At the heart of the Christian system lies the cross

by AW Tozer

At the heart of the Christian system lies the cross of Christ with its divine paradox. The power of Christianity appears in its antipathy toward, never in its agreement with, the ways  of fallen men. the truth of the cross is revealed in its contradictions. The witness of the church is most effective when she declares rather than explains, for the gospel is addressed not to reason but to faith. What can be proved requires no faith to accept. Faith rests upon the character of God, not upon the demonstrations of laboratory or logic.

the cross stands in bold opposition to the natural man. Its philosophy runs contrary to the processes of the unregenerate mind, so that Paul could say bluntly that the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness. To try to find a common ground between the message of the cross and man’s fallen reason is to try the impossible, and if persisted in must result in an impaired reason, a meaningless c ross and a powerless Christianity.

~ That Incredible Christian in The Best of AW Tozer p. 97

Prison theology

Mature and challenging thoughts by Albert at God Is My Constant

Much has been said and written about ‘Prosperity Theology‘ – i.e. the idea or teaching that God will make you to always ‘prosper’ in health, wealth and circumstance (yes that is a simplistic straw-man description, but you get the idea). An unfortunate inference of this idea is, if you’re not successful, then you must be under God’s judgment in some way. But that’s also a simplistic straw-man approach to understanding why people have difficulties.

When reading Mark’s gospel the account of the life Christ, jumps, in time, forward about one year, from his baptism in the Jordan river by John to the commencement of his formal ministry in Galilee. Were it not for the mention of a little phrase in Mark 1:14 you might miss this time warp:

“Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee …”

The Pillar NT Commentary provides some insight about why Mark might have thought it significant to mention John’s arrest before proceeding with his account of Jesus’ itinerant teaching in Galilee.

The arrest of John and the beginning of Jesus’ ministry are intentionally correlated to show that the gospel is proclaimed and known in adversity and suffering, not in ease and comfort. … The Baptizer is the forerunner of Jesus not only in his message but also in his fate, which includes suffering and death. And the Baptizer is not a prototype for Jesus alone. … John’s arrest and execution set a standard for disciples of Jesus as well. If, as seems probable, Mark’s Gospel was composed in Rome in the mid-sixties, then the effect of linking the gospel with the arrest of the Baptizer would not be lost on Mark’s readers who were suffering from persecutions under Nero. (Edwards, J. R. 2002. The Gospel according to Mark. The Pillar New Testament commentary (44–45). Eerdmans; Apollos: Grand Rapids, Mich; Leicester, England)

The cost of commitment to Christ is a filter that reveals your tenacity and integrity. Someone considering Christianity may ask, “What is it going to cost me?” or “What do I need to do/give up/etc?”. Jesus answer to that is “everything”. Until you release your hold on everything that you rely upon for comfort, power, and security you cannot cling to Jesus.

Prison Theology‘ to coin a phrase, would then be the idea that teaches us to consider what we might be ready to give up or surrender for the sake of being a follower of Jesus. Freedom? Finance? Friendship? Something else? We will cling to our “god”. To whom or to what are you hanging onto?

 

Surpassing 4 Generations of Disciple Making Disciples in less than a year

Here is an article by someone who has found a way to make disciples who make disciples (Surpassing 4 Generations of Disciple Making Disciples in less than a year). It is by Miguel Labrador
What does that mean? It means that disciples were made who made disciples who made other disciples who in turn made others and that all generations continue to make disciples. How did we pull it off? We didn’t, Jesus did. But I will tell you how it happened.

There are scores of methods including one of my own for sharing the gospel with people and most are cursory introductions to the person of Christ at best. I will not say that any in particular are incorrect, but I will say that most are incomplete. If we assume that evangelism is not a method to win souls but a manner in which to communicate the good news of the person of Jesus to the world and we further assume that evangelism ( proclaiming good news) is a necessary part of making disciples, then for better or worse, you can begin to understand how this amazing thing happened.

Let me provide a little background. My wife and I, after having left our careers, home, and family in the United States, answered a call to go to Ecuador and serve as missionaries. We work in a region of Ecuador where there have been no other missionaries for many years. It is not the city and the population no where nears the populations of the cities in Ecuador. On any given day, there are hundreds of missionaries, short and long term visiting the cities and doing Kingdom work. In our region, the Cloud Forest, harvest workers are few and far between. We are often challenged in ways which most would find intolerable. Many times we have been trapped by mud slides, without electric, phone, water and a myriad of other and sometimes life threatening situations. We have been attacked from without and within by people and spiritually. Nothing here works out the way we want it to and if it does, it usually takes twice as long than expected.

