Treasures

I had lunch with friend of mine today who is catching-up (age wise). He will be 30 next year and he decided to make up a list. You probably know the type – ’30 things to do before you’re 30′: skydiving, learning to do this and that. I was really amazed that some of his ‘resolutions’ included reading the Bible back to back and learning a whole Gospel by heart. Both admirable and ambitious.

It made me reflect on something I taught on last week : Jesus’ stark warning in the Sermon on the Mount about gathering treasures on earth where, thieves, rust and moths will destroy it. Utterly pointless and ultimately disappointing. Instead Jesus talks about gathering treasure in heaven.. So what does He mean? How do we do that?

Dr. Piper writes much about it in ‘Don’t Waste Your Life’

Here is something to wet your appetite?

What kind of treasure are you gathering?

What are you ‘chasing’?

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HOME OR AWAY?

1237395_87013506For the uber-cool pastor in the English speaking world – the epithet ‘missional’ tagged unto your church mission statement is a ‘must’. It is meant to reflect your outward look regarding ministry and very often demonstrates that you are taking outreach seriously. It also assumes that you are doing things that are radical or innovative.

I came across this post by Dr. Ed Stetzer (brilliant thinker in the sphere of mission and church growth) who discovered something quite interesting. Read for yourselves:

I am writing this post from Taiwan. As I have been working with both local leaders and American pastors, I have been struck by a few things and thought I would share them with you.

First, I have traveled to Taiwan as a part of the Upstream Collective. The reason is to accompany American pastors with a desire to be missional on a cross-cultural, international encounter. (You can scroll down the last few posts to learn what we are doing in Taiwan.)

Each person on the trip has the missional impulse as part of their DNA, and they are here to consider how they might join God on his mission globally. While I admire the faithfulness of these men, I must admit my surprise to see that there is not a bigger interest in such global concerns among American pastors in general. My fellow travelers seem to be rare of a breed in ministry.

Second, when I blogged about this on Sunday, two readers contacted my hosts– one working with the Presbyterian Church in America and one from the Oversee Missionary Fellowship (OMF). Why? Well, according to one email, the author explained, “I’m particularly interested in attracting young missional church planters here.”

Third, I was recently told by a pastor who called himself “missional” that his church needed to pull back on their global mission support to help their people “be missionaries right here.”

All this provokes me to ask, “Why are so many missional Christians uninvolved in God’s global mission?” As the missional conversation continues and deepens, what has occurred that has led to our blindness to the lost world around us?

There are five reasons I think this has happened:

1) In rediscovering God’s mission, many have only discovered its personal dimensions.

I don’t mean they have somehow localized mission into their interior, “private” life– that would make little sense. Rather, the encouragement for each person to be on mission (to be “missional”) has trended toward a personal obligation to personal settings, rather than toward a global obligation to advance God’s kingdom among all the nations.

“Missional” has merged with privatized Christianity to serve as the reason for personal projects carried out in personal spheres. This is not bad, necessarily. But when the missional impulse is not expanded to include God’s global mission, it results in believers moved only to minister in their own Jerusalems with no mind toward their Judeas, Samarias, and uttermost parts of the earth (Acts 1:8).

2) In responding to God’s mission, many have wanted to be more mission-shaped and have therefore made everything “mission.”

Missions historian Stephen Neil, responding to a similar surge in mission interest (the missio dei movement of the 1950s and following), explained it this way: “If everything is mission then nothing is mission.” Neil’s fear was that the focus would shift from global evangelization (often called “missions”) to societal transformation (often called “mission”). He was right.

Recently John Piper echoed these same concerns, differentiating between evangelism and missions. He reminded us that when “Every Christian is a missionary” equals “missional,” then we have diluted the need for and specialness of missionaries to foreign lands. (Although I would want to nuance John’s language a bit, I agree with his point.)

One American church’s website recently identified their ministry as missional, which they proceeded to define as “reaching out to the community to invite them to come” see what is happening in the church. Another’s young adult community service project consisted of landscaping the church grounds. Inviting people to church and cleaning up the church are noble endeavors, but passing them for “missional” and “service” is ministerial naïveté at best. It demonstrates the fuzziness that creeps in when labels become catch-alls. And as the outer edges of the missional label gets fuzzy so does mission to the outer edges of the world.

3) In relating God’s mission, the message increasingly includes the hurting but less frequently includes the global lost.

