Money and Missions

8:06 AM Money and mission trips can be a sensitive topic.

Most of us find conversations about Christian finances difficult, as did Paul. What on earth are we supposed to do when a close relative of ours asks us to support their summer mission trip? We, like Paul, must be in vital touch with the Lord. We must be prayerfully open to sensing His leading towards the individual He wants us to help. I am certain that I have missed many opportunities because I have been too distracted by my own agenda. But it is essential if we are to help other people that we follow the Lord’s leading. One approach that has occurred to me is this: When a loved one asks me to support their summer mission trip, I can say: “I’m happy to help you, but you must match every dollar I give you from your own savings.” When I give, I want to see that there is at least some effort by the recipient, if he or she is able, to add to the kitty out of their own savings and thrift. Serving Jesus is costly. Paul knew this very well. During the day he preached; during the night he plied his trade. The truth of the matter is that Paul, united with Christ, was able to face life confidently, irrespective of the aid of others. He was “untroubled by the vicissitudes of life” (Hawthorne). He lacked nothing. And this is true partly because he was willing to support himself.

Read Paul’s “Thankless Thanks” in Phil. 4:10-20.

(From Dave Black Online, used by permission.)

 

On Christian Faith and Politics

9:54 AMLast night I re-read Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction by David Kuo, former deputy director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. The book reveals how the some of the Republicans in the Bush administration sought the votes of evangelicals but had no real interest in leading a new Great Awakening. “This [is the] message that has been sent out to Christians for a long time now: that Jesus came primarily for a political agenda, and recently primarily a right-wing political agenda – as if this culture war is a war for God. And it’s not a war for God, it’s a war for politics. And that’s a huge difference,” said Kuo in an interview on 60 Minutes. His point? Mixing evangelical faith and Washington politics-as-usual is antithetical to the Gospel. I could not agree more. In his book Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis has the demon Screwtape advise his young cousin on how to derail a Christian:

Let him begin by treating patriotism … as a part of his religion. Then let him, under the influence of partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part. Then quietly and gradually nurse him on to the stage at which the religion becomes merely a part of the “cause,” in which Christianity is valued chiefly because of the excellent arguments it can produce…. [O]nce he’s made the world an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing.

That’s my take exactly on the issue, on where I stand vis-à-vis the politics of God. While I deeply respect my friends who seek to “take America back,” I really do wish they were aiming at a different bull’s-eye. As I wrote to a friend yesterday in response to their email:

I wonder why we in the church focus so much of our attention on gay marriage when it is so easy to overlook the sins that so easily beset us, such as gluttony and divorce. Did you see the link I put on my blog the other day about Baptists being the worst when it comes to obesity? It’s pretty scary stuff, but you should read it if you have a chance.

http://blog.randallthahn.com/2012/06/05/research-is-in-baptists-are-fat/

The report goes on to state that clergy are the worst offenders. And they are teaching us about self-control? And then there is the fact that many of our Baptist deacons are in their second or even third marriages. Jesus had a lot more to say about the sin of adultery (getting remarried when your first spouse is still alive) than He did about homosexuality. Perhaps we should make divorce illegal? It’s certainly more prevalent. It’s certainly ungodly in most cases (there is one exception — persistent, unrepentant sexual infidelity). I’m not saying you’re being inconsistent. But I do see some congregations jumping on the marriage amendment bandwagon whose own members are living in clear sin (adultery, gluttony).

At any rate, fight the good fight. But to be honest with you, I don’t think it will get you anywhere in the long term as our culture moves in an ever increasing secular direction. Jesus predicted as much concerning the end times. Above all, let’s look to our own households of faith. Jesus teaches us to consider our own sins as worse than others (Matt. 7:1-3). That’s where I think we sometimes fall down and open ourselves up to the charge of hypocrisy.

I fully agree with the Anabaptists that the state is meant to be secular and that a dualism exists between church and state, between political power and the proclamation of the Gospel. So in my opinion there is neither “Christian” liberalism nor “Christian” conservatism. Equally valid (or invalid) perspectives can be found on both sides, and there are no Christian grounds for preferring one side over the other. If Jesus was a capitalist (or a socialist, or a Republican, or a Democrat, or a Libertarian), I fail to see anywhere in the Gospels where He has made that known to us. The fact is that political loyalties are always relative and determined for purely individual and conscience reasons. Our homeland has its fixed location in heaven (Phil. 3:20)!

