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Philippians 2:1-11, Romans 12, and the Nature of Christian Community

Philippians 2:1-11, Romans 12, and the Nature of Christian Community

That’s a fairly ambitious title I gave myself, but the content is a bit less ambitious.

When I found that I’d be teaching from Philippians 2 in Sunday School, I commented that if someone couldn’t teach a class from Philippians 2:5-11, they should just give up teaching. That’s probably a bit harsh, but the passage is certainly teachable.

One key element, that we sometimes don’t emphasize in all the theology, is the fact that the expression of the mission of Jesus is made in the context of a call to Christian community.

Each one shouldn’t look after his or her own interests, but for one another’s interests.

Philippians 2:4 (my translation)

This is tied to the giving of/by Christ through verse 5, which tells us that our minds are to work like his, as we give for others. This is interesting as we see that he has given up much more than we could possibly possess in order to take action for our salvation.

It’s impossible for us to conceive of giving that much; certainly never to actually give it.

A similar call comes in John 15:12 “love one another as I have loved you.” This may sound easy to some, but only if you allow some weak definition of love to replace the one Jesus is using. This is on the way to the cross. “As I have loved you” is not simple.

Yet we find ourselves constantly unable to love those who are different from us in any way whatsoever.

One way to look at and classify a community is to look at the purpose of it’s ties, those things that make it a community that can be identified. A community can gather together and love (or care for, or commit themselves to) one another because they are afraid of the outside world and want to keep it out, or they can commit themselves to the same sorts of values in order to reach out and include the rest of the world.

“Circling the wagons,” is common in westerns. Heaven help the person inside the circle who thought that those outside might be open to peace! Such a person is a traitor, even if they don’t intend to act on their own, because they question the very basis for the circled wagons. They question the reason for this temporary community’s existence.

A medical or dental mission team displays quite the opposite reason. Far from desiring to protect themselves against those they meet in a foreign country, they want to serve. They are bound together by the intent to serve and through the mission they wish to carry out. In this case, the one who wants to reach out to more people is welcomed. The traitor would be one who harms the ability of the team (temporary community) to carry out their mission.

Real communities function between those two poles. One needs identity in order to be of any sort of service. In the command of Jesus, the disciples are to be identified by the way in which they love one another. That makes it clear who is in the community and what the community does.

Then we have the community reaching out to others. Is this love inside the community the mission of that community? Do they bring in more people to love?

If they are to follow the example of Jesus, that must be what they do, because that is what Jesus did. He came to people (all humanity) who did not find him all that attractive. They’d rather have revenge on their enemies than love them. They weren’t ready for Jesus. We aren’t ready for Jesus.

If the community that forms around his principles becomes inward looking, and spends its time defending itself as a privileged community of people who are more right in a theological or even an ethical sense, they will fail to actually emulate their Lord.

Romans 12 points to this when Paul calls for application of these principles to enemies (12:20), to persecutors (12:14), to those who do evil (12:17).

There is another side, the side where we lose our identity. If we become the enemy in order to love the enemy we may lose our ability to help. This is why Christian love is so hard and so rarely attained.

I read a comment recently that we can’t expect our children to love other people if we constantly tell them those other people are wrong. Perhaps. But Christian love calls on us to love the people even when they’re wrong, because we know that God loves us, even when we’re wrong.

This is our identity and our witness, defined by the one we call Lord.

Measuring Success

Measuring Success

It seems to me that one of the most serious difficulties we have in the church today is the way we measure success. We are driven by numbers and money. It’s easy, of course, to justify this. After all, if you don’t have money, you generally can’t help people. I am reminded of Chapter 3 of Acts, in which Peter (with John) says, “Silver and gold I have none,” yet look what they did.

Still, the temptation is great to judge the success of a meeting by the attendance, and the success of a church by its budget. I’d add that I don’t suggest we think the other way either. Just because a church is prosperous does not mean its ministry and mission is in trouble. It’s just that I don’t see the numbers and the money as God’s measure.