One only needs to watch the videos to see the emphases: global orphan projects, eradicating AIDS, Christmas shoeboxes, etc. All of these causes now have advocacy groups, and rightly so, as they are important. However, their vocabulary and frames of reference do not frequently make room for evangelizing the very people they touch. The message of world evangelism, actually, seems more common in legacy/traditional churches than in missional churches. Missional churches seem to speak more of unserved peoples rather than unreached peoples. As we engage to deliver justice, we must also deliver the gospel regardless of anyone’s status in a culture.

4) In refocusing on God’s mission, many are focusing on being good news rather than telling good news.

St. Francis allegedly said,”Preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.” Interestingly enough, Francis never actually said this, nor would he have done so due to his membership in a preaching order. But it is a pithy quote tossed into mission statements and vision sermons in missional churches all around my country. Why? It seems that many in the missional conversation place a higher value on serving the global hurting rather than evangelizing the global lost. Or perhaps it is just easier.

I am not urging a dichotomy here, only noting that one already exists. It is ironic, though, that as many missional Christians have sought to “embody” the gospel, they have chosen to forsake one member of Christ’s body; the mouth.

5) In reiterating God’s mission, many lose the context of the church’s global mission and needed global presence.

For whatever reason– the admirable one of commitment to the local church or the ignoble one of commitment to personalized consumeristic Christianity– we have lost the grand scope of the entire family of God. While Christ calls people from all tongues, tribes, and nations, we have become content with our own tongue, tribe, and nation. Many churches are wonderfully embracing the missional imperative, but as they seek to “own” the mission by adapting their church into a missional movement in their local community, some inadvertently localize God’s mission itself and lose the vital connection all believers share together. A hyper-focus on our own community results in a, have lost vision for the communion of the saints.

So how do we fully embrace missional without losing the mission? The Mission Exchange (formerly the Evangelical Foreign Mission Society) asked me to talk to their global leaders on the topic “How to Put ‘Missions’ Back into Missional.” In my talk, I proposed four principles we needed to consider:

First, recognize it is God’s mission, and we need to be passionate about the mission as He describes it. We don’t own mission and it is not ours to define. A church vision statement is fine, but God’s mission is better and bigger. Our first task is to submit to God’s mission.

Secondly, evangelicals have understated the call to serve the poor and the hurting and need a stronger engagement in social justice. This sounds counterintuitive if we are seeking to remedy the loss of concern for articulated evangelism. But social engagement entails relational engagement, and relational engagement entails opportunities to share the gospel. The successes and experiences in our communities should awaken hearts and minds to global needs. We just need to maintain the reason for social justice: the glory of God in the worship of Jesus.

Third, share God’s deep concern about His mission to the nations— that His name be praised from the lips of men and women from every corner of the globe. Feel the Great Commission in your bones. Ask God to turn your heart to those you cannot see. As Paul did, develop ways to “struggle personally” (Colossians 2:1) for those far away.

Fourthly, churches that are serious about joining God on his mission will obey his commands to disciple the nations. The end product of missional endeavors should be a thriving Christian ready to produce more thriving Christians.
It appears to me that many missional churches are missing the Great Commission in the name of being missional. That makes zero sense. It is a huge (but historically common) mistake.

If we are truly interested in being missional– in joining God on His mission– our efforts should actually reflect His stated mission. We are bound to the Great Commandment as the fullest human expression of God’s love. But the Commandment is not hermetically sealed off from the Great Commission. Rather, the Great Commission provides the what of mission, while the Great Commandment provides part of the how. Answering the age-old question of “Who is my neighbor?” should result in the desire to “make disciples of all nations.”

Rather than having this just an observation, why not use the influence that you have to support, encourage and be involved in missions?

TRYING HARDER OR SURRENDER?

change

‘The crux of the gospel message is not a call to rededication, but a call to repentance. If one’s previous commitment did not keep him walking in obedience, a re-commitment is no more likely to make him faithful. The proper response to disobedience is not a commitment to try harder, but brokenness and repentance for rejecting the will of Almighty God. God looks for surrender to His will. Rather than asking church members to repeatedly promise to try harder, churches must call their people to repent before Holy God.’   Richard. Blackaby

I came across this quote as I was preparing myself for last Sunday’s message. I was looking at God’s merciful gift of numerous ‘second chances’ (pardon the oxymoron).

As a fully fledged Evangelical I experienced and practiced re-dedications, altar calls, ministry times believing in heir effectiveness. I look back and see some very significant times in my own life.

