Category Archives: discipleship

Sniffing Out What Is Real vs Spiritual Smoke

6:04 PM While looking for an Easter Sunrise Service I ran across a church in a major U.S. city that will be serving food to the homeless this Sunday under an Interstate overpass to celebrate a Risen Savior. I’d really love to attend but the city is 1,400 miles away. Let’s face it: It’s been a long time since I went to church for the sermon. Not that I don’t mind a good sermon. But it’s sacrificial service that holds the body of Christ together. That’s just plain good doctrine, by the way. (“Faith working itself out through love,” is how Paul puts it.) That’s what’s so remarkable to me about the messy, mixed-up church that Christ died for. The New Testament church was so basic and so lovely. They assembled for togetherness — and service. Sure, there was solid biblical teaching (there had to be), but teaching that drove the people back out into the world to be Jesus to their neighbors, even under an Interstate underpass. (Just between you and me, I’m becoming a Jesus Freak again.) Give me a scrappy, tough-minded, doctrinally sound AND practically engaged church any day. A church that actually resembles the ministry of Jesus. A church where apathy is exchanged for authenticity. It’s as if God were saying, “Church, do with your ‘body’ what My Son did with His — He gave it away for others.”

Oh how I wish Becky were still here. She could sniff out what is real and what is spiritual smoke much better than I ever could. But I’m learning. I find it strange that the focus this Sunday in so many of our churches will be on getting people who rarely (if ever) attend to show up in our sanctuaries for an hour when we could be exploding Jesus’ love in our dirty neighborhoods. Listen, church. The best thing we can do for others is give them Jesus — plain old Jesus — not entertainment, and most certainly not church culture. He trumps everything. Because He is the only constant in life.

(From Dave Black Online. Used by Permission.)

Gloom and Doom? Not Worried!

8:14 AM Oh my. Here we go again. Gloom and doom. America is going down the tubes. Especially if you vote for the other guy, who is a despicable fraud.

Quick, Dave, check your insurance premiums!

Frankly, I’m not worried. Not one bit. It’s the same old ads. Just different names. It reminds me of an operating room. The surgeons and nurses are clothed immaculately and the instruments are sterilized. But they refuse to wash their hands. “All that matters is that you trust us. I am a surgeon. See my diploma? I don’t have to worry about keeping clean. Condition is of no importance.” The result? Pseudo-politics, pseudo-Christianity, pseudo-orthodoxy, and pseudo-piety. “For this reason God will send them strong delusion, and they will believe a lie” (2 Thess. 2:11). I’m not expert in eschatology, but it seems that Paul is talking about how God is preparing the world for Antichrist, the Big Lie, the final embodiment of all that is opposed to Christ. We are being primed for the final delusion, and as a result we accept cheap substitutes for the real thing. People believe the lie rather than love the truth.

I believe our Father would be pleased to give us much more if we had faith to ask for it.I’ve been rereading Elton Trueblood’s classic book, The Company of the Committed.

company of the committed.jpg

Trueblood was a lifelong Quaker, educator, and author. (He was also twice widowed.) His book is about Christian living, and the author wants to encourage a deep conversation about church and society. His main point is that the church as it exists today is ill-suited to fulfill its basic redemptive function since it has compromised itself in so many ways. “The movement we need is a movement in depth,” he writes (p. 10). This question is especially relevant in light of the fact that the line between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world is becoming increasingly blurred in this election year of ours. While on the one had I have no problem with people being passionately involved in politics as they feel God is leading them, I simply maintain that politics should be kept strictly separate from what we are about as churches, and that no one should label their position as the distinctly “Christian” way of doing politics. Remember, in most wars in history, both sides firmly believed that their “God” was on their side. The unique call of the Christian is to pursue the kingdom, and this is accomplished in counter-cultural ways, including our willingness to sacrifice ourselves and even our very lives for others.

