Thinking Out Loud

January 19, 2016

The Good News and Bad News of Ministry Life

I posted this at C201 a few days ago, but felt I ought to share it here as well.

If you knew me many years ago, there was a period when I would sign letters

I Corinthians 16-9

In my mind, the verse played out in the KJV text that I first learned it from;

For a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries.

whereas today, I would probably refer you to a more recent translation, such as the NLT:

There is a wide-open door for a great work here, although many oppose me.

If you think about, this is the format of every missionary, church, or parachurch organization fundraising letter or ministry report you’ve ever received.

→ The good news is: God is working in the lives of people, we are seeing results.
→ The bad news is: We face [financial/staffing/logistical/spiritual-warfare/etc.] challenges.

There’s always a challenge. This weekend at church, the guest speaker shared this:

The greatest challenge in life is not having a burden to carry.

That’s right, without some mountain to climb or river to cross, our lives would actually be rather boring. Certainly there would be no growth. I discussed that quotation with a friend after the service was over, and he said, “Yes, but that’s we all want. We want it to be easy.”

Matthew Henry writes:

Great success in the work of the gospel commonly creates many enemies. The devil opposes those most, and makes them most trouble, who most heartily and successfully set themselves to destroy his kingdom. There were many adversaries; and therefore the apostle determined to stay.

Some think he alludes in this passage to the custom of the Roman Circus, and the doors of it, at which the charioteers were to enter, as their antagonists did at the opposite doors. True courage is whetted by opposition; and it is no wonder that the Christian courage of the apostle should be animated by the zeal of his adversaries. They were bent to ruin him, and prevent the effect of his ministry at Ephesus; and should he at this time desert his station, and disgrace his character and doctrine?

No, the opposition of adversaries only animated his zeal. He was in nothing daunted by his adversaries; but the more they raged and opposed the more he exerted himself. Should such a man as he flee?

Note, Adversaries and opposition do not break the spirits of faithful and successful ministers, but only kindle their zeal, and inspire them with fresh courage.

I checked out a number of commentaries online for this verse, and ended up pulling out several of my print commentaries. One of the greatest insights came at the bottom of the page of the NIV Study Bible:

many who oppose me. Probably a reference to the pagan craftsman who made the silver shrines of Artemis and to the general populace whom they had stirred up (Acts 19:23-34).

Interesting that what appeared to be spiritual opposition was actually rooted in commerce; people who had a vested financial interest in maintaining commercial interests in a pagan form of worship. Think about Jesus and the money-changers in the temple:

NIV Matt. 21:12 Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13 “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.

I’ll let Eugene Peterson re-phrase the Acts reference above:

23-26 …a huge ruckus occurred over what was now being referred to as “the Way.” A certain silversmith, Demetrius, conducted a brisk trade in the manufacture of shrines to the goddess Artemis, employing a number of artisans in his business. He rounded up his workers and others similarly employed and said, “Men, you well know that we have a good thing going here—and you’ve seen how Paul has barged in and discredited what we’re doing by telling people that there’s no such thing as a god made with hands. A lot of people are going along with him, not only here in Ephesus but all through Asia province.

27 “Not only is our little business in danger of falling apart, but the temple of our famous goddess Artemis will certainly end up a pile of rubble as her glorious reputation fades to nothing. And this is no mere local matter—the whole world worships our Artemis!”

28-31 That set them off in a frenzy. They ran into the street yelling, “Great Artemis of the Ephesians! Great Artemis of the Ephesians!” They put the whole city in an uproar, stampeding into the stadium, and grabbing two of Paul’s associates on the way, the Macedonians Gaius and Aristarchus. Paul wanted to go in, too, but the disciples wouldn’t let him. Prominent religious leaders in the city who had become friendly to Paul concurred: “By no means go near that mob!”

