Power in the Midst of WeaknessTwo weeks ago, we took a look at the orienting principle for Christian ministry: we have the treasure of the Gospel in earthen vessels. In other words, there is a disproportionate relationship between the glory of the New Covenant message and the glory of the New Covenant messenger. There is a fundamental contrast between the glory of the New Covenant ministry and the shame of the New Covenant minister. In the next verses, Paul turns to illustrate this principle by means of two paradoxical truths that characterize the Christian ministry.

And the first of those paradoxes comes in verses 8 and 9. There we learn that the Christian ministry is marked by power in the midst of weakness. He says, we are “in everything afflicted, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” In what commentators have called “one of the more powerful rhetorical moments in the Pauline corpus” (Barnett, 233), Paul makes his point by means of four antitheses. In each first word, we see the weakness of the earthen vessel. And in each second word, we see the surpassing greatness of the power of God. Let’s look more closely at each pair.

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Every Christian will likely encounter this scenario: someone you know and who professes Christ has a major sin in their life exposed. As a result, relationships are harmed, their reputation is destroyed, and their heart is broken. You, as their friend (or pastor or spouse) are left wondering how to respond.

You know that Christians are called to forgive and restore other believers who have their sin exposed, but you also know that this is only true if they are repentant over their sin. For example, the command in Galatians 6:1 to “restore” a fallen believer is paired with an exhortation about the importance of self-examination (vv. 2-4). Or Paul, in 2 Corinthians 7, tell the Corinthians that he stands ready to forgive them, because the exposure of their sin produced godly sorrow as opposed to worldly sorrow (2 Corinthians 7:9-11).

So what are you supposed to do? The person in front of you says they are repentant. They say they are sorry about their sin. But is that enough?   Continue Reading…

Last week we began by defining missions as “ecclesiology with a passport.” Then we looked at two big picture problems with the social action approach to missions. That was followed by two posts (here and here) that gave eight biblical reasons the social action theory of missions is misguided. Today we wrap up this series by looking at how the Apostle Paul understood the role of social action in missions:

If we allow the book of Acts to lay down the lane markers for our missions efforts, then church planting, leadership training (and Bible translation, where necessary) will be our focus.  That’s how the men whom Jesus trained understood and applied His commission.   Continue Reading…

Yesterday I said that there were at least eight biblical objections to viewing “social action” as a form of missions. In that post, I explained what three of those were, and I’d encourage you to read that post first. But having noted those three, here are the rest of those eight objections:

 

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Image result for social missionsLast week I explained the importance of understanding that for missions to truly succeed, it must be built on the foundation of strong ecclesiology. I then wrote a critique of the approach to missions that focus on social action. Today I want to expand on that post, and describe what exactly my concerns are with this approach to missions.

There are at least eight biblical problems with the social action model of missions.  Of course, not all social-action advocates exhibit all eight of these problems, but naturally, since this is a survey, I need to paint with a broad brush.

Problem 1:  A redefinition of the gospel.

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As I survey today’s shift toward social action in missions, my concerns fall into three categories. Today’s post will look at the first two, and next week we will pick up the third (to get the most out of this post, I’d encourage you to read yesterday’s introduction, “Missions: Ecclesiology with a Passport“).

 

1) Are we ignoring the lessons of history?

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Missions is your ecclesiology armed with a passport.

The American evangelical culture has demonstrated a remarkable confusion about the nature of the church. This in-turn has led to an equally critical confusion about the nature of missions.

While a Western missionary might need to leave his PowerPoint presentation and carpeted, air conditioned auditorium behind when he hikes over the mountain to a remote village, the important things that make a church—the biblical things—transfer directly and immediately into any culture.