In spite of the renewed interest in being missional and reaching our native communities, which we think is absolutely encouraging, we were called by God to serve in a foreign mission field and become part of another community in a different part of the world. We do believe that Making Disciples is an integral part of every believers life regardless of where you are called or where you find yourself. In that light we have moved from what would be considered more traditional methods to what we believe are God inspired processes. In fact, I would call them “7 God-Directed Deviations in Disciple Making.”

From Follow up to Follow in – Following up with a person or a community usually entails a consistent pattern of entering people’s day to day lives for a time and then leaving again for others to do more follow-up. We have chosen to follow people into their lives and live amongst them, work amongst them, suffer and cry with them, grow with, encourage and be encouraged by them. Following in and staying in, to us at least, seems more like the biblical pattern of Jesus.

From Outreach to Inreach – Closely related to the first, it remains somewhat different. In outreach, when you have to leave where you are, where you live or where you have been called to, to reach others “outside” of where you would normally live, there always comes a time when you have to return to where you came from. That place is often contextually different from the place you reach out to. Reaching inward, within your sphere of influence is naturally more productive because your context is already defined. You should not have to seek how to be culturally relevant, you should already be culturally relevant.

From Fly Paper to Flying like Eagles – The desire to attract and trap is replaced by equipping and setting free. We have to trust God in that when our time of influence over a community or a person is done, that He will propel them into the next phase of their lives.

From Dependency to Development. – We do not want to be pushers of the gospel offering all sorts of addictive attachments so that we can report large numbers of “salvations,” but are more focused on developing those that God has appointed us for and to. Though it may seem to us to be too few at times and hurt our prideful effectiveness, we know that focusing on a few at a time in equipping and development have much greater long term impacts. We focus less on being leaders and more in the development of leaders.

From Verbal to Tactile – In the abundance of words there is foolishness. (Proverbs 10) We don’t minimize the eternal power of the scriptures nor the use of those very same scriptures to bring people to salvation. At the same time we are convicted that there has been, in most cases, entirely too much talking and not enough action. A woman whom we recently visited in a remote town said “They come to preach sometimes, but never has one come to visit the poor, pray for the sick, or help those in need.” This was the answer she gave when asked if any Christians have visited. Our desire is to never be one of the “they.” My wife and I make sure we physically touch in every single person in appropriate circumstances. A hug, a kiss on the cheek, the laying on of hands, or even a simple pat on the back. Then we evaluate how we can touch their lives in most effective way with our current ability and capability.

From Regimental to Relational – Routine is good for some actions, but a routine implies that there is little or no change in the execution of a task. Discipleship is more of a process and like a relationship, there is give and take and constant adaptation. We have a relationship with Jesus and yet we hopefully become more Christ-like all the time. In any relationship, there is continual shifting, giving, and receiving. Methods may change, manners may be different, but the message of the gospel remains steadfast.

From because “They say so,” to because “He says so.” We could easily employ the latest and greatest ideas in how to disciple others, how to win souls, and how to effectively grow the church, but we are more interested in what God says to us and for His people that we have been called to work with. There are many times when certain pragmatic approaches will not work in different contexts, so we do our best to go where the Father says to go, say what He says to say, and do what He says to do. For the record, I love analyzing trends in disciple making and seeing how our iron can be sharpened by others who are also making disciples.

These 7 God-Directed Deviations from the status quo discipleship that has prevailed for years has produced remarkable fruit in our region of Ecuador.

Not all traditional methods are invalid – “Do not move the ancient landmark that your fathers have set.” (Proverbs 22:28) To be fair, we have used many traditional methods at times which seemed appropriate in the moment and context. We have practiced door to door evangelism, used gadgets, gizmos, and gifts as ice breakers to reach the lost. We have used tracts and dramas, street preaching, medical incentives, and clean water projects to effect positive changes within the communities in our region. We have hosted mission teams from the United States for the benefit of all involved, those ministering and those being ministered to. We have had a discipleship group meeting at our house every week for the last year covering a wide range of topics in a sometimes formal and sometimes informal teaching mode. All of these traditional methods have been brought under the guiding principles of the 7 God Directed Deviations listed above and they may not look exactly like what people are used to, but it has produced multi-generational disciples and disciple-makers.

The subject matter of our weekly gatherings has not been so traditional. With each week we encourage discussion amongst new believers and we have practical homework. For example, we in the States are used to finding bargains like “buy 2 get 1 free.” We decided as a group on several occasions to “buy 2 give 1 free.” We instructed in this manner: In the course of your daily lives this next week, whatever you need to buy, and if possible, buy 2, milk bread etc. Then find a person to give the second item to, someone in need. If they ask why you are doing this, explain the love of Christ to them. In this manner entire communities were affected.