With that in mind I was struck by two verses in Chapter 8. Stephen has just been killed, and Luke tells us that Saul continues to persecute the church. Everyone except the apostles is scattered across the countryside of Judea and Samaria (v. 1).

By our standards, this is a bad thing. All this talent is leaving the big church, the one with the resources to carry out the mission! Stephen is dead, and Philip is about to head out. “Everyone” doubtless includes many more. The church is being drained.

If this was an American church, the next question would be how we would pay the bills for the facility. I recall one church that had a serious scattering of membership, and that became a serious problem. You have to sell some buildings or some land, and that can be difficult. Members don’t like the feel of selling off the property and there’s always a question of whether you’ll get enough for it. Besides, selling stuff and downsizing is a sign of defeat!

We’d doubtless feel the same way about persecution. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not a fan of persecution. I really don’t want to be persecuted. But if I can put it bluntly, I doubt God really cares what I want.

In this case, something great happens. “As they were scattered, they went about proclaiming the Word …” (8:4). In the movement of the story of the early church as told in Acts we’re in that transition as we move from Judea to Samaria and from there to the whole world. The failure of the church as the members scatter is the success of God’s plan.

I’m thinking we need to spend our time finding God’s plan and measuring our success by how much we’re on that. As I read scripture, I’m suspecting that plan may be different from ours. Let God speak and move in our generation.

 

Why I Believe in Dialogue, Respect, and the Gospel Commission

Why I Believe in Dialogue, Respect, and the Gospel Commission

angrymanfist-300px_redI’ve recently said and written a few things about the gospel commission, including my claim in my concluding presentation for my video series on eschatology that eschatology is all about the gospel commission. You’ll hear more about this in my foreword to Dave Black’s new book Running My Race. It’s in the final stages of production and should be available soon.

This isn’t a new perspective on my part, but as soon as I start using words like “evangelism,” “mission,” or “the Great Commission,” I start getting questions about whether I believe in dialogue or whether I’ve started to think that all non-Christians are horrible people.

On the other hand, each time I start talking about respect, interfaith dialogue, inclusion, and similar topics, someone is bound to ask me whether I’ve given up on evangelism and mission. Perhaps I no longer think Jesus is important.

So let me put both of these things together. First, I am never going to abandon the Gospel Commission. It’s what being a Christian is about. I follow Jesus and I help others follow Jesus. I am a witness to Jesus as I follow Him. I proclaim his good news, and that good news is the central fact of my life. If I didn’t believe that, I would not be a Christian publisher. Frankly, while there are many things I enjoy about publishing, it’s hard work, the pay isn’t as good as it is for my other occupation (small network technical support), and I’d hardly keep at it without this greater “joy set before me.”

Second, I believe that respect and love for one’s neighbor are central to the gospel. If I don’t love my neighbor as myself, I am not following Jesus Christ, and in turn I can hardly be effective in making other disciples, who would, in turn, be expected to love their neighbors as they love themselves. (There’s a “loving God” thing in there too, but see 1 John 4:20 for my emphasis in this case.)

Contrary to the perception of many Christians, not only is respectful dialogue not opposed to carrying out of the gospel commission, it’s essential to it. But there are reasons it so commonly doesn’t seem so.

Evangelism is tainted, I believe, by two false directions, each of which bears an abundance of poisonous and rotting fruit.

The first false direction is the idea that evangelism is about giving the maximum possible number of people their “get out of hell free” card or, seen more positively, getting them their ticket to heaven. In this diversion from the gospel message we look for ways to get people to say the right prayer, then wipe the sweat from our brows (evangelism is hard work!), and say, “One more person saved.”

This leads to other spiritually dangerous activities, such as promising people prosperity if they accept Jesus, emotionally manipulating them, or even converting them at sword point or gun muzzle. We can justify whatever behavior we might engage in on the grounds that even if we did use underhanded methods, the person should thank us for not burning in hell forever.