32-34 Some were yelling one thing, some another. Most of them had no idea what was going on or why they were there. As the Jews pushed Alexander to the front to try to gain control, different factions clamored to get him on their side. But he brushed them off and quieted the mob with an impressive sweep of his arms. But the moment he opened his mouth and they knew he was a Jew, they shouted him down: “Great Artemis of the Ephesians! Great Artemis of the Ephesians!”—on and on and on, for over two hours.

Some people believe that finding the heart of many world and regional conflicts is simply a matter of “follow the money.” The point is that we don’t always know and we don’t always see why people are so very bent on opposing us in ministry. Not to minimize Matthew Henry’s interpretation, it’s simply too easy to say, ‘It’s the Devil;’ or put things into some general spiritual warfare category. Maybe your devout faith and witness are simply “bad for business” for someone nearby.

…My opinion would be that where ministry is taking place many challenges and overt opposition will occur. If it’s not, maybe you’re doing it wrong.

Greater opportunities = Greater opposition.

But the good news is that most of the time the opposite is also true.

Greater opposition = Greater opportunities.

Romans 5:20b (CJB) says,

…but where sin proliferated, grace proliferated even more.

Ministry life involves both: Great opportunities for harvest and life change, and many who would rather keep the status quo.

 

 

 

 

September 29, 2015

When Methodologies Were Different, Motivation Was The Same

So let’s pretend that you go to a megachurch in a large urban area. Oh wait, that’s not a ‘pretend’ for many of you. Now let’s pretend that your church is one of the really “hot” churches in town; you’ve got a great children’s, youth and college and career program, and nobody would consider missing a Sunday service if at all possible.

But let’s pretend that if you were to take a drive and head about an hour — at least an hour — out of town, where there were people in a small town or village who simply didn’t have the same exposure to an urban church like yours. And let’s pretend that you took some other people with you, and also took some of the passion and excitement you had about your faith.

Maybe your end product would look different than the kind of “road show” that the man pictured at left was part of. Russell Wilkinson lived in a different era to be sure, but his weekly trips to the little town of Mount Albert were no small adventure. It was a long, long drive northeast from the city of Toronto; especially on the rare occasions where they picked up children and teens there, drove them to a special service in Toronto, drove them home to Mount Albert and then drove back again. In a post-war time before freeways or even good roads.

I like that they (a) identified a group of people who were unable to connect with the church ministry programs going on in the city, and (b) did something about it. The term “missional” may not have existed back then, but this was classic “missional” thinking. I am sure that their willingness to do this also had some measurable impact on the parents of the youth they got to know.

They didn’t just absorb all the great music and teaching that went on at their big-city church, but they shared the gospel of Jesus Christ out of the overflow of all they had received.

I still have the trumpet in the picture. Until today, I’ve always thought of it as a musical instrument, but it was an instrument of ministry, too.

What are you doing this fall to connect people with Jesus?

January 6, 2013

Faithisms

Filed under: Faith — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 4:35 pm

All from the writer who calls herself Free Spirit and blogs at With Unveiled Face. The first line of each section is also the link.


If I have to be encouraged to “share Christ’s love…”

 … I don’t have it to begin with.

Put Up or Shut Up

 If you don’t SHOW them Father’s love,

then don’t be surprised when they don’t believe a word you say.

There is really only one way to touch another life.

Manipulation: Akin To Witchcraft

 If manipulation is a viable option for getting good behavior from another individual, then you’ve got the wrong God.

How Then Shall We Live?

 Heard this today:

We weren’t called to teach the scriptures, we were called to preach Christ.