But something strikes a chord in what RB says. I track back in time and see much failure in my ‘rededication’ episodes. Maybe we should talk more about and practice repentance. That probably should include elements like:

  • a sorrowful and regretful realisation of sinfullness and rebellion
  • a change of mindset
  • a reversal of direction

As ever looking for your thoughts…. (thank you for those who contribute in shaping this


ELIJAH: What If…

TEXT: 2 Kings 1:1-18


MAIN IDEAS

  1. Mistake: Ignoring Opportunity
  2. Mistake: Ignoring History
  3. Ignoring Mercy


PRACTICAL

  • Helpful Question: ‘God, what are YOU teaching me?’
  • Helpful Question: ‘God, what do YOU want to change in me?’
  • Helpful Question: ‘God, do I accept/appreciate YOUR mercy?’
  • God offers you a new start: new chance!
  • Nothing in your ‘history’ is irredeemable!


EXTRAS

‘When a man has judged himself, Satan is put out of office.  When he lays anything to a saint’s charge, he is able to retort and say, “It is true, Satan, I am guilty of these sins, but I have judged myself already for them; and having condemned myself in the lower court of conscience, God will acquit me in the upper court of heaven.’    Thomas Watson

God has a holy temper, but He has a very long fuse!’      Sam Storms

RELEVANCE

1208570_83045634An issue that will almost always spark debate in the Christian circles is the issue of relevance. I have been challenged afresh over the last few days on this issue.

I think that very often the extremes prevail. Either we are disengaged with our world, isolated and therefore unable to ave an impact. Jesus hinted at that in the Sermon on the Mount as He he encouraged the disciples who are ‘the light of the world’ not to hide it under a bushel.

On the other hand we become so obsessed with relevance that we almost become worshipping the idol of relevance. We keep reinventing ourselves, adding another fad in the hope that those who are not following Christ might come and enjoy. So we get another smoke machine, brew some lattes and get a DJ to come to our services…. (I’m being a bit naughty). Maybe we even forget what we are about – reminding me of the salt that loses its saltiness, from the Sermon the Mount.

Where do we go to avoid these extremes? How do we strike a balance? What are some of the ‘checks’ we can have in place to evaluate our relevance or irrelevance? Was Jesus ‘relevant’?

Looking at His ministry here is what I see regarding relevance:

  • HE CAME  through the Incarnation, living, teaching and ‘doing life’ among us
  • HE ONLY DID what He saw the Father doing – living a guided, purposeful life
  • HE SAID & SHOWED blending word & deed what the Kingdom of God was about
  • HE BROKE artificial cultural, ethnic & social bariers
  • HE REMAINED DISTINCTIVE often offending rather than blending in
  • HE SACRIFICED His life for those He came to rescue

These might be some good guiding principles from the Master’s life? What do you think?

Man in the Mirror

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Richard Baxter gave eight reasons that ministers should examine themselves:

1.    You have heaven to win or lose yourselves…  A holy calling will not save an unholy man.

2.    You have sinful inclinations as well as others.

3.    [You] have greater temptations than most men.

4.    The tempter will make his first and sharpest onset upon you. If you will be leaders against him, he will spare you no further than God restrains him.

5.    Many eyes are upon you, and therefore there will be many to observe your falls.

6.    Your sins are more aggravated than those of other men. They have more of hypocrisy in them, and are more detrimental to the cause of religion.

7.    The honor of your Lord and Master, and of His holy truth, doth lie more on you than other men.

8.    The souls of your hearers and the success of your labors do very much depend upon your self-examination.

The great Puritan ‘pastor to the pastors’ brings an incredible reminder of the wonderful privilege and enormous responsibility that all those of us who are in leadership in the church.

It caused me to search my soul, first for His honour and approval and secondly that I may not hinder God’s work among us.

On a Saturday night – it is a good way of preparing myself. If you are a leader take some time to do the same. Maybe you can pray for your leaders too.

Idolatry

Having spent time in preaching through the life of Elijah in our Sunday morning messages at CFMC – here are some thought-provoking quotes about idolatry:

“It is the normal state of the human heart to try to build its identity around something besides God.” Soren Kierkegaard

“Spiritual pride is the illusion that you are competant to run your own life, achieve your own sense of self worth, and find a purpose big enough to give you meaning in life without God.” Tim Keller

“Idolatry is worshipping anything that ought to be used, or using anything that is meant to be worshipped.” St. Augustine

“An idol is anything we trust in for deliverance in the place of Jesus and his grace.” Scotty Smith

Also – something from Tim Keller’s new book ‘Counterfeit gods’:

What is an idol? It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give. A counterfeit god is anything so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living. An idol has such a controlling position in your heart that you can spend most of your passion and energy, your emotional and financial resources, on it without a second thought. It can be family and children, or career and making money, or achievement and critical acclaim, or saving “face” and social standing. It can be a romantic relationship, peer approval, competence and skill, secure and comfortable circumstances, your beauty or your brains, a great political or social cause, your morality and virtue, or even success in the Christian ministry. When your meaning in life is to fix someone else’s life, we may call it “codependency” but it is really idolatry. An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, “If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.”