This can also (or even in turn) lead to other shallow approaches to faith, such as the meme I saw on Facebook today built around the old idea of the wager of faith. As I understand faith, the wager simply isn’t—it isn’t faith and it isn’t even a wager, since there’s nothing of value on either side. Believing in Jesus isn’t an “in case” sort of thing. It’s not a wager, it’s a total commitment. Pascal’s Wager is an intellectual approach to a spiritual problem.prohibitionsign2-300px

Further, this sort of evangelism doesn’t actually represent love for one’s neighbor. It’s a sort of concern, but it’s more like the hunter has concern for the deer. No, I don’t mean the killing part, though that can happen as well, but rather the concern is for how the deer will fill the hunter’s needs.

The second false direction is one of church growth. In this case, evangelism is simply the process of adding members to the church, and more specifically your church. At least this has a longer term goal, i.e., to get the person into a church community. But far too often, this simply feeds into another selfish numbers game. The value of the person is not in who they are or who they can be, or even what God wants them to be, but rather on church statistics. While evangelicals are more likely to go for the first diversion, even progressive churches can fall for this second one.

As the saying goes, however, sitting in church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car. I think we can identify what’s really important to us by what we pay for and what we report on, and in many of our churches I’m afraid that the concern is increasing membership, which, in turn, is to produce increasing financial support, which will allow us to get more members.

What I believe about evangelism is this: It’s a lifestyle. You live as a disciple of Jesus, and you will, in turn, make disciples. I don’t mean that we should all shut up. Of course you talk about your faith because it’s not just important it’s fundamental. There’s another dichotomy between living our faith and proclaiming our faith, but I think it’s also false. Talking about our faith is one way we live it. If we’re talking too much, that’s ineffective living of our faith. I do not keep silent about something that is fundamental.

In looking at motivation, I can say that it is a command, and it is. But at the same time it simply follows essentially from what Jesus has done for me. I will share a good thing. Sharing a good thing doesn’t mean forcing others. It’s a natural and friendly thing to share, just as it’s a natural and friendly thing—not to mention loving—to let the other person make their own decisions, including about how long they want to listen.

Conversion, in turn, is something between God and the person converted. It’s gotten almost cliched to say that I can’t convert anyone; God does. But unfortunately we turn right back around and pretend it’s all about us. Grab hold of that mustard-seed of faith (I usually feel that I have somewhat less than that, but whatever) and trust God with salvation, conversion, and the spiritual health of others.

Further, however, trust God to let you know how you need to be involved, and listen. Listen to God. Listen to other people. God loves each person involved more than you do. He even loves you more than you do.

In studying eschatology (and I just completed a video series), I’ve found that God is deeply concerned about the spiritual health of God’s earthly children. I see the story of Revelation as being one of repeated opportunities, with the bottom line message that God does have this under control. Our part is to follow Jesus and make disciples.

That doesn’t require being rude, obnoxious, manipulative, violent, or disrespectful. It requires love, and love values the other person, not some imaginary thing I think that person should be.

When My Father Was Healed

When My Father Was Healed

1893729222_adI was talking recently with a friend who commented that there are certain events that serve as anchor points for our faith. For me, despite all the drifting I’ve done since it happened, one of those points was the time when my father was healed. I alluded to this briefly in a comment on the Energion Discussion Network, and was challenged (or so it felt) to retell the story more often. You can get another perspective on this story from my mother’s book Directed Paths, which includes many other stories of God in action. I was 14 years old at the time and will tell this as I remember it.