Trueblood gets this. He shows that many of the most “successful” programs in our churches will not bear up under close examination. “It is hard to exaggerate the degree to which the modern Church seems irrelevant to modern man” (p. 17). From my own experience, I can tell you this is very true in post-Christian Europe, where I have lived. To be a Christian in Switzerland was the equivalent of putting your brain in park or neutral. But not only does Europe suffer from this malaise. I live in the rural South, and here the church often has only marginal relevance. To be sure, people are willing to put up with it as long as it does not require anything of them. Hence, writes Trueblood, the question today is not one of whether Christian fellowships exist. Rather, the question is what kind of character these fellowships have (p. 21). I personally think this distinction is very helpful. The Gospel is not the true Gospel unless it is about transforming people, one life at a time. I deeply appreciate Trueblood’s attempt to call the church back to its militant stance, which produced “the amazing vitality of early Christianity’ (p. 28). On p. 31 he writes:

It is perfectly clear that early Christians considered Christ their Commander-in-Chief, that they were in a company of danger, which involved great demands upon their lives, and to be a Christian was to be engaged in Christ’s service.

The “service” he’s talking about is a far cry from the typical worship service or political rally one attends today. As in an army, every soldier has his or her own duty to perform.

The key words are “one another” [he writes on p. 32]. There are no mere observers or auditors; all are involved. Each is in the ministry; each needs the advice of the others; and each has something to say to the others. The picture of mutual admonition seems strange to modern man, but the strangeness is only a measure of our essential decline from something of amazing power.

Christ, says Trueblood, is organizing a genuine band of brothers, a company of the committed. Jesus wasn’t asking for people to go to church. “He was, instead, asking for recruits in a company of danger. He was asking not primarily for belief, but for commitment with consequent involvement” (p. 34). “We cannot understand the idea of of a company apart from the concept of involvement” (p. 38). The soldier’s one desire is to please their commander in everything.

The undeniable reality is that many of us today are both under-trained and uninvolved. The easiest way to undermine Christianity is to appoint someone else to do the work for us. During the American Civil War, if you had enough money you could purchase your way out of the draft and let someone else do the fighting for you. The simple fact is that we have been called — all of us — to follow Jesus Christ in acts of radical Calvary-love, not someone else’s good ideas or movements or strategies, however good we may think they are. Whether you are a Republican Matthew or a Democrat Simon the Zealot, we can all get along just fine as long as we follow Jesus and stop making our political ideals the bullseye.

The Company of Jesus is not people streaming to a shrine; and it is not people making up an audience for a speaker; it is laborers engaged in the harvesting task of reaching their perplexed and seeking brethren with something so vital that, if it is received, it will change their lives (p. 45).

This is the kind of lay ministry that I have long espoused and have argued for in my various publications. In the words of Trueblood, “…in the ministry of Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither bond nor free, neither male nor female, neither layman nor cleric [italics his], but all are one in Christ” (p. 62). If you share this vision of the kingdom, will you support my work? Not financially of course. Will you join me in praying for the church in North America in 2016? Pray that God will help us wake up to the political delusion that has descended upon us through well-meaning people. Pray that we start caring more about sacrificing for the country than controlling it. To me, the most basic and most difficult challenge of being a Christ-follower is what Trueblood addresses in this marvelous book. It’s becoming completely sold out to the Commander-in-Chief and living under His authority and in His love on a moment-by-moment basis. I want to encourage us to cultivate a surrendered attitude toward God. By all means, let’s express our opinion about politics. Let’s vote for the person of our choice (or not vote at all if our conscience prohibits it). But let’s never, ever forget where the hope of the world lies. Let’s obey Jesus and love others as He did.

You want security? Love each other and the world well, and your house will stand.

(From Dave Black Online. Used by Permission.)

True Saving Faith is Manifested

 

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission.)

5:22 PM Today I’ve been working on the new syllabus for my Greek 2 classes this spring semester. I’ve done my best to figure out what needs to be covered, now that so many of our students fail to go on to Greek 3. I think one of the best moves I can make is to introduce the basic principles of exegesis in Greek 2 and then walk everyone through the interpretation and application of one entire New Testament writing. Our textbook already covers major portions of 1 John but I will also be taking the class through the book of Philippians in its entirety. Of course, the themes of both of these books are very similar. 1 John teaches two things:

1) True saving faith is manifested in those who practice the truth (and not just know it).

2) True saving faith is manifested in those who possess a genuine love for other believers.

As 1 John 3:7 puts it, “It’s the person who acts right who is right.” I don’t think it’s possible to over-emphasize this teaching of John. The early church actively expected and anticipated that the Holy Spirit would change the lives of believers.