My feelings about politics didn’t change overnight. In fact, my mouth sometimes feels like it’s filled with cotton balls whenever I talk with others about the subject. But at least now I’m talking. So is David Kuo and others. “Evangelism provides a supernatural remedy for the needs of the world,” wrote Faris Whitesell. I believe it’s time to stop seeking God in the misguided and erroneous teachings of do-goodism, whether the source is liberalism or conservatism. Jesus Christ is the only answer to the malaise plaguing our families, our churches, and our society.

 

What Kind of Church?

8:22 AM Mornin’, yall! Let’s return for a moment to the picture I posted the other day of this Catholic “community” in North Dallas.

St. Rita Catholic community

Is that how you would describe your “church”? Peter Savage once wrote a fascinating essay called “The Church and Evangelism.” It appeared in The New Face of Evangelism, a book that was edited by C. René. Savage suggested four models of the church that are in operation today in North America. Here they are:

1) The lecture hall. This is the church where people go primarily to listen to sermons. I’d say that in many traditional Baptist churches, this model most definitely applies. The pastor is even called the “preacher,” the service “the preaching service.” I myself have always been attracted to meetings like this, especially where there is excellent Bible teaching. You know, you go in with an empty notebook and come out with a full one. You know, the kind of church where the pastor says “Now the fifth thing I want you to know about this Greek verb is ….” Yep. Suits me to a T.

2) The theater. This is the church people attend because of the drama of the service, the great music, as well as a good sermon. And have you noticed — even the architecture in our churches encourages this view of the church? As in a secular concert hall or theater, you have programs and ushers, cushy chairs (instead of hard pews), and you expect to be royally entertained for about hour. Participation on your part? It doesn’t exit, except perhaps to applaud.

3) The corporation. This is the highly-programmed church. For every need there is a provision. When our children are growing up, this is the kind of church we often are attracted to. We gotta make sure there is a good children’s ministry and a good youth group and lots of exciting events to attend.

4) The social club. The focus here is not so much on the word or on entertainment or on programs but on social works. Food drives. Car washes. Community service.

Savage then goes on to discuss the church as the New Testament seems to depict it: as a community of obedient followers of the Lord Jesus. The emphasis is on sacrificial living rather than on knowing the truth about the Gospel. The note of genuine community is primary. Hierarchical titles that tend to create distinctions among the brethren are discouraged (the elders are known by their first names). Have we ever seen churches like this? Yes, indeed. They were called the Anabaptists. Here’s what they stood for:

  • serving instead of ruling

  • breaking down walls instead of isolationism

  • biblical authority instead of ecclesiastical tradition

  • brotherhood instead of hierarchy

  • the towel instead of the sword

  • the headship of Christ instead of that of any pastor

  • the way of peace instead of “just war”

  • the church as a living organism instead of as a human institution

  • the reign of God instead of a political kingdom

  • the catholicity of the true church instead of sectarianism

  • the power of suffering instead of the cult of power

  • the Bible as a book of the church instead of as a book of scholars

  • loyalty to their heavenly citizenship instead of loyalty to the principalities and powers

  • Spirit-orientation instead of forced structures of church life

  • being a “light to the nations” instead of a Christian enclave

  • suffering instead of inflicting suffering

  • knowing Christ instead of merely knowing about Him

  • faith that works (in both senses) instead of dead orthodoxy

  • effectual grace as a living reality instead of as a theological dogma,

  • every-member ministry instead of clergyism

  • baptism into Christ instead of baptism into a denomination

  • a unity that is lived instead of a unity that is merely extolled

  • welcoming the despised and marginalized instead of ignoring them

  • a hermeneutic of obedience instead of a hermeneutic of knowledge

  • individual conscience instead of theological conformity

  • volunteerism instead of professionalism

  • and allegiance to Christ instead of allegiance to the state

Significantly, in this kind of a community, Christ’s followers are all seen as brothers and sisters, each with a vitally important contribution to make to the whole. Church is now characterized by direct relationships, by reciprocity, by obedience to the Gospel, by deep fellowship, by mutual assistance, by participation by all of its members. The church no longer exists for itself but for others. Its kingdom call is reconciliation of people to Christ through the Gospel. Church growth for growth’s sake is now seen as a form of missional mutilation. There is a reawaked awareness of the value of spiritual gifts. It is a community created and animated by the Spirit. It is, moreover, a missionary community. The gathering exists only for the going. There is a keen sense of responsibility for evangelization and church planting in other nations. Mercy ministries also have their place.