It was 1971 and my parents were called as missionaries to Guyana, South America, where my father was to become medical director of the 54 bed Davis Memorial Hospital in Georgetown. Shortly after we arrived my father required emergency surgery. This took place during the night. The surgeon persuaded my mother not to wake me up, so anything about the surgery is not from my memory, but rather from what I was told. The surgery was on the large intestine and during the surgery there was considerable contamination. In addition, at one point my mother, who is an RN, was left alone as the entire team had to go to an emergency with a delivery in another room. Overall the surgery lasted for four hours, if I recall correctly.

Nobody wanted to tell me in the morning, so I was successively directed from room to room until I arrived in my father’s room in the hospital where he was connected to various tubes and devices. It was quite a shock.

He continued to be weak for some time, and his digestive processes and intestines would not restart their function. The surgeon said that he would never work again and would not live more than another 10 years. The mission board began to plan to bring my parents back to the states.

My parents, on the other hand, did not agree. They said that they had gone to Guyana to perform a mission and that they had not yet performed one. Their choice was to follow James 5, and call for the elders of the church. The elders anointed my father with oil and prayed for his healing and that he would be able to carry out his mission. I was actually quite disappointed with the results that day. It seemed that nothing happened.

But from that moment, my father’s recovery began. Within two weeks he took over as sole physician for that 54 bed hospital and was on call 24 hours/7 days per week for the next year before any relief came. He served there for seven years and still worked after he returned to the states. He has now gone on to be with the Lord, though since he was a Seventh-day Adventist he would say “to sleep in Jesus.” I have come to not see a lot of difference there. One breath here—the next breath there. Time won’t matter! But he lived into his late 80s, much more than 10 years and he continued to work through to a normal retirement. He was active as a Christian witness up to the time of his death.

I find that story challenging and encouraging. It’s challenging because my parents refused to leave and give up when everyone else was saying the situation was hopeless. It’s encouraging because when they stepped out in faith on their mission, God was there with them.

Seven Marks: Excursus on Change

Seven Marks: Excursus on Change

nt church books9781631990465mOne of the most interesting and troubling things I’ve found about myself and my church (any of the churches of which I’ve been a member!) is the number of things we know we should do and even decide we will do, but which never get done. Seven Marks of a New Testament Church is certainly ecclesiology, but is it shelf ecclesiology (that’s nice) or is it practical ecclesiology (let’s do that)?

In this case I can’t point fingers. In my personal life I need to get more exercise and lose a significant amount of weight. How long have I known this? Well, I’m the son of a doctor who was medical director of a health conditioning center when I was in my teens. And yes, he knew about these things before that time and after that time, and he taught them to me. I cannot claim that I didn’t know what the health effects of a sedentary lifestyle and excessive food intake (biblical gluttony, no?) would be. While I’m working on reforming this now, I do so slowly and under constant temptation to avoid the needed change. It’s not that I’m tempted to do useless things. In fact, I’m tempted to work, and for me work involves being in front of a computer. So one good thing tempts me away from another one. But that doesn’t make it right. I know I should get more exercise. I know I should eat less. Making those changes so that they are a fundamental part of my new normal is very difficult.

Romans 7 anyone? I know many Arminians see Romans 7 as a description of our pre-Christ experience. I see it as very descriptive of what I and many Christians live every day. The problem comes in when we make Romans 7 into a continuous, hopeless loop about everything. Yes, we all have our Romans 7 experiences, but we’re invited into Romans 8. Not that we’ll live at “Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord” (7:25) at all times and on all subjects.

It’s easy to make excuses. I’m very busy. It’s hard building up a small publishing company. I have a lot of work to do. I’m very healthy, taking no medications and very rarely missing work. I don’t smoke. I don’t drink. I’m a vegetarian, for heaven’s sake! (Ice cream, sweets, lots of butter, bread—they’ll do it even to a vegetarian!)

But no matter how many excuses I produce, I know this: I need to change.

There are many reasons why we don’t change, and many excuses for why we can ignore things that we hear.