What, then, of Paul — the apostle of salvation by grace through faith apart from works? Many Christians consider that conversion — forensic justification — is the climax and consummation of Paul’s teaching. From the study of Paul’s letters we know this is most definitely not true. If ever a person knew of God’s saving work by faith through grace, apart from works of any kind, it was the apostle Paul. His supernatural encounter with the risen Christ on the Road to Damascus is all the proof we need. But accompanying this work of salvation came another supreme step in Paul’s life — surrender.  As the objective accomplishments of the cross and the resurrection of Christ became realities in Paul’s life experientially, he was completely changed. In view of the mercies of God, he surrendered totally to the One who had forgiven and cleansed him. Little wonder that Paul always called Jesus “Lord,” for he indeed did have a new Lord and a new life as well as a new service and a new business — the Gospel business. This is the message of Philippians in a nutshell. The same Voice who spoke to Paul on the Road to Damascus now reveals Himself in the blazing light of a magnificent little hymn recorded for us in Phil. 2:5-11. A whole lifetime would not be sufficient to unpack the theological gems found in this profound passage. The revelation of Christ’s humility in service to others can only come gradually, like the dawn breaking over the wide-spreading landscape. Once Paul had surrendered to the all-powerful Jesus of Nazareth, for the rest of his life he served Christ in humble obedience, as did his friends Timothy and Epaphroditus. This is the outstanding need of the church today — people who are not only saved but who recognize the Lordship of Christ and yield to His mastery. This new mastery does not come easily. Evangelical hero worship is alive and well in our churches today. The way up is up, we are told. Bigger is better. Powerful is in. We love that smart jock exterior. Folks, many things in our churches are not fine, but there is only one proper place to place all of our evangelical superstars if we profess to love Jesus, and that place is dead last. True pastors will not object. They’ve read Phil. 2:5-11. It’s so maddening that Christians fail to see what Paul is teaching us here. I’ve been part of the problem, believe me. I wish I could go back to my twenties and thirties and deal with my own ignorance and selfishness and ego. Even today I still find myself having to overhaul my personal priority system. Ugh. But you gotta start somewhere.

Philippians it is then — along with portions of that great book 1 John (one of only two strictly anonymous epistles in the New Testament along with Hebrews). This spring we’re going to cut to the chase. This is where the chili meets the cheese friends. Obviously, this will be tricky business. How do you cover so much in a single semester? The best way is to have the students read some good books on the topic. In addition to Learn to Read New Testament Greek, we’ll be adding my Uncle Dave’s works Using New Testament Greek in Ministry and New Testament Textual Criticism. (I have this addiction for stuff written by my uncle.) I mean, this has got to get done. So brace yourselves, my dear students. I won’t lie. This is not going to be easy. But it will be worth it. Serving others is part and parcel of salvation. What an insane truth. But I love it!

Shelf vs. Practical Ecclesiology

From Dave Black Online (used by permission):

12:40 PM Is your ecclesiology “shelf” ecclesiology or “practical” ecclesiology? In other words, is your church willing to change in obedience to truth? Henry Neufeld has a weighty response to this question in his latest post called Seven Marks: Excursus on Change. Henry suggests seven reasons why we avoid doing what we know we ought to be doing. He uses weight loss as an example. I love his reasons! They are all impeccably logical. But, as Henry notes, they are excuses nonetheless.

This leads me to add perhaps one more element into the discussion. A new lifestyle requires new people. Most of us are locked into a routine because the people all around us are locked into the same routine. Up until a few months ago I was locked into a routine that utilized only a small percentage of my muscles. I was imprisoned in a physical and professional and social existence that cared little for health and fitness. Then I began to associate with people who were health-conscious. No, they weren’t preachy about it, but the clear message they kept sending to me was: We as human beings are body, mind, and spirit. We can’t stress one function of the self to the detriment of the others. I thus began to engage in exercises intended to get the most out of the human machine and the body/mind complex.

Most of us already have this “knowledge.” But, as Henry points out, knowledge doesn’t suffice. It never has. The rules for physical fitness are well established. They haven’t changed much over the centuries. Consult any textbook or website and you’ll find the do’s and don’ts of fitness. What we need are models, people who show us, “Here is what you can become.” We need new relationships that are uncontaminated by the old guilt and unhealthy lifestyles. As I began to associate with people who were committed to physical fitness, I found a new strength in me. My new associations revived resolutions, long since dormant, and made me set my face like flint. That quality — that ability to motivate others by your own example — is what is all too often lacking today. So you believe in elders? Even, let’s say, non-stipendiary elders? Name two or three churches that practice that today. Alas, there are so few examples. But life isn’t about thinking good thoughts. Joy is always connected with action.

