” to lead us to jettison what it is that we have been called to do.

The bottom line is that because of my desire for a quick and easy green lawn, I didn’t do the patient, dirty work of weeding and ultimately is was because I was looking for the wrong results. And the end result was something that was green, but unhealthy. The grass was nearly no more.

So what are some ways to avoid this sad result:

  1. Don’t assume that results indicate good practices

One of the biggest lies propagated by missionaries and church planters is that results (whatever that may be defined as) indicate good practices. Just because something is green does not mean it is healthy. So you may have planted 10 churches that have planted 30, which have planted 90. What are you calling a church? What are you calling a member of that church? And how did it come about? One of the greatest tragedies in missions is that the wisdom of God has been jettisoned and the Scriptures have been abused in order to justify the unbiblical means which bring about these “results”. Stick to what God has told you to do without twisting the Scriptures in order to justify your pragmatism.

 

  1. Do the nurturing work of meaningful discipleship

There is no short-cut to a healthy ministry. I have seen ministries that will point out how this generation wants everything now, without even realizing how much that has permeated their approach to ministry. New programs and better music may not be bad things, but they can’t replace the slow and steady work of discipleship. Don’t mistake leadership ability or willingness to lead a Bible study as an indication that someone is ready for either of those things. Know those that you minister to, know whether they are “grass or just green” by spending time with them in the word, calling them to respond to it in loving response to the love of God. 

  1. The hard part: Don’t let what will damage the community remain

1 Corinthians 5 contains in it instructions for the difficult work of what to do when what is green turns out to be a weed. You remove it in the hope that it will return renewed, exhibiting the evidence of spiritual life. Many churches are active and full, but if you put it under the lens of Scripture you will see that there is little evidence of spiritual life. Paul warns that a little yeast effects the entire lump of dough, this is a call to carefully examine our ministries and the supposed fruit they are producing. And it is for love of souls and jealousy for God’s glory that we must not allow people to be deceived into thinking they are something they are not. That means inspecting who is brought into church membership and being willing to remove someone from that membership when their life lacks the evidence of being converted.

  1. Know what fruit (or grass in this case) is supposed to look like

This helps understand and define the last point that was made. We need to understand that a true disciple of Jesus exhibits their genuineness by their confession and life of  “repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ”. I think it is helpful to consider the words used in Romans 10. “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord (acknowledge rebellion and repent) and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead (put all your hope in the cross-work of Christ) you will be saved.” There must be clear sorrow for sin, a desire to be free from it, and evidence in love and gratitude that the person is trusting in the Son of God alone for salvation.

  1. Understand what the objective is and be willing to engage in the long-term, consistent, prayerful labor that it will take to reach that objective

II Corinthians 2:15-17 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ. 

II Corinthians 4:5 – “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.” 

These are two very helpful texts for understanding our objective. Is the aim to make disciples, as we see in Matthew 28? Yes. To baptize and instruct? Yes. But the foundation of that is this understanding that Paul gives us. We speak Christ. We don’t manipulate, we don’t deviate, we don’t practice cunning. We simply, albeit foolishly, speak Christ. The objective is to make Christ known – beyond that is all in God’s hands. That is going to be one of the biggest things that keeps you from seeking the green above the grass, understanding the bounds of your ability and responsibility.

I should have understood that the objective was not a green lawn, but the sowing and maintaining of the grass. So also in ministry we must understand that our objective is not what only God can do, but what God has given us to do. Understanding that will help us focus, despite the results, on what God has given us to do rather than wasting time and doing damage trying to replicate what only God can do. 

Just because something looks alive doesn’t mean that it is. You have to look at its fruit and its leaves. When someone says their ministry is bearing a lot of fruit maybe they need to ask “what kind? What are we calling fruit? Is it grass or just anything that is green?

But, before I close this post, I must say on the flip side that it could be that your yard is just brown (metaphorically speaking), because there is no care, no urgency – just plain ministerial laziness. Laziness is just as or more dangerous than is pragmatism.

This is an exhortation to faithful attendance to what God has given us to do. It could be that you “lawn” will be brown all your life due to many factors outside of your control. I have this one section of that same sad lawn that just stays dry and brown no matter how much I seed it and water it. And it is in that situation in ministry that understanding your responsibility as a worker in God’s vineyard is so important! You pour out your life like sprigs on the dry ground, you water, you pull up weeds, you water some more, but you can’t control what the soil is like. You can’t give the miracle of life. You can just supply the material and that is all you are called to do. Understanding this is crucial, lest you find yourself longing for anything that is green, smiling and rejoicing in a patch of thriving weeds and thorns.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