  1. We find some fault with the messenger. The wrong person is making the suggestion, so it can’t really be right.
  2. We nit-pick the message. There’s something in there that won’t work in our situation, so we discard everything new and go back to what we were doing.
  3. We are change-weary. We’ve tried to make changes so many times and have failed. Why should we try yet another thing?
  4. We don’t see our present problems. We’re so used to the way things are and the level of success we’re having, that we think that’s precisely what should be going on.
  5. Other people are much worse off than we are. The church down the street is so inward-looking. By comparison, we’re outgoing, gospel-oriented, and on fire for missions. (This is like my “I don’t smoke” excuse. I’m better than the person who’s killing himself with cigarettes.)
  6. This change is going to cause problems. Usually this means that the leadership is afraid of losing control.
  7. I don’t have enough guidance. Where is the calendar, worksheet, study guides, long term plan, etc.?

I could go on, but we’ll stop at seven. Nice number!

I think, nonetheless, that our bottom line is fear. We are surviving the way we are, but will we survive after we change? The pastor wonders if he’ll lose members. The members wonder if they’ll be happy with the new church service on Sunday morning. The education team wonders if anyone will attend Sunday School. Everyone wonders whether they’ll be annoying their neighbors. And while we might not admit it, we wonder whether we’ll be happy ourselves. So we stay the same.

One of the great fears is that we will lose control. This has been the bane of the church from very early times, I think. We’re very much afraid of the movement of the Spirit because the Spirit is not under our management. Not that we don’t try!

In Thrive: Spiritual Habits of Transforming Congregations, the 12th habit Ruth Fletcher mentions is Choosing (p. 123). Here’s a key quote:

Transforming congregations learn to choose and choose again. They don’t have to get it right the first time around. They can gain insight from any action they take and that insight will aid them opting to take the next step into the future. Transforming congregations acknowledge that when they act with courage, some people may decide to leave, but they would rather decide to do something than to remain lukewarm about everything. (p. 126)

Bruce Epperly comes at this from another angle in Transforming Acts:

The spiritual leaders acknowledged that they couldn’t do everything. They confessed that the task of sharing God’s word left no time for taking care of domestic issues. They needed partners in ministry: so they prayerfully chose a group of people to insure that everyone had a share in the community’s resources. They let go of control, and let go of power, so that human needs could be met.

In ways that are still countercultural, they relinquished the power of the purse for a greater good, the well-being of the whole people of God. They recognized that within the body of Christ, everyone  has a role – their spiritual leadership of the community did not lead to micromanaging or power plays, or a sense of spiritual superiority, but a vision of shared responsibility. Perhaps, their selfless  leadership inspired the Apostle Paul’s vision of the multi-gifted body of Christ in which the well-being of one shapes the health of the whole body and the whole body, operating effectively, provides nurture and support for each constituent part. (pp. 67, 68)

Giving up control and choosing to act. When we have acted, we choose to learn from that action and act again.

What has impressed me about the church, not to mention my own life, is what a difference we could make if we simply acted on the things we already know are right. Yes, new information is good, but we have a tendency to collect the information and fail to perform the actions. There are many controversial things. But if we laid those aside and simply acted on what we know to be right, what might happen?

I doubt that church would like like the church in America at this moment.

Dave Black on the American Dream

Dave Black on the American Dream

1893729222I just extracted a post from Dave Black’s blog and put it on The Jesus Paradigm. For those unacquainted with Dave’s blog, I do this so that I can get a permanent link, and I have his permission to do so.

Dave asks some important questions. How do our values impact the way that we live and the way that we serve? I often hear my generation telling the next one how they ought to be careful and make sure that everything is properly cared for before going into service.

On the other hand, my parent’s went overseas to serve in remote areas with all their worldly goods in a station wagon and small trailer, along with four children in the car. Was it risky? No doubt it was. Did they believe they were doing the right thing? Absolutely! I never heard them say that they would have had it any other way. They believed God had called them and they answered.