Also:

Teaching scriptures with the desire to obligate people to a certain set of (“Godly”) expectations is the polar opposite of preaching Christ.
~~~~~~~

I want everything about my person to preach Christ…  with or without the scriptures.

Christ’s Life Multiplied

 The best way to teach your kids not to live a life consumed with self is to not live a life consumed with self.

Letting Truth Rest

 Contrary to religious public opinion, you are under no obligation to beat anyone over the head with truth. If they are not interested in hearing it, feel free to let it rest, and wait to feed it to the hungry ones.

“Man Can Never Fully Efface the Image of God in Him”

 Came across this interesting quote today:

“Because man was made in the very image of God, man is not ultimately a liar.  He may pervert the things of God for his own ends, but he can never fully efface the image of God in him.  He can never really be satisfied with lies.  He can never escape who he really is.”

                                                                                                     J.R.R. Tolkien

Wrath: An Important Definition

 Wrath = Love’s extreme passion coming against that which seeks to destroy the object of its affection.

Gonna keep chewin’ on that for awhile.  It’s worthy of my understanding.

Wrath IS an expression of Love.  Period.


The author/collector of all these appeared previously at Thinking Out Loud exactly one year ago here.

November 6, 2011

The Mark of Effective Witness

Story # 1

While tossing things in the laundry last week, I came across a black t-shirt marked “Campus Church” I hadn’t seen before.  A half hour later, I noticed the back of the shirt says, “Ask me about Jesus.”

I was later told that the idea behind the church is that in a multi-cultural melting pot like the greater Toronto area, where my oldest attends university, there are a number of things which serve as visible identifiers of someone who is part of a different faith — such as the headgear a Muslim girl or a Jewish boy might be wearing — but nothing to specifically indicate that someone is a Christian.  The shirt is an attempt to change all that.

So I asked my son, “Are you prepared if someone asks you about Jesus?”

To which he replied, “I usually wear a sweater over that shirt.”

…In balance, I should add that my son probably would be prepared — more than he realizes — and that he has expressed his desire to share his faith on campus.  I think, too that he would indeed find it genuinely easier if  they came to him with a question.  On the other hand, the weather has turned quite cool here, and I can’t picture myself walking around the campus without something warmer. 

Maybe they should have manufactured sweaters instead.

Story # 2

A couple we know invited their daughter to join them at a thing going on at another church.  While there, she spotted someone she was a little unprepared to see, and quickly got out her phone and texted a friend from work.

You won’t believe where I just saw our boss–
In church.

(She probably used some appropriate txt abbreviations.)

Her mom told this story to my wife who said the friend texted back that she was equally incredulous.  Apparently, there’s nothing at work to indicate that this guy — who is highly respected among the people at the church — would be there.  Quite the opposite, actually.  

Unfortunately, this kind of story replays all too often. The challenge to those of us who’ve crossed the line of faith, is not to be the guy in the story.

October 18, 2011

We Have Identified The Source of the Problem, And It’s…

Filed under: evangelism — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:13 am

I found today’s item at the blog, Jamie The Very Worst Missionary, which is, I suppose, a story all by itself, but we’ll save that for another day.  The guest writer was Alise Wright who blogs at the similarly sounding Alise…Write (took me a while).

The Reverse Missionary

When I start thinking about missionaries, I think about people are sharing Jesus with people. A missionary is someone who knows the gospel message and whose life goal it is to tell that life-giving message to anyone who will listen. I’ve been in the Church long enough to know that you don’t have to go to Africa to be a missionary (though it totally helps your missionary cred), but missionaries have a group they’re out to make sure to tell the story to. The unsaved.

I’m a Christian and my husband is an atheist.

So we all know who MY mission field is, right?

Yeah, not so much.

I’ve met a lot of atheists in the past two years and one thing I’ve found about almost all of them is that they know the story. They know who Jesus is, they know what Christianity teaches, they know what we believe. They’ve visited our churches, listened to our songs, read our holy book. The message is not the problem.

We are.

