Monthly Archives: February 2009

Prompted

I had a unique and unexpected experience the other day.  I was having a breakfast meeting in a restaurant with the chair of a missions committee.  When we had finished the meal, I asked the waitress for the bill and she replied, “That has already been taken care of.  That couple over there has paid for your breakfast.”  We were stunned and wondered if we knew them (or they us!), but when we went over to thank them, they were strangers.

“Do you mind if I ask why you did this?” I ventured.  The woman replied, “I felt that this was something I should do.  God bless you!”

“Are you Christians?” I asked.  “Yes,” she responded with a smile.  We exchanged contact information and promised to pray for each other.

As I later meditated on this experience, I was moved both by the expression of God’s love I had experienced, and also by the willingness of these people to make sacrifices at the prompting of the Spirit.  Too often I dismiss such promptings as fanciful, when I should be more attuned to the way God’s Spirit is at work.  The following day I wrote them this email:

I would like to express again my appreciation for your willingness to follow the Spirit’s promptings in your life.  Your action has done far more for me than provide breakfast!  I have felt affirmed and blessed by God through this.  The fact that God would use you to speak such a message of encouragement to me has been both challenging and comforting.   Not only is it exciting to meet people such as yourselves who are living out the reality of listening to the Spirit of God, but to have God care for me in that way through you has reaffirmed the belief that God is a loving father who brings people and instances into our lives that are in reality his hand of mercy and grace. 

Your faithfulness in this has also challenged me to be more sensitive to the Spirit’s promptings in my life.  I have a friend who listens to the Spirit when he is having conversations with others and is often prompted to say things to others for reasons of which he is unaware.  Often people will come back and thank him for letting God use him to speak into their lives.

It is all God’s mission, we are along for the ride.

 

 

Ministry Assessment Process

Human beings have been creating simple maps before they knew how to write. The oldest maps in the world pre-date the third millennium before Christ. Our desire to locate ourselves and find our destination seems to be as old as human creation itself. And this cartographic creativity is not limited to one group of human beings. Various ancient cultures created their own maps.

Locating ourselves in terms of God’s purposes requires a different kind of map. This April as part of our annual Fellowship Convention and Leadership Conference Northwest is introducing the Ministry Assessment Process (M.A.P.). This is a collaborative initiative under the auspices of the Fellowship Centre for Leadership Development, with initial funding provided by a grant from the Baptist Foundation.

Dr. Lyle SchragM.A.P. offers individuals in our churches the opportunity to explore deeply God’s calling and direction for ministry. We have invited pastors to recommend individuals and be willing to mentor them as they begin this journey of exploration. At the end of the process our goal is for each participant to understand God’s calling in life and to have designed an equipping pathway to move intentionally in that direction.

If our Fellowship of churches is to be healthy and achieving its vision, we know that many more, godly, effective ministry leaders must be discerned, mentored and equipped. The M.A.P. initiative represents another means by which Northwest seeks to serve effectively as a primary leadership development agency within the Western Regions of our Fellowship. Our intent is to re-ignite within our churches a keener awareness of God’s calling into ministry.

I am also pleased to report that The Journey, our Centre for Graduate Ministry Leadership Training in Edmonton, has completed its second cycle of courses this February. Dr. Kent Anderson was one of the teachers, offering a course in preaching. The third series of courses will be offered in May, 2009.

Planning, implementing and sustaining ministry leadership training initiatives requires significant personnel and financial resources. These are intensive Kingdom training activities, deserving the very best resources we can provide. Your continued investment in Northwest Baptist Seminary ensures their success. The long term health of our churches and other Kingdom ministries depends upon it.

Thank you for your consistent prayer and financial support for our ministry.

The Canada/US Border and the Borderless Gospel

Today, President Obama crossed the 49th parallel for his first official foreign visit…to Canada.

News reports, media conversation, and general talk around the water cooler here in Canada is all very hopeful that things get off to a smooth start between Obama and Harper, that the conversation will be amicable and positive and that these two men and their respective administrations will be able to work together to our countries’ mutual benefit on issues like the economy and security.

I wonder if President Obama had problems crossing the border?

I remember just a few years ago how much easier it used to be crossing the border. Now, we all sluff along through airport security gates without our shoes, belts, or coins in our pockets, holding onto our trousers while our bags are scanned for "threatening objects." Vehicles are more closely scrutinized and their license plates photographed, occupants are more intensively questioned by customs agents, passports and other documents are more closely examined.  And its happening on both sides of the border.

That marvelous 3,000 mile long undefended border of ancient fame and boast has grown remote.  It’s been replaced by something much thicker, less porous, taking much longer and being much harder to cross.

The other day I saw on the news that the first unmanned US drone has begun to fly along the US/Canada border. The promise is that there will soon be more of them overhead. I wonder when they’ll be equipped with weapons, in addition to the awesome array of sophisticated surveillance equipment?