My mother tells her story in her little book Directed Paths. I’m going to offer a free copy of her book to a randomly selected commenter on this post. I’ll close the contest on Monday. Just make enough of a comment that I know you’re asking for the book and that it’s not spam.

From My Editing Work: Our Global Kingdom Citizenship

From My Editing Work: Our Global Kingdom Citizenship

9781631990670Two paragraphs from Rendering unto Caesar:

The most obvious conflict with the fusion of Christian and American identity is that it denies the universal nature of the Kingdom of God. When our allegiances are too strongly aligned with any kingdom of this world, be it the relatively benevolent kingdom of America or a malevolent kingdom like Nazi Germany, it takes away from our ability to reflect the unique beauty of Christ in the world through our lives. Discipleship is costly. It costs us the identity that we had before Christ broke into our lives and snatched our affections away from this world for Him.

In order to glorify God, we need a Gospel that preaches everywhere. Our Gospel needs to preach in Beverly Hills and the hills of Haiti. Our Gospel needs to preach to Liberal and Conservative. Our Gospel is for the lost, of which we are all a part. In the hearts of many American Christians there is a subtle and sometimes overt bitterness for the rest of the world. We are Americans. We want to keep our money local. We want to keep the American economy strong. We have fused our identity as Americans with our identity as Christians and consequently we miss the reality of our global Kingdom citizenship. (p. 8)

This little book (Topical Line Drives, 42 pages) is headed to the printer. Pre-order price is $3.49. Regular price will be $4.99. If you order three of them, or order another book or so, you’ll get free shipping as well.

The Book I Can’t Give Away

The Book I Can’t Give Away

If you don’t know I own a publishing company (Energion Publications) by now, I’d be pretty surprised. It’s not as though I don’t talk about it regularly.

One of the things I find interesting about blogging is to discover which blog posts actually catch people’s attention. There are times when I have put my heart and soul into a post, writing about something I consider extremely important, and there’s no response. At other times I write something quickly just because I feel I haven’t blogged enough, and I get comments, links, or e-mails that indicate it has really touched someone’s life. This unpredictability is great fun!

As a publisher, however, the idea is for me to figure out what people will actually read, because I will be investing money in producing the book, and I need someone to buy it in order to stay in business. Now I say I run my business as a ministry, i.e., the primary mission is more to educate and to build the Kingdom (to use the Christianese expression) than it is to make money. If I simply put my entire time into using my IT skills, I’d make more money. Yet at the same time, it is a business and so it does have to make money. As such, part of my job is to determine whether people will buy a book before it is released.

It’s interesting how often these goals collide. There are manuscripts I know people would buy, but I don’t consider them of any great value. No, I don’t place my judgment over the popular judgment. There will always be somebody to publish popular things. I’m not depriving you of them! But what about the things that say that becoming a Christian is not a matter of guaranteeing that you will be healthy, wealthy, and wise? What if they say that you may die of cancer rather than be healed? What about books that talk about martyrdom, persecution, and sacrifice? Who publishes those books?

Such books do get published, and I do not claim to be the only one to do so. But I do think it is part of my duty to make such books available to people. And I’m not just talking about books about the negatives of becoming a Christian. (And quite frankly, in the United States, being a Christian can be quite good for business. Where I live, a common question in business networking is: “Where do you go to church?” It’s a good idea to have a “safe” answer that makes people feel you’re a part of the community.) I’m talking about books that challenge our prejudices, that ask us to think about things we might rather avoid, and that ask us to take action rather than just deal in theory.

Let’s face it. A lot more of us talk about various reforms than are willing to take actions.

Do you believe in house churches? Are you ready to get out there and start one, or join a group that is doing so?

9781893729186Every member in ministry (a good UMC slogan)? Are you involved? If you’re a pastor or other church leader, are you willing to give up some of your power and control so more people can get involved? Are you willing to go look for people and challenge them to get involved rather than waiting for them to volunteer?