In the past, the majority of theologically conservative missionaries were sent out to do church planting, leadership training, and Bible translation.  No longer.  Today a growing percentage of new missionaries are being sent to focus on social relief, with the church and the gospel tacked on as something of theological addendum.  In fact, in my twenty years as a missionary in Africa, I’ve seen a major shift in evangelical missions away from what I call “book of Acts missions” toward social reform projects or social action missions.   Continue Reading…

Religion

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If there’s one thing to which human history overwhelmingly testifies, it is that we are fervently religious creatures. Among the rocks and rubble of human cultures throughout the millennia is evidence of the pursuit of spiritual things. As humanity, we have exerted extraordinary effort into the worship of figures such as Ra, Gaia, Dazhbog, Zeus, Aphrodite, Shiva, Vishnu, Izanagi, Izanami, Ahura Mazda, and gods of our own understanding. We’ve worshiped rocks, stars, trees, comfort, the dead, the living, and even ourselves. The world has seen her brahmins, caliphs, Siddartha Gautamas, and Joseph Smiths. We are natural-born worshipers.

And you’ve probably heard it said before. “When it comes down to it, most of the world religions are pretty much the same.” But is that true? For example, Judaism, Mormonism, Islam, and Christianity; they propose a problem with the world, a solution, and the worship of a deity. Other religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Shinto, Rastafarianism, Wiccan, and Neo-Paganism feature categorically similar threads.

Nevertheless, while many of the world’s religions have similar features, biblical Christianity differs radically from them all. There are a handful of things which put it in a category of its own. Without understanding these differences, we cannot properly comprehend Christianity.

Here are three major differences between Christianity and other religions:

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#MyParadiseIn5Words was trending on twitter recently. Thousands offered what their paradise would be like. Many said things like “Permanently ending cancer and war” or “never getting out of bed” and pretty much every five-word sentence you can imagine. It’s fascinating to ask non-Christians about heaven. They rarely think about it. To them, heaven is on earth and made up of worldly pleasures.

Recently during a conversation about whether we should talk about hell with our kids, someone in the group asked how often we talk to our kids about heaven? It made me wonder, how often do people talk about heaven in general?

Paul writing in Colossians 3:1-4 says, Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.

In Paul’s opinion being with Christ should be the focus of our life. We should be actively training our minds to think about the day when Christ, our life, is revealed.

Sadly it is easy to be distracted, temporal concerns can easily grab our attention and overall it seems like we don’t think or talk about heaven nearly enough. Here are ten reasons why heaven should often be on our minds and in our conversations.

We will spend eternity there

This is obvious but we have to start here. John in Revelation 21:3-4 says, And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” This verse reminds us of the fact that heaven is eternal and that it is much more glorious than anything we can experience on earth. When we experience pain, sadness and even death our minds should jump to the joy we will experience forever with Christ.

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Have you ever waited so long for a promise that you when it arrives you don’t believe it? Perhaps your boyfriend promised to propose when he felt “ready.” But half a decade later, you’d lost hope, and when he finally did get down on one knee you thought he was tying his shoe-lace.me cynical

I had such an experience some years ago. I had ordered a landline from our country’s only (monopolized) national telephone service provider. With no competition to rival it, this service provider was not known for its promptness or customer satisfaction. So, I ordered the line about three months before I was ready to move into my new house, thinking I was beating the system.

After moving in, early in March, and without any trace of a telephone connection, I began a weekly routine of calling to ask about the progress of my line. I was repeatedly assured that the line would be installed by August.

August came and went—twice.

Then, one fine day, out of the blue, I received a call on my cellphone from a lady who claimed to be an employee. She casually asked if I would be home the next day, because my landline was to be installed. There was an awkward pause as I considered which of my friends was playing a cruel joke on me. I decided to play along and assured her in a sardonic tone that I would be eagerly awaiting the workman the next day.

To my bemusement, the very next day—two and a half years after the order—a pleasant gentleman arrived wearing coveralls and an air of nonchalance. He effortlessly completed the job, which took all of twelve minutes. By this point I had cycled through all the normal stages—denial, anger, bargaining, acceptance—and so I expressed my genuine gratitude for a job well-done. He smiled knowingly and chided me for my doubt with a hackneyed line he’d proffered countless times, “We said we’d get to it, we just didn’t say when.”

That is why I have sympathy for Zechariah. Continue Reading…