So, what’s on your “change agenda” for today? Maybe you were fit once but don’t exercise anymore. Maybe you are just getting started. Maybe your church is on the verge of taking a significant step of obedience. We humans are constantly resetting goals. We are always in process. Indeed, change is a good test of normalcy. The normal human being is always striving for some ideal self.

The excuse of not enough time is just that — an excuse. Never will you have enough time to do everything you want to do. You’ve got to make a choice. You have to decide what things are presumably better than all the other things in your life. But here’s what I’m discovering. Exercise may take time but it creates time as well. The more energy expended the more energy added to your machine. Likewise, when a church takes a baby step of obedience, it finds that the next step is a little bit easier to take. Above all, let’s remember that action is always impelled by some good we want to attain. The 30-some-odd books I’ve written or edited didn’t just happen. I wrote or edited them because I thought I had something of value to say to people. Fitness programs follow this line of reasoning. The long-term benefits always come from denying our present desire to enjoy ourselves this minute. Drives may push us, but desires pull us. Until you are motivated, you will never be willing to attack the problem head-on.

Thank you, Henry, for your very provocative post. Let’s all get started in the race to which Henry is calling us. When I run a 5K, I am completely unconcerned about what others are doing. I don’t care if I’m at the back of the pack. For these few moments, I am making the effort to act, and in that sense I become the equal of anyone on this earth.

Seven Marks Interview

[Note: Seven Marks of a New Testament Church is a more recent release by Dave Black. Its topic is not the same as The Jesus Paradigm, but they dovetail nicely.]

In other good news, I see that Henry Neufeld has released the first of the interviews I was privileged to do with him in Pensacola a couple of weeks ago.

The topic was my book Seven Marks of a New Testament Church. I think you’ll enjoy the discussion. Frankly, I hope it raises more questions than it answers. In addition, Henry has begun a series of blog posts about the book — the first being on the subject of church pews (of all things). But I think he’s right. Pews are a good witness — to our lack of fellowship. They are designed to make it well-nigh impossible for us to see directly the faces of our brothers and sisters. The problem here, of course, lies much deeper than architecture — a subject that we get into in the interview. But pews are a witness that something is perhaps amiss. At any rate, check out what Henry has to say but remember that he is completely biased as the publisher of my book.

Stewardship Conversation and Challenge

7:30 AM Much appreciation to Henry Neufeld for hosting an interesting and thought-provoking discussion about Christian stewardship last night on Google Hangout. You can watch the whole thing below.

It’s horrifying to confront my own lack of stewardship. “Sell all of your possessions and give the proceeds to the poor.” K-thanks-goodbye. Jesus mocks our materialism, at least He does mine. Yet as Steve Kindle pointed out in the discussion, stewardship doesn’t begin with the question of “How much should I give?” Instead, the right question is “How much is mine?” — to which the answer is nothing. Hence, as David Croteau noted — David has now written three books on why tithing is not for Christians — the church still doesn’t get it. The consumer vortex that most evangelicals are (unwittingly perhaps) sucked into is just ignored. Well, David confronts it head on. The New Testament doesn’t require the tithe? Nope, and it never did. I stare blankly at David’s impeccable logic. “Love each other well and your needs will be met.” For me, the largest takeaway from last night’s Hangout was the reminder that Jesus came to set us free. He sees much deeper than what we see. He realizes that everything we have belongs to Him. 100 percent in fact. And so we have to make a choice. We can either draw people to a calculator or lead them to Christ. Jesus, You are the standard to which we all aspire. Teach us to love, to lead, to trust, to obey — and to give (back).

Calling forth an Ardent Yearning

11:36 AM Today the evangelical blogosphere is filled with posts extolling the substitutionary atonement and rejoicing in the great Savior who died for us on the cross of Calvary. This is as it should be. Theologically, today we commemorate the time in human history when God the Father extended His hand of grace toward us and offered us, on the basis of the death of His sinless Son, His righteousness as a free gift. To be sure, this gift is conditioned on faith, to be exercised by us, but its origin is divine.