All of our subject matter has also come under the guiding principles above. We have had a Discipleship Conference that was very successful at motivating others to make disciples in their communities. As a capstone to these practices, we have also instituted small discipleship groups of no more than 4 people (a variation of “Life Transformation Groups”*) and entire communities are involved in these as well. We can’t say that we have figured out the secret to making multi and trans-generational disciples, nor would we want to, but many have asked how we have gotten where we are. I hope this helps to answer some questions and I would be happy to give further details to those who would like them. You may also leave your comments below.

In and For Him,
Miguel Labrador

A Prayer About Jesus’ Tenacious Questioning

by Scotty Smith

Jesus, we’re always vulnerable to the destructive power of sin, but it seems like we’re especiallyvulnerable when there’s some kind of emotional upheaval in our hearts. Like Cain, when we’re angry and sulking about something or someone (Abel), we can be easily “had” by sin, giving into its desire—its seductive and destructive ways. O for the Day when the season of sin’s pleasure will be ended forever (Heb. 11:25; Rev. 21:1-5).

Jesus, thank you for tenaciously pursing us and asking searching questions like, “Why are you angry?”, or, “Why are you so downcast?”, or “What do you fear?”, or “Why are you so quiet and distant?” Though you know the answer to these and every question you ask, we probably don’t. Gracious heart-knower, show us our hearts… show me my heart. What are these emotions really saying? What sins are waiting to take these feelings and have a destructive field day?

I wish we only had to think about the sin that’s crouching just outside the door—the tempter and temptress without just waiting to pounce. But the truth is, Jesus, until you return to finish making all things new, we’ve got to be wise to the sin that’s crouching inside of us, as well. Like Paul, the very things we don’t want to do, we still do… and the very things we want to do, they’re not easily done. We long for more freedom to live and to love as we’re loved by you.

How I praise you there’s no condemnation hanging over me for my sin… for you hung on the cross in my place. How I praise you that to be tempted is not an act of sin, for even you, Jesus, were tempted. I would despair if this were not the case. You have mastered sin for us. You’ve exhausted its penalty and broken it’s power. Sin will not have dominion over us ever again.

In this good news… in this gospel.. I trust today. As you show me my vulnerable heart, Jesus, show me your compassionate and loving heart ten times over. That will more than meet my need. So very Amen, I pray, in your strong, present and redeeming name.

 

A Whole Bible and a Whole Christian

by Tim Challies
Today the majority of those who read this site will be heading to church to hear a pastor preach the Word of God. A while back I jotted down several quotes about the Bible and thought I’d share them today. Hopefully many of you can read them before hearing the Word preached today. Each of these is worth reflecting on:

One of the many divine qualities of the Bible is that it does not yield its secrets to the irreverent and the censorious.”—J.I. Packer

The Word of God well understood and religiously obeyed is the shortest route to spiritual perfection. And we must not select a few favorite passages to the exclusion of others. Nothing less than a whole Bible can make a whole Christian.  —AW. Tozer

I hold that the words of Scripture were intended to have one definite sense, and adhere rigidly to it—To say the words do mean a thing merely because they can be tortured into meaning it is a most dishonorable and dangerous way of handling Scripture. —J.C. Ryle

Inasmuch as all Scripture is the product of a single divine mind, interpretation must stay within the bounds of the analogy of Scripture and eschew hypotheses that would correct one Biblical passage by another, whether in the name of progressive revelation or of the imperfect enlightenment of the inspired writer’s mind.” —The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy

“We approach Scripture with minds already formed by the mass of accepted opinions and viewpoints with which we have come into contact, in both the Church and the world.It is easy to be unaware that it has happened; it is hard even to begin to realize how profoundly tradition in this sense has moulded us. —J.I. Packer

God sometimes blesses a poor exegesis of a bad translation of a doubtful reading of an obscure verse of a minor prophet. —Alan Cole

I especially enjoyed Cole’s quote as I think all of us can think of times we have unintentionally misinterpreted something in the Bible, yet God has been good to us to bless us despite ourselves. J.C. Ryle’s quote stands as a warning that to use the Bible flippantly and outside of proper methods is both dishonoring and dangerous. The Chicago Statement reminds me that Scripture must (and will) interpret Scripture, not correct it.

The Bible is the way God has chosen to reveal himself to us. What a privilege that today we can hear him speak.

 

So why bother with C. S. Lewis?

by  Stanley J. Ward

Every year I attempt to answer this question for a lecture hall filled with high school seniors who are more interested in reading text messages than reading books. I don’t fault them for their lack of literary taste, as bloggers have taught us to expect three sentence paragraphs, and text messages contain sentences that are missing most of their vowels. In spite of these cultural trends, I still require my senior Bible students to spend an entire semester reading C. S. Lewis. Here’s why.