Are you mission oriented? If so, are you ready to back that up with, again to borrow a United Methodist phrase, are you ready to support that goal with your prayers, your presence, your gifts, and your service? (Now if you answered “yes” there, please check to see how much of your church’s budget is going to support outreach ministries.)

Which brings me to the book I can’t give away. The cover is pictured over to the left. Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions?

It doesn’t sell very well. In fact, there’s a very specialized book by the same author, The Authorship of Hebrews. It quotes Greek words and phrases, and deals with a very technical issue of interest to a relatively small number of people. It’s not precisely a bestseller, but I sell more copies of it than I do of Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions?

I know that many Christians are not too happy with the word “missions.” As I said in the description for another book I’m soon to release, also on the subject of missions:

Many Christians have grown up with a very limited concept of “missions” and “missionaries.” In this view a missionary is a person who goes and preaches to lots of people, often in primitive lands, and explains the theology of the gospel. The natives are convinced and become Christians. Thus the gospel commission is fulfilled.

Actual missions have not been carried out in this way very much….

This sort of mechanical view has damaged the concepts of both evangelism and missions and made them bad words with many people. But a church without a mission is very dead. A church with a mission that is all internal is likely dying. I haven’t been going out and speaking at many churches lately. I spend most of my time in front of this computer. But I used to tell pastors I could gauge the health of their churches by asking a few members what the mission of the church was. In a healthy church, people will be able to answer quickly and clearly.

“But evangelism,” someone says, “that refers to holding boring meetings in a tent trying to convince people to give their hearts to Jesus.” No, not so. Evangelism is spreading the good news.

Let me give an example. My parents were missionaries, and they carried out evangelism. Neither of them ever conducted a tent meeting. My dad was an MD, and my mother (who is still active at 96 years old) was a nurse. They operated clinics. They cared for people. They prayed with people personally. When you visited their church, you would be invited home to lunch. I hear people taught to make visitors welcome by speaking to them and getting to know them. Good! Let’s do it. (Though I have a problem in that I’m a member of a 3500 member church and I often can’t tell who’s a visitor and who’s not. That may be another problem!) But for my parents making someone welcome meant making sure they had time to get truly acquainted, making sure that person was fed, and if they had needs, that those needs were met. I wonder how many people in our churches would be willing to take that on today?

I suspect that many people simply don’t want church to change the fundamental way in which they live quite that much. That’s getting way too much into other people’s business. We don’t want to do that.

The thing is, that sounds to me much more like the way the gospel was spread in New Testament times. I’m fully aware that times have changed. The church needs to adapt.

So let’s ask this: Is the way we’ve adapted working?

And so we return to the book I can’t give away. I’ve tried to give Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions? away in various places, from academic gatherings down to personal meetings with people. It’s not quite true to say that I can’t give it away at all, though at one academic gathering it was the only book from my book table of which I had the same number on my return as when I’d left. I’ve never run out of them. I’ve tried. I’ve offered free copies for people to use in study groups or to give away in church.

Maybe it’s because the author is Southern Baptist, and I approached people of other denominations. Maybe it’s because he’s conservative, and I talk to people all across the spectrum. But this book doesn’t tell you what your theology has to be. It tells you what to do with it. It tells you the level of commitment that God calls for. I know plenty of people moderate or progressive theology who would not disagree with those points. Besides, how do people know when they haven’t read the book yet?

My real challenge here is not to buy this particular book, though I’d be delighted if you did. What I hope you’ll do, however, is look at what you believe and then check out your actions. Do you believe you should be out doing social action, yet you’re sitting in the pew instead? Then get up and go! I’m not trying to define your mission. That’s up to you, hopefully as you discern God’s leading. Whatever it is, do it!