Practically, however, this faith-appropriation of “the righteousness that comes from God” calls forth, or should call forth, an ardent yearning on the part of every believer to know Christ better and better and to obey Him more completely. One gains positional righteousness so that one may gain experiential obedience. To show what this positional righteousness implies, read Eph. 2:8-10, where Paul emphasizes that once a person has received eternal salvation as a gift of pure grace through faith, that faith makes itself more and more manifest in that person’s entire conduct by means of the “good works” that God ordained beforehand. Rejecting sin and selfishness, believers now throw themselves without reservation into the work of being God’s hands and feet to turn others away from darkness and into the light. Christian faith is not mere belief. It is a living and sanctifying power.

Thus today, as we celebrate the completed work of Christ on our behalf, and as we rightly honor the One who merited all these blessings for us, should not all this enhance our love for Him and intensify our oneness with the believers of all ages? Even as we cling to the truth of the Gospel that was proclaimed to us and that we received by faith, should we not also hold forth the life-giving word to others? The Gospel needs no supplement. Yet should its influence not be seen in ever-increasing measure as we carry others’ burdens to the throne of grace or as we visit the sick and bereaved in their homes or as we give generously of our time and talents to the cause of the Gospel or as we conduct ourselves in harmony with the responsibilities of our new relationship to God — in short, as we love as He loved? Should not proper theology result in God’s children loving Him more in thought, word, and deed? The fact that our obedience is a matter of sovereign grace and has nothing to do with human effort or merit should increase, not diminish, our continuous, sustained, and strenuous effort to extend the Gospel to every nation and every people group in the world. The Gospel we have received and in which we rejoice on this Good Friday was not meant for a select few nor is it confined to any particular geographical region. Just look at the life of the apostle Paul. There was never a gulf between his theology and his service. When he embraced Christ as his Lord and Savior on the road to Damascus, he also embraced Him as his enabler and example. Little wonder he toiled and labored to the point of weariness and exhaustion in his fight against Satan and his hosts. Read 2 Cor. 6:4-10 and 11:24-33 and you will see what it means to be a missionary-theologian!

The question has to be asked, then: How is it possible for a person to receive the merits of Christ’s finished work on the cross of Calvary and yet fail to experience His enabling Spirit within their entire person? Student, you may earn straight As on every exam you take, but nothing delights the heart of a teacher more than a young man or a young women’s embrace of uncompromising commitment to Jesus’ teaching. May this Good Friday challenge all of us to follow Jesus to the margins and to live out our faith in this world, and not just the next.

Dave

Joining the Downward Path of Jesus – Or the American Dream?

(From Dave Bla9781893729186ck Online. Used by permission.)

Friday, March 6

12:10 PM In light of Bibi’s speech before Congress, I can’t help but reflect on where things stand in the U.S. today. My words are especially directed toward any Twenty- and Thirty-Somethings who might be reading my blog. My parents’ generation has been called “The Greatest Generation” because they fought the Nazis and mobilized for the Cold War. What we forget is the fiscal burden they placed on their posterity, producing an American political system that seems utterly incapable of tackling any big multigenerational problems, including our national debt or even something as basic as national security. America has entered an irreversible downward spiral. We had better understand this new era we’re entering. The American spirit — “We are entitled to whatever we want” — demands growth and consumption. We want the appetizers, the entrees, and the desserts, all at once, and we are eager to ask government to provide it for us. Today each follower of Jesus stands at the crossroads on the question of personal priorities. Will we surrender to the spirit of this age, or will we resist and join the downward movement of Jesus, making a conscious choice to deny the normal comforts and conveniences of life for the sake of others? We rightly honor those who die in military service, we celebrate the accomplishments of our nation’s athletes, we honor fire fighters who perish in public service, but the minute a Christian young person refuses to accept the American Dream and voluntarily takes on an assignment that involves suffering we spend hours trying to talk him or her out of “going overboard.” I am not saying that every Christian must become a professional missionary. But I am saying that if you are really sincere about following Christ, you will not be at peace with yourself until the whole world knows of Him, and you will be intentional about using whatever He has given you — your time, your energy, your wealth, your vocation, your vacations even — to serve the expansion of His kingdom.