Folks, we live in a techno-age, that’s for sure. Even yours truly just got an iPhone! In this kind of a society, the church can easily morph into nothing more than a smoothly-running machine with a veneer of power. Of course, there is a biblical alternative. I think the Anabaptists nailed it. For them, church was a radically biblical, caring community of believers totally sold out to Jesus and His reign.

Wow.

What a church.

What a community.

 

On Loss, Grief, Hope, and Joy

This post is from site editor/publisher, Henry Neufeld, owner of Energion Publications.

As you may have observed, most posts on this site come from Dave Black Online. You may wonder why we have a site that produces largely copied material (with permission, of course). The reason is simple. Dave Black’s blog doesn’t allow linking to specific posts, and so material posted here gets a permanent link. It’s also divided up by topic. You’ll find posts here that relate to Dave’s book, The Jesus Paradigm. I read Dave’s blog regularly, and as I find material that I believe would interest readers of this site, I cross-post it here.

But recently Dave has posted quite a number of things that relate to the home-going of his wife, Becky Lynn Black. He has provided an abundance of personal testimony about this experience that I think is helpful to Christians. After the death of my son James, I found that many, many Christians struggled with the idea of grief and didn’t know how to relate the four little words I put in the title (and a few others). Dave’s personal testimony is tremendously helpful.

I simply don’t have time to post everything here. I’d suggest heading over to Dave’s blog and check out at least the last few weeks. I think you will be blessed.

Are American Christians Persecuted?

8:16 AM I have been talking with a dear friend who is about to move to the Middle East as a tentmaking missionary. For anyone contemplating this type of ministry, Jonathan Merritt’s post In the Middle East, Not America, Christians Are Actually Persecuted is a must read. The title is absolutely true. Think about that the next time you’re tempted to boycott Target because their employees wish you “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Xmas.” (Yes, I used Xmas intentionally.)

(From Dave Black Online. David Alan Black is the author of Energion titles Christian Archy, The Jesus ParadigmWhy Four Gospels?,  Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions?., and The Authorship of Hebrews: The Case for Paul. Used by permission.)

When a Loved One Goes Home

7:10 AM The Celebration Service yesterday on campus affected me deeply. I took away several things:

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1) I am infinitely more fragile and helpless than even I think I am sometimes. As I watched the video of Becky’s life, I was a basket case. I longed to see her again in this life, to have her slip into my arms for a few minutes in one last embrace. But that was denied. My lover was dead. And I grieved.

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A Church that Really Cared

10:52 AM In my forthcoming book Seven Marks of a New Testament Church I often refer to the early church as a church that really cared. They taught and encouraged each other, they prayed and read Scripture together, they sat down and ate together. The quality of their fellowship should amaze us today. Even the leaders, who were so diverse, pushed and nudged each other to be all that God was calling them to be. The church at Antioch had a Barnabas from Cyprus and a Simeon who was clearly black and a Manaen who was from the upper crust of society and even a fiery intellectual named Saul. How different can you get? Yet they enjoyed a marvelous fellowship. Their love for each other transcended the barriers of class and education.

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On Fervent Prayer

11:28 AM Been thinking a lot about prayer these days. I’ve even been writing about the topic for my book Seven Marks of a New Testament Church. Here is an excerpt from the chapter called “Fervent Prayer”:

If a church is to be healthy, it will not happen without this kind of praying. But how is prayer even possible?