I didn’t intend to when I started this post, but I just noted that I have 16 copies of this little book on my office shelf. This book talks about mission, it talks about martyrdom, and then it asks you to commit yourself to it. Let me know in the comments. Tell me how many you need and up to what I have on my office shelf I’ll send them to you free of charge. No shipping or handling either. Just ask. If you need ten copies for a church group, tell me that. First come, first serve, until they’re gone.

Don’t worry about whether your mission, as you understand it, is the same as Dave Black’s. You aren’t called to Dave Black’s mission. You aren’t called to mine. You’re called to yours.

If you need more than 16, or you want some after I’ve given those away, I’ll work out a price that will cut this as close to my cost as I can manage. I can’t afford to lose money, but I can live with making pennies on the book. Just email me (henry@energion.com) and ask.

Soup Kitchen for the Soul or How I Learn from Authors

Soup Kitchen for the Soul or How I Learn from Authors

9781893729797I am frequently amazed by our authors at Energion Publications. I suppose that other editors and owners are likewise amazed, but I think we have a very special group. Just the other day I received notice from an author that he had signed his contract, but that he wanted to donate his royalties to our literature fund, a fund we use to send books overseas or to people who can’t afford them. I hadn’t asked. In fact, I don’t ask for funds to support that project. We’re not a non-profit. It’s just one of the ways we try to give back.

The thing that impresses me most about our authors, however, is the way they live what they believe. I don’t know of any of our authors who doesn’t in some way embody the books they have written. When I hear what they are actually doing, it’s what I would expect based on what they wrote in their books. And that’s a great thing.

Way back when … well, actually in 2010 … we were contacted by a potential new author who had a story to tell. I like books that tell a story, particularly when that story is a testimony. This was Renee Crosby and her life and vision had been changed by a seminary assignment. She had been asked to serve a certain number of hours in the community as part of an assignment. She spent that time in a soup kitchen. Now as the book will tell you, Renee had become extremely busy in church. She was an active Christian. But that activity was generally in church. When she reluctantly went out to complete her assignment, she encountered Jesus in a new way, right there in the soup kitchen.

So she wrote her book Soup Kitchen for the Soul to invite other people to this same discovery. I was hooked immediately. I have frequently visited churches that are busy, filled with active members. But if you review their church bulletin or newsletter, the vast majority of what they do is designed to serve the members. It’s people in the church doing things for people in the church. Now there’s nothing wrong with that. People in the church should be doing things for one another, caring for one another, building one another up. But we should also be “provoking one another to love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24), and those good deeds should serve those outside the church as well.

This is a book with a great message. It deserves to be read much more than it has. It deserves to be studied.

But Renee is now experiencing the next phase of her testimony. As she explains in the video below, she is in treatment for breast cancer. But she’s not taking it lying down. Instead, she’s trying even more to provoke others to love and good deeds.

We’re also going to donate 5% of our proceeds in addition to what Renee donates as our way of supporting her in this endeavor. In addition, the book is now 30% off with the use of the pink30 coupon. To use that coupon, you need to enter the coupon code on your shopping cart on checkout from Energion Direct. If you need some more help with the coupon, you’ll find it here.

Losing Our Sense of Mission

Losing Our Sense of Mission

When it rains it pours, so I’ve been seeing a lot of posts about mission lately, and here’s another one that raises some very interesting points. (HT: Kouyanet).

Having served on and led short-term mission teams, grown up with long-term missionary parents, and served on mission committees, I find that a great deal of this resonates with me. Read it all and give it serious consideration. This is to be a series. I intend to follow it.

One thing that strikes me is that minor changes in the details are not the solution to the various problems (see Of Resources and Mission Priorities and Worship, Service, and Mission). Our problem is that we don’t view ourselves as on a mission in the first place. We view the church as a way to provide a moral education to our children, a place for networking, and in some cases a route to salvation.

Perhaps our committees, agencies, and denominations lack a sense of mission because our members lack a sense of mission. Perhaps that lack of a sense of mission comes from a lack of understanding the basic gospel message.