“What good is knowledge unapplied?” asked one of my elders recently. What good is an education unless we place it at the feet of King Jesus? Students, my parents’ generation, and my own as well, have failed you because we have catered to the rotten spot in the soul of our nation. We have taught you to expect instant gratification, that the “good life” is the only life there is, that extravagance and waste are the normal patterns of our human existence, that security and liberty are our natural “rights.” We have clenched our fists at our “enemies”– not all of us, but many of us — and have refused to receive the nail prints of the cross, unwilling to make even small sacrifices to reach the millions of lost souls in our world. How different this is from the self-sacrifice of our spiritual forefathers in the book of Acts. Something is desperately wrong, and it is up to your generation to turn it around. The only way Christ will be incarnated to a lost world is through you. As the Father sent Him, so He is sending you so that others can taste and feel and see His presence.

If you are willing to make this commitment, I have a book for you. It is free for the asking. Just send me an email with your snail mail address I will see that you receive a copy of Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions?

God bless you all.

Dave

How Those Who Have Should Give

Seven Marks of a New Testament Church9:20 AM This morning I have been meditating on 1 John 3:17-19, which addresses those Christians who are rich in this world. John says that if they see a need and refuse to provide help, God’s love does not “abide” in them. That’s a powerful statement. Over and over again the New Testament emphasizes the importance of meeting the needs of our fellow Christians. No genuine need should go unmet in the body of Christ. I find a similar theme in 2 Cor. 8:14, which I’ve been studying in my daily Bible reading. Paul mentions the need (chreia) of those in Jerusalem. Again, in Titus 3:13, he directs the church in Crete to help Zenas and Apollos on their way. The clear implication is that these men had needs which they themselves could not meet. The church is therefore asked to meet those needs.

Was Paul himself ever “needy”? In 1 Cor. 9 he discusses this topic, asserting that frontline evangelists and church planters have the right to receive financial support for their work. He himself accepted no gifts from the Corinthians because he was able to meet his own physical needs by the grace of God and through his own diligence. I think there are several principles at work here. If evangelists have legitimate needs, and if they cannot provide for these needs themselves, these needs can and should be met by the church. In such cases, our giving should be grace-driven, voluntary, generous, and according to or even above our ability (2 Cor. 8:2-3). In fact, Paul seems to imply that believers should not be asked to give; they should eagerly seek out ways to give to the needs all around them (2 Cor. 9:2), looking for opportunities where they can invest the resources that God has entrusted to them as stewards. (We own nothing.) Of course, no one should end up in debt through giving either (2 Cor. 8:13)! Paul’s main point is that no Christian should go without their legitimate needs being met.

What are the needs you see today? Are you in a financial position to meet them? Pray for wisdom to distinguish between those whose needs are genuine and those who are seeking a handout and mooching off the charity of the church (1 Thess. 4:9-12). Missionaries should consider tentmaking as a legitimate alternative to support, as did Paul. They should be aggressive in finding employment wherever they serve. This way they will be a position not to get but to give, which Jesus said is more blessed. Still, there will always be needs in the church. “Share what you have with God’s people who are in need” (Rom. 12:13). This is my life verse. Every generous act of giving, and every donation given, comes down from the Father who created the heavenly lights (James 1:17). May He receive all the glory as He gives through us!

 

Applying Amos

Seven Marks of a New Testament Church(From Dave Black Online. Reposted by permission. David Alan Black is the author of The Jesus Paradigm and Seven Marks of a New Testament Church, among many other books.)

10:06 AM Good morning to you on this sunny winter day! As you know, this week I will begin team-teaching (with Chip Hardy — a really smart guy who holds a doctorate from the University of Chicago) the book of Amos in both Greek and Hebrew. The course is officially listed as “LXX,” and I’m quite sure the Greek text can and should be read on its own terms, but LXX Amos is a translation of the Hebrew after all, and I think it will be helpful if we keep a close eye on the Hebrew as we work our way through its nine marvelous chapters. However, beyond the question of translation and exegesis — which itself could keep us very busy — there is the message of Amos to be dealt with, namely, the preservation of a covenant people of God until the day God raises up a Son of David in the person of Jesus Christ who shall right all wrongs and provide full and final salvation.