While I can understand some of this, post-9/11, there is a certain irony to it for those of us living in the Pacific Northwest.

At the White Rock/Bellingham border crossing point there’s a park and in that park is a peace arch. It declares that the US and Canada are "Children of a Common Mother." While it says we’re family, it certainly doesn’t feel that way anymore. Last time I visited my brother, I don’t recall being interrogated, frisked or x-rayed–that’s just not the family thing to do … although it is polite to remove your shoes as you cross the threshold.

In this kind of a climate, where the walls are going up throughout the world, the spiritual witness of a peaceable borderlessness in the church can be quite powerful.

Paul instructed the Ephesians, many of whom were Gentiles by birth, that the costly work of Christ was all about their inclusion, citizenship, and enfranchisement to the blessings of God along with believing Jews. Jesus’ crucifixion, Paul declared,

"made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit." (Ephesians 2:14-18)

How penetrable is the threshold of your church to the newly-converted? Is it like the Canada/US border is becoming or is it more like the Christian community of Christ’s re-creation?

 

 

Let’s Get the Application Right!

I just spent some time working through Haddon Robinson’s excellent article, The Heresy of Application with a group of students. Robinson contends that there is more heresy preached in application than through exegesis. It is when we try to concretize the listener’s response to God’s Word that we often get in trouble. In our attempt to help people with practical aspects of their life experience, we sometimes credit God with things he never actually said.

Does the Bible promise that if we raise our children as Christians, that they will always life faithfully for Christ? Does the Word of God promise that husbands and wives who submit to each other will never experience disharmony in their marriages? Well, no, despite the fact that these things are often preached that way.

There are several kinds of implications that can arise from the texts we preach, Robinson says. “For example, a necessary implication of “You shall not commit adultery” is you cannot have a sexual relationship with a person who is not your spouse. A probable implication is you ought to be very careful of strong bonding friendships with a person who is not your spouse. A possible implication is you ought not travel regularly to conventions or other places with a person who is not your spouse. An improbable conclusion is you should not at any time have lunch with someone who is not your spouse. An impossible implication is you ought not have dinner with another couple because you are at the same table with a person who is not your spouse. Too often preachers give to a possible implication all the authority of a necessary implication, which is at the level of obedience. Only with necessary implications can you preach, ‘Thus saith the Lord.’”

Those of us who care about honoring God by getting the text right, will also want to make sure that we get the application right as well.

A Brief Note on Gunaikes in 1 Timothy 3:11 – Deacons or Wives?

In response to one of my blogs someone asked how we are to understand the role of the women mentioned in 1 Timothy 3:11. Are they to be included among the diakonoi, i.e. deacons, or were they the wives of male diakonoi. In other words, did women serve in an official capacity as diakonoi (deacons) in the early church?

Responding to such a question requires more space than a blog provides. However, the query directly asked whether Charles Ryrie’s statement that Paul could have used “diakonos with the feminine article or diakonissa would probably have come to his mind” (Charles Ryrie, The Role of Women in the Church (Chicago: Moody Press, 1958), 91), if he had intended to state that women were serving as diakonoi, was supported by the evidence.
Howard Marshall in The Pastoral Epistles (London: T. & T. Clark, 1999), 493 notes that “no feminine form of diakonos existed to serve as a technical designation.” William Mounce, Pastoral Epistles (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000), 202 says that “the feminine form of the word diakonos (diakonissa) had not yet been created.”So diakonissa was not a option for Paul at this time. By far the majority of uses documented come much later than the New Testament period. The major Classical Greek Lexicon compiled by Liddell and Scott list one example found in an inscription, but it offers no proposed dating for this inscription. So I think that Marshall and Mounce are right in saying that a feminine form diakonissa did not exist when Paul was writing 1Timothy and so Ryrie is wrong in this part of his argument.
Paul could have written hai diakonoi, using the feminine form of the Greek article to signal that he was referring to female deacons. Herbert Smyth, Greek Grammar (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1956), 46) states that “many nouns denoting persons are either masculine or feminine.” He cites the noun pais as an example. With the masculine article it means ‘boy’, but with the feminine article it means ‘girl’. Diakonos has the same characteristic.
If Paul is referring to female deacons, he seems to have chosen a different strategy. In this section where he is discussing the general character of diakonoi, he includes a section that refers to the general character of female deacons, but refers to them simply as gunaikes. He then completes his discussion by mentioning some specific behaviour that should characterize male deacons. We might question why Paul does not discuss all aspects of male deacons first and then talk about “the women” deacons, but Paul is the writer. We can only speculate why he chose to write it in this order.
As Ryrie points out, Phoebe, in Romans 16:1 is described as diakonon t?s ekkl?sias, i.e. deacon/servant of the church which is in Cenchrea. In this context Paul is quite comfortable using the noun diakonos to describe her. 