First, he is the best-known English speaking apologist of the 20th century. You may wonder how I know this – by some well-researched and statistically valid social science tool? No. I believe this to be true because everyone I meet at church, seminary, Christian camps, or Christian schools who know what an apologist is, also know about C. S. Lewis. And the vast majority of them love him. I tell my students that when they cite Lewis, they cite a recognizable source. And a recognizable source can be a helpful source when making an argument.

Still, simply being well-known does not make one a dependable source. So I next point out that Lewis was well-educated. Our school is a great books school, meaning we expect students to read Homer, Virgil, Dante, Milton, Shakespeare, Swift, and others. Lewis knew this material – he read the classics in their original languages. He was an Oxford graduate who earned top grades in three different degrees, and he also taught at Oxford and later became a full professor at Cambridge. Not bad for a kid whose formal education began under the tutelage of an insane headmaster (see his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, for more detail).

Third, while a well-known apologist and well-educated Christian thinker, he was not a professional theologian. His formal education was not in theology, and he did not write for other theology academics. Therefore, while he asked smart questions and provided smart answers, he was not writing about the theological minutiae that only academics would consider. Rather, he elucidated “mere Christianity.” He attempted to make foundational concepts clear through both philosophical argument and lively illustrations. In fact, part of what makes reading Lewis so enjoyable is that his illustrations often are his arguments.

Fourth, while scriptural references were not plentiful in his work, he did have a number of scriptural allusions. When we read Lewis a small alarm should go off in the back of our brain, saying “wait – that sounds familiar” and after a bit of time with a concordance (or the power of Google), we can find a number of scriptural passages that he internalized.

Which leads to my next point: Lewis combined a robust knowledge of classical literature and scripture with a well-developed imagination. The result: a Christian imagination. This was no small feat. During an era that grew in its worship of science and disdain for religion, Lewis supposed whole new realms of life (like Narnia) that illustrated deep truths. Not only could he illustrate great Christian truths, he made them desirable. Like his character Puddleglum in The Silver Chair, he proved that a made-up world could not only be a fair sight better than a so-called real one, but they could inspire us to make personal sacrifice. (Remember how Puddleglum stamped his feet in the Green Witch’s fire?) His portrayal of sin in The Great Divorce redefined the concept for me: not only was sin falling short of God’s glory, it was also falling short of being truly human (remember, we were made in God’s image). When I realized sin made me sub-human, I got a lot more serious about confessing my sins and taking action to correct them.

I’m willing to argue that a Christian imagination may be one of his greatest legacies for modern students. Even during Paul’s day, the message of the Gospel appeared foolish (“What? I’m supposed to love my enemies, and pray for those who persecute me? That’s nuts!”), and my students will one day enter classrooms or meeting rooms where well trained minds combined with anti-Christian presuppositions will make faith appear laughable. If my students can’t imagine something better than what their professors or co-workers offer, their faith is toast. At college, the arguments students encounter will be subtle and complex, and they need counter-arguments that are subtle and complex – like Lewis’ carefully developed arguments in Mere Christianity. Co-workers will need arguments that not only make sense, but that are made memorable. Lewis’ knack for imaginative illustration made his arguments memorable.

But one of my reasons for teaching Lewis is also highly personal: he encourages me. One example: during a difficult season of my life (one filled with both personal and academic challenges to my faith) I entered a used book store and found a daily reader filled with bits of C. S. Lewis articles. To my surprise, delight, and eventual relief, those daily Lewis readings lined up with many of the battles I faced. Reading Lewis helped me through a difficult season of life, convincing me that despite the intellectual and personal chaos surrounding me, Christianity not only made sense, but it was the best option available. For that, I feel a personal debt of gratitude.

Though Lewis is not particularly difficult reading, his style is unlike that which most high school students have read. Thus they find themselves wrestling with his arguments in Mere Christianity, and confused by the initial ethical inversion of Screwtape Letters. My response to them: like Jacob, sometimes we must wrestle before we can be blessed. Lewis is worth the struggle.

In his book An Experiment in Criticism, Lewis explained that reading widely offers us two major benefits: (1) the opportunity to experience places we’ve never experienced before, and (2) the opportunity to think thoughts we’ve never before considered. I encourage my students to read Lewis because he is an adventure into new dimensions (like Narnia), onto other planets (as in The Space Trilogy), and into whole new ways of interpreting life here on earth (like one of his famous illustrations from Mere Christianity – that a striptease act is equivalent to slowly removing the cover from a plate of food, and then suddenly turning out the lights).

Please, don’t just go see the latest Narnia movie and miss the real adventure. Read Lewis.

Stanley J. Ward serves as the Biblical Worldview Director at The Brook Hill School (www.brookhill.org) and frequently speaks at conferences (www.stanleyjward.com). He is also a PhD candidate and napkin theologian (www.napkinvideo.com).

 

People think that holiness is dull

by CS Lewis

How little people know who think that holiness is dull. When one meets the real thing, it is irresistible.