When Amos turned his gaze on the society in which he lived and worked, everywhere he looked he saw nothing but counterfeit religion — exercises in self-pleasure, protection of religious property, and careless indifference to the needs all around them. People lived for frivolity (think American football) and money, and the divine displeasure went completely unnoticed. Amos addressed himself to all who would hear his prophetic word that with privilege comes great responsibility, and that to whom much is given, much is required. Amos was a man gripped by a God of holiness, a God who loves His frail and needy people — His wrath-deserving followers — as much as any God ever could and yet who also insisted that whenever grace is abused and the law is forgotten, a terrible price is to be paid.

And what of today’s church? Is the Lord holding up his plumb line and measuring our lukewarmness? Has America reached the autumn of her probation? Amos was surely written for our admonition. Our God is a different kind of claimant. He demands our complete and undivided allegiance. This is the exclusivity that Jesus so often spoke of. There is no other God! — no matter how many times we hold our inter-faith services or acquiesce to a syncretism that would allow a Muslim call to prayer to emanate from a Christian bell tower.

And what of missions and evangelism? I wonder.

  • New Testament scholars attend their academic conferences, pursuing the intellectual (as well they should). But the true combination of humanitas and pietas, of intellectualism and spirituality, should be apparent in Gospel preaching as well as in the understanding Scripture.

  • Pastors continue to erect their magnificent temples (“churches”) as if God lived in houses made with human hands —  and the church in the Third World goes without. Don’t read Amos unless you’re prepared to have your priorities turned upside down.

  • Seminaries act more like watchdogs than gadflies to sting into action for change.

  • People in the pews remain indifferent to the sufferings of their brothers and sisters in foreign lands. I do not know of a better statement of our double standard than that made by W. A. Visser ‘t Hooft in 1968: “It must become clear that church members who deny in fact their responsibility for the needy in any part of the world are just as guilty of heresy as those who deny this or that article of the Faith.”

Church, we are playing it too safe. This very day there is a Christian orphan in India you can support for what it would cost your family to enjoy a monthly meal at MacDonald’s. I can hook you up today with an evangelist in northern India who, for a mere $60 in monthly support will take the Gospel fearlessly to a completely unreached people group on the border of Sikkim. Would you consider becoming like the apostle Paul — rather than asking for money for the mission work you do, trying your best to become self-supporting so that the resources of God might go to the needy in other nations?

Our Anabaptist forefathers of the 16th century understood this principle well, at least in its application to missions. They knew they would never reach the world with the Gospel if they continued to outsource the task to professional clergy, and so they all stepped out by faith to get the job done themselves. Our conservative churches today claim to “be like Jesus” — and we are when it comes to holding and defending a high view of Scripture. But Jesus was also a radical who wasn’t afraid to sweep away centuries of tradition so that God’s word might be understood and obeyed.

This Friday I am meeting with one of our former doctoral students at SEBTS who practices his trade as an academic in a country where Christianity is at best tolerated. As he lectures in his university, he shares his faith and develops friendships with a view toward Gospel conversations. I want to do everything I can to support and promote that kind of strategic work. In India, as you know, more and more missionary dollars are being sidetracked into charitable social programs by denominations that equate social action with evangelism. How far we have drifted from the faith of the apostles! There is a need for a revolution in missions today, and that change will begin when we admit that Western missionaries are less effective at evangelism, church planting, and establishing local churches than are the local missionaries and evangelists. Foreign governments may close their borders to foreign missionaries, but they cannot close them to their own people. The native missionary movement in Asia is one of the most exciting developments I have seen in my 38 years of missionary work. Week after week on this blog I continue with this one message: native missionaries are waiting by the thousands to be sent to the next village with the Gospel. All they need is our prayer and financial support. As I said, any family in the U.S. can do this. Pray about it, be sensitive to the Holy Spirit, and God will show you what to do.

Thus is the message of Amos. Special privileges involve special obligations. Special revelation requires special obedience. Special love requires special responsiveness. Jesus says (as Amos did long before Him) that it is of absolutely no consequence to say “Lord, Lord” and then to turn from doing the will of God when it comes to global evangelism. Jesus’ last words are lasting words (as Danny Akin is wont to say). We have our marching orders (Matt. 28:19-20). Millions of souls depend upon our obedience.

Thanks for listening,

Brother Dave