The answer is: It is not. Nothing describes the Christian’s weakness and inability like his or her prayer life. Rom. 8:26-27 is highly instructive at this point. Here Paul conceives of prayer as the ministry of the Holy Spirit within us. Implied is the complete inability of the Christian to pray without divine assistance and participation. In a sense, Paul is saying that prayer is ultimately an inter-Trinitarian process: God speaking to God through us. This is a profound truth and a remarkable paradox. I cannot pray unless the Holy Spirit prays; but the Holy Spirit will not pray unless I am praying! Perhaps this is what Paul is alluding to when in Eph 6:18 he says that Christians are to be “praying at all times in the Spirit.” Some exegetes regard this as a reference to praying “in tongues.” But there seems to be little reason to hold this view. Praying in tongues may well be included, but Paul’s language is broad enough to include any kind of prayer we might offer. Paul’s main point is that prayer must cease to be a do-it-yourself activity. It is the Spirit, and the Spirit alone, who activates, empowers, and enables prayer. There is a fine sense of realism in all this. Do not think for a movement that you can pray without the Spirit’s help. Be sensitive to His promptings. When He leads you to pray, pray! There is no alternative means of prayer. The Spirit is the enabler of prayer.

Just now I prayed a prayer like I’ve never prayed before. It’s as if the words were placed on lips by Another. Fervent groanings, you might say. I pray that I would pray like this more often!

(From Dave Black Online. David Alan Black is the author of Energion titles Christian Archy, The Jesus ParadigmWhy Four Gospels? and  Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions?. Used by permission.)

Writing about Prayer

Today I was guilty of allowing little petty annoyances to get to me and rob me of my joy. That’s just plain stupid, but when you’re a bit on the tired side it’s just something that can “happen.” Right now I’m writing the chapter called “Fervent Prayer” for my book Seven Marks of a New Testament Church. I am a little surprised at how easily this book is coming to me. At the same time, I often ask myself, How can I write anything about prayer? I’ve still got so much to learn about it! Pray for me that I will be able to see all this through God’s eyes. Becky has her race to run, and so do I, and I want to finish well.

(From Dave Black Online. David Alan Black is the author of Energion titles Christian Archy, The Jesus ParadigmWhy Four Gospels? and  Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions?. Used by permission.)

Cessationist or Continualist?

8:32 AM Are you a cessasionist or a continualist? I want to go on record and affirm that I am a passionate continualist.

  • I believe we ought to continue the pattern of simple, radical, life-style evangelism begun in the book of Acts. After all, it worked for the early church.
  • I believe we ought to continue bearing a humble, faithful, and consistent testimony to Christ, as the early believers did. Let moderns appeal to the sensational and spectacular; even the early church knew of signs and wonders. But the greatest work of the church has not been the spectacular but rather the faithful day-in and day-out living of normal everyday Christians.
  • I believe we ought to continue the pattern of church discipline as practiced by the early church and call out “play Christians” that only go through the motions thinking they are Christians but unaware they are only pretending. When the secular press begins to mock our inflated membership statistics, isn’t it time we did something about it?
  • I believe we ought to get out of our cozy churches and put Christ on display in the world’s darkness where we are needed. For the early Christians, the field was the world, and the corn of wheat had to die if it was to please God and bear fruit. Why, then, do we sit around debating theological puzzles when we ought to plant our lives in the ugly soil of the world?
  • I believe we ought to continue the emphasis of the New Testament upon every-member ministry, since we are all priests – every one of us – of the Most High God. No church in the New Testament had a single pastor who did all the work. If you have such a leader in your church, fire him – and then hire him back immediately as your CEO, “Chief Equipping Officer” (Eph. 4:12).  
  • I believe we ought to continue the early church’s rejection of blind patriotism. The only Christian nation the Bible knows is the blood-bought, born-again purchased people of God.
  • I believe we ought to follow the example of the apostle Paul and eschew the excellence of human oratory and any appeal to human wisdom. Nothing about the Gospel pleases this world – nothing! – and we are never so foolish as when we try to dress it up in the garish garments of this age.
  • I believe we ought to continue the example of the early church and reject position and power as the measuring sticks of success. Why should we seek prominent seats in the kingdom when our Lord promised us not seats but suffering? Obedience cost John the Baptist his head and Jonathan Edwards his pulpit. What has it cost us?

So … are you a cessasionist or a continualist?

(From Dave Black Online. David Alan Black is the author of Energion titles Christian Archy, The Jesus ParadigmWhy Four Gospels? and  Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions?. Used by permission.)