We, the Church. We who talk about grace, but are quick to cheer when the bad guy gets his. We who talk about talk about forgiveness, but would rather hold a grudge. We who talk about desiring persecution for His name’s sake, but make sure that we do our fair share of persecuting of “the other”. We who talk about God’s acceptance, but are loathe to share our filth with one another.

And I can look at this and point to all of the reasons why we suck, but I think it boils down to one thing. We don’t believe that God really and truly loves us the way he says he does. And when we don’t believe it, we can’t live it, not really. We serve a God can do “immeasurably more than we ask or imagine” and yet we place limits on how much he can love. We place them on ourselves and as a result, on others.

So my mission? To show love. God’s wide, long, high, deep, immeasurable love. Love that is wild and free. Love that reaches further than we can think, further than we dare to hope. Because when we get that, deep in our bones, we don’t have to worry about making sure people know the gospel.

We will BE the gospel.

~Alise

click graphic for image source

October 16, 2011

Not Of the World, But In The World

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 4:44 pm

John Fischer posted this a few days ago at his blog, The Catch.  (Note: His individual blog posts are called ‘catches.’)  He called it, Their Place in the World.

So I’m back in the Student Union building at Grove City College, Grove City, Pennsylvania. I say “back” because it was two years ago when I last wrote a couple of Catches from here. I spoke in chapel yesterday morning for the allotted 17 minutes, and something must have struck a chord because over 800 students came back to hear me in a 45 minute session last night.

I had numerous individual comments that what I was saying was just what was needed right now on this campus. And what I am saying is that the Christian subculture in America has gone off its track (if, indeed, it was ever on), and it was now up to them to enter the world as Christians in culture, not as cultural Christians. The use of the word “Christian” as an adjective is now a liability in a culture that thinks Christians are judgmental, pushy, anti-homosexual, and hypocritical.

I pointed out to them that as Christian musicians [in the ’70s and early ’80s], we never proved ourselves on the world’s stage. We only excelled in our own separate Christian market where it was easy to be somebody with limited competition, like playing in our own sandbox.

I am amazed that they are receiving this and accepting the challenge to prove themselves in the world and bring the gospel along with them. The world never needed Christian anything. It needs Christians taking up their place in it. We can only pray that some of these students will do just that.

~John Fischer

August 9, 2011

What Saltiness Looks Like

Filed under: evangelism — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:04 am

Several years ago, the little Christian bookstore where I work took out an advertisement in what can only be called a “fringe” publication.  Recently, I felt it was time to go back another time. Our ad appears on a page with three psychics.  It simply states:

In a world that offers many spiritual options…Consider a classic

Then the name of the store appears underneath.  It probably will not pay for itself in terms of bringing in customers.  It’s there more to stand in contrast to the psychics, the Reiki healers, the yoga classes, the course in Shamanism and the person who does ear coning, whatever that is.

There isn’t a little fish symbol in the bottom right corner, or a cross in the background gradient that makes up this small simple black-and-white advertisement.  It’s designed not to offend, but to simply be a Christian presence in a place where a Christian voice would be rather unexpected.

Of course, I realize that when I pay the bill, I am directly funding a publication which has much content with which I would disagree.  But I feel this is essentially what it means to be salt and light. 

This fall we want to — if we can get the funding — do an advertisement in a local newspaper promoting the idea of a “Spiritual Homecoming.”  Not in the sense of Bill and Gloria Gaither’s Homecoming DVDs (shudder!), but in the sense of returning to the spiritual roots of one’s childhood.  For a few people, those roots may not resonate with my own Evangelical roots, but that’s a chance I’m willing to take.

…We’re also consider adapting our Sudoku flyer as a newspaper advertisement.  You can read some sample copy of that in this February, 2009 story.

July 18, 2011

Hell is Real, But I Don’t Want To Talk About It

I just finished reading Hell is Real (But I Hate to Admit It) by Brian Jones, published by David C. Cook.  The timing of this book — even though it began as a project long before the current furor — makes it a kind of response to Love Wins even if not directly so.  While the Rob Bell book uses its first two chapters to ask enough questions to somewhat undermine a belief in everlasting punishment for those who don’t believe, Brian Jones takes his first couple of chapters to state categorically that he now believes in the certainty of hell as traditionally understood, and as literally taught in the Bible.