Good Preaching

success-250x161Very often the amount of feedback from my regular congregation is very limited. Most often they would be along the lines ‘good message’ or ‘you were on fire today’ as well as the occasional ‘that was good tonight’. I am very grateful for those comments. Also – sometimes I have criticisms queries or comments – they help too.

But I very often wonder – ‘was my preaching right in tone, content, presentation and length’? I am even tempted to give people a chance for a written (anonymous) feedback.

Then I stumbled on this on Tullian Tchividjian’s blog (I am reading his ‘Unfashionable’ at the moment too) and I think it is a very helpful evaluation:

Two weeks ago I mentioned in my sermon that God grows Christians by feeding them his Word. One way he does this is by providing the church with teachers and preachers. This means that if we are going to grow we need to be sitting at the feet of reliable carriers of God’s truth. This, however, begs the question: how can we identify a reliable carrier of God’s truth? The Bible makes it clear that there are many unreliable carriers of so-called truth. Satan masquerades as an angel of light seeking to deceive. So we need a lot of biblical discernment here. Just because a teacher or preacher comes in Jesus’ name with a Bible under his arm doesn’t automatically mean he is reliable.

Thankfully both the Bible and church history give us some direction here. So I want to provide you with a brief list of five questions (based on the five sola’s of the Reformation) that can help you discern the reliability of a particular teacher or preacher.

Question 1 (Sola Scriptura): Does the preacher ground everything he says in the Bible? Does he, in other words, begin with the authority and sufficiency of Scripture? A reliable carrier of God’s truth seeks to revel in, wrestle with, and expound from, the Bible. He starts with the Bible. All of his comments flow from what a particular passage in the Bible says. He doesn’t simply use the Bible to support what he wants to say. That is, he submits to what the Bible says, he does not seek to submit the Bible to what he says. He cares about both the Old Testament and the New Testament. He refuses to take verses out of context. He recognizes the unity of the Bible. He acknowledges that both the Old Testament and the New Testament tell one story and point to one figure, namely that God saves sinners through the accomplished work of his son Jesus Christ.

Question 2 (Sola Gratia): Does the preacher freely emphasize that because of sin, a right relationship with God can only be established by God’s grace alone? Beware of any teaching that emphasizes man’s ability over God’s ability; man’s freedom over God’s freedom; man’s power over God’s power; man’s initiative over God’s initiative. Beware of any teaching which subtlety communicates that a right relationship with God depends ultimately on human response over Divine sovereignty.

Question 3 (Sola Fide): Does the preacher stress that salvation is not achieved by what we can do, rather salvation is received by faith in what Christ has already done? It has been rightly stated that there really are only two religions: the religion of human accomplishment and the religion of Divine accomplishment. Does the preacher emphasize the former or the latter? A reliable carrier of God’s truth always highlights the fact that God saves sinners; sinners don’t save themselves.

Question 4 (Sola Christus): Does the preacher underline that Christ is the exclusive mediator between God and man? Does the explainer both affirm and proclaim that Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life” and that nobody comes to the Father but by Christ? Does he talk about sin and the necessity of Christ? Preachers must learn how to unveil and unpack the truth of the Gospel from every Biblical text they preach in such a way that it results in the exposure of both the idols of our culture and the idols of our hearts. The faithful exposition of our true Savior from every passage in the Bible painfully reveals all of the pseudo-saviors that we trust in culturally and personally. Every sermon ought to disclose the subtle ways in which we as individuals and we as a culture depend on lesser things than Jesus to provide the security, acceptance, protection, affection, meaning, and satisfaction that only Christ can supply. In this way, good preachers must constantly show just how relevant and necessary Jesus is; they must work hard to show that we are great sinners but Christ is a great Savior.

Question 5 (Sola Deo Gloria): Does the preacher exalt God above all? A reliable explainer will always lead you to marvel at God. A true carrier of God’s truth will always lead you to encounter the glory of God. A God-centered teacher is just that: God-centered. He will preach and teach in such a way that you find yourself hungering and thirsting for God. You will listen to sermon after sermon and walk away with grand impressions of Divine personality, not grand impressions of human personality.