He uses  his unwavering belief in a physical hell as the premise for what he wants to go on to talk about, which is the need to communicate the existence of hell to our unsaved family, friends, neighbors and coworkers.  It refutes Love Wins only in the sense that Jones’ dogmatic certainty stands in stark contrast to Bell’s questions and uncertainty.

The point Jones really wants to get to is taking the message of salvation to those whom life puts us into contact with.  Just as last summer’s Sun Stand Still by Steven Furtick gave us the phrase “audacious prayers,” so does Hell Is Real… give us a phrase, “apocalyptic urgency.”   That urgency runs through all 266 pages.

However, don’t start constructing placards or buying TV airtime right away.  The hallmark of this book is the balance of the approach between said urgency, and finding appropriate times and places to work with what the Holy Spirit wants to do in a person’s life.  The key to this book isn’t the first part of the title so much as the parenthetic part, But I Hate to Admit It. Many of us have a natural reluctance to engage our friends and contacts in a faith conversation, much less a debate.

Unless people come to you with specific questions or a specific outpouring of the heart on a matter of need, sharing the message of — to use a $50 word — propitiation is delicate.  Too aggressive an approach and you create barriers that can set the conversion process back indefinitely.

In many respects for those who have decided that Bell simply asks to many questions and undermines too much of what church leaders have always believed and taught, Hell is Real represents the next step in the discussion.  In other words, after all is said and done, where do we go from here?  What is the practical application of all the debate?

Brian Jones would say the “hell part” of the equation is necessary to create the apocalyptic urgency needed to make evangelism effective.

Brian Jones is senior pastor at Christ’s Church of the Valley in Philadelphia, a rather edgy east coast church.

April 14, 2011

Evangelism, Old Testament Style

Filed under: evangelism — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:46 am

I posted this last night at C201, but thought it was worthy of reposting here:

On Sunday the pastor spoke about the do’s and dont’s of evangelism.  (I have no idea why those words need an apostrophe, but we’ll press on, okay?)  Then he quoted this verse in Zechariah chapter 8, a verse I’ve no doubt glossed over before but never really zoomed in on:

23 This is what the LORD Almighty says: “In those days ten people from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the hem of his robe and say, ‘Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.’”

Okay, let’s back up for some context:

20 This is what the LORD Almighty says: “Many peoples and the inhabitants of many cities will yet come, 21 and the inhabitants of one city will go to another and say, ‘Let us go at once to entreat the LORD and seek the LORD Almighty. I myself am going.’ 22 And many peoples and powerful nations will come to Jerusalem to seek the LORD Almighty and to entreat him.”

23 This is what the LORD Almighty says: “In those days ten people from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the hem of his robe and say, ‘Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.’”

I love the picture this paints; one of an international cast coming together; people out of various language families and ethnicities converging in Jerusalem and asking questions of and being attracted to those who are visibly walking with God. Not because of methodologies or presentations or programs, but because it is evident that God is at work.  (Reminds me of the verse in Acts that says the crowd marveled that the disciples were ordinary and not advanced in education, but noted they had spent time with Jesus.)

About eight years earlier, in the same church, another pastor delivered his final sermon.   His closing line, I will never, ever forget.  This may not be verbatim, but here it is:

“Don’t be satisfied to hear people say, ‘You have a great church,’ but rather, you want them to say, ‘You have a great God.’

When is the last time someone grabbed you by the sleeve or the collar and said, “We need to talk, because it’s obvious God is with you.” ??

February 25, 2011

Believer’s Baptism: How Young is Too Young?

She couldn’t be seen over the rail of the baptismal tank. Despite having a clear line of sight, the best we could do is listen to the audio as the pastor explained that at nine-years-old, she was the youngest person ever baptized in that church, and was doing so only after a great deal of discussion with her, her parents, and the pastoral staff.

I couldn’t help but think she was too young…