This is just a start, but I hope it serves as a resource to help you determine the reliability of a particular teacher or preacher.

IJesus?

I am constantly fascinated with the variety of versions of Jesus that people seem to worship. I guess it is almost as if we search and expect to find a particular version that suits our consumer driven lifestyle.

While some might be tempted to say, ‘well if that’s the Jesus you see – that’s perfectly fine’, I am afraid that we might unconsciously and subtly step into theological error and ultimately idolatry.

And that’s why we must allow the Scriptures (not the Shack) to shape our orthodox thinking and adequate worship. Here are some fantastic words I came across that inspired and encouraged me greatly.

What follows is adapted from the end of the talk on the “Life of Christ” Kevin DeYoung gave at the Next 2009 Conference

The greatness of God is most clearly displayed in his Son. And the glory of the gospel is only made evident in his Son. That’s why Jesus’ question to his disciples is so important: “Who do you say that I am?”

The question is doubly crucial in our day because not every Jesus is the real Jesus. Almost no one is as popular in this country as Jesus. Hardly anyone would dare to say a bad word about him. Just look at what a super-fly friendly dude he is over there. But how many people know the real Jesus?

There’s the Republican Jesus who is against tax increases and activists judges, for family values and owning firearms.

There’s Democrat Jesus who is against Wall Street and Wal-Mart, for reducing our carbon footprint and printing money.

There’s Therapist Jesus who helps us cope with life’s problems, heals our past, tells us how valuable we are and not to be so hard on ourselves.

There’s Starbucks Jesus who drinks fair trade coffee, loves spiritual conversations, drives a hybrid and goes to film festivals.

There’s Open-minded Jesus who loves everyone all the time no matter what, except for people who are not as open-minded as you.

There’s Touchdown Jesus who helps athletes fun faster and jump higher than non-Christians and determines the outcomes of Super Bowls.

There’s Martyr Jesus, a good man who died a cruel death so we can feel sorry for him

There’s Gentle Jesus who was meek and mild, with high cheek bones, flowing hair, and walks around barefoot, wearing a sash and looks very German.

There’s Hippie Jesus who teaches everyone to give peace a chance, imagine a world without religion, and helps us remember all you need is love.

There’s Yuppie Jesus who encourages us to reach our full potential, reach for the stars, and buy a boat.

There’s Spirituality Jesus who hates religion, churches, pastors, priests, and doctrine; and would rather have people out in nature, finding the god within and listening to ambiguously spiritual musical.

There’s Platitude Jesus, good for Christmas specials, greeting cards, and bad sermons; he inspires people to believe in themselves, and lifts us up so we can walk on mountains.

There’s Revolutionary Jesus who teaches us to rebel against the status quo, stick it to the man, and blame things on the “system.”

There’s Guru Jesus, a wise, inspirational teacher who believes in you and helps you find your center.

There’s Boyfriend Jesus who wraps his arms around us as we sing about his intoxicating love in our secret place.

There’s Good Example Jesus who shows you how to help people, change the planet, and become a better you.

And then there’s Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God. Not just another prophet. Not just another Rabbi. Not just another wonder-worker. He was the one they had been waiting for: the Son of David and Abraham’s chosen seed, the one to deliver us from captivity, the goal of the Mosaic law, Yahweh in the flesh, the one to establish God’s reign and rule, the one to heal the sick, give sight to the blind, freedom to the prisoners and proclaim good news to the poor, the lamb of God come to take away the sins of the world.

This Jesus was the Creator come to earth and the beginning of a new creation. He embodied the covenant, fulfilled the commandments, and reversed the curse. This Jesus is the Christ that God spoke of to the serpent, the Christ prefigured to Noah in the flood, the Christ promised to Abraham, the Christ prophesied through Balaam before the Moabites, the Christ guaranteed to Moses before he died, the Christ promised to David when he was king, the Christ revealed to Isaiah as a suffering servant, the Christ predicted through the prophets and prepared for through John the Baptist.

This Christ is not a reflection of the current mood or the projection of our own desires. He is our Lord and God. He is the Father’s Son, Savior of the world, and substitute for our sins–more loving, more holy, and more wonderfully terrifying than we ever thought possible.

I pray that today you would be reminded of the authentic Messiah, Friend of Sinners and coming King and give an answer yourself to that question He posed: ‘Who do you say I am?’