I was thirteen when I was baptized in the Peoples Church in Toronto by Dr. Paul B. Smith, the son of iconic missionary statesman Oswald J. Smith. It was a Wednesday night, but most of the 2,200 seats in the auditorium were filled. I was given a number. There were over 100 people baptized that night and it was done alphabetically. I think I was 119.  We each filed through the platform and gave a 30-second testimony. Then the actual baptisms started.

There’s no way the pastor knew everyone he baptized that night. So as we entered the water a small name tag was pinned to our inner sleeve.  Then it was over.

I was glad it was over. I wanted to get it over. I was baptized out of guilt.

For some reason, I felt that I had completed all my obligations to the church and to God once I had had “accepted” Jesus as “my personal Savior.” So when a traveling Evangelist rolled in when I was eleven and gave several invitations for people to, as he said it with his accent, be ‘bap-i-tized,’ I suddenly realized I was spiritually incomplete, and thereby spiritually inferior.

With the baptisms conducted on weeknights, I didn’t get the exposure to it that those growing up in other churches did, growing up where a baptism could occur in the context of any particular Sunday service. As the evangelist asked people to raise their hands if they’d never been baptized as believers, I raised my hand, but when he asked how many of those would like to commit to being baptized, I cowered into something best described as a sitting fetal position.

My parents wisely decided that I should postpone this important event for at least a year, but I spent the better part of church services in what turned out to be about two years — especially when the invitation was given, as it was every Sunday night — feeling like a prisoner who is about to be taken out to be shot. Guilt is not a great motivator for spiritual decision making.

To compound things, I have a gift with words and with speaking, so when it did happen a couple of years later, my 30-second soundbite so impressed the leadership that I was asked to give a much longer testimony in Sunday School a few weeks later.

I spoke well. My spirituality was firmly established in the minds of the people who mattered. I was a rising spiritual superstar.

But I was only thirteen.

In hindsight, eighteen would have been the perfect time for me to be baptized. At that point, I wasn’t just capable of giving a testimony, but I was inching toward living a testimony; and not just before the church crowd but at a very secular university. I was choosing my friends and my activities on the basis of my faith, and was going public with my beliefs in a much larger way than many.

Between thirteen and eighteen, a few things happened to indicate that I was not quite established on the spiritual trajectory where I now find myself. Looking back, I wish I could have been baptized at twenty-one, or thirty-one, or even last week. It’s one of those, “If only I knew then what I know now” situations. But for me, waiting until after high-school graduation would have been most meaningful.

So how young is too young?

…Things worked out for the nine-year-old baptismal candidate. She married a youth pastor and they have a couple of kids and are faithfully serving the Lord. But what about the rest?

I really wanted to be part of the discussion of this at Kingdom People last week, but as mentioned yesterday, thanks to an impersonator, I’m now blocked from commenting at all my favorite sites.  Be sure to read his very brief article and the comments which follow.

I recognize some of you have a ‘sacramental’ view of Baptism and some have view it as an ‘ordinance.’  I also realize some of you believe that infant baptism is sufficient, though the New Testament appears not to support this.

What are your thoughts on this?  Does your church mandate a specific age? Leave a comment, and then in a few days, we’ll look at the parallel issue: Younger children partaking of Communion, aka Eucharist, aka Lord’s supper.

Like birth, baptism means life. It is done once, yet it is for all of our life….we need to discover ways to communicate baptismal living. If I say, “I was married,” you will likely assume that my wife has died or I am divorced. But if I say, “I am married,” you will assume I have a wife and that on a certain date I was married and still am. Although it is true and essential to say I was baptized, it is also necessary to assert, “I am baptized.”

~Thomas H. Schattauer

The first picture, of the Mormon Baptism is apparently everyone’s default child baptism pic. If you’ve seen it one website, you’ve probably seen it on fifty. The second picture is from a Baptist Church. The third one may be taking in place in potentially chilly waters in British Columbia, Canada.

Related post at this blog: The Lord’s Table: How Young is Too Young?

Only marginally related story if you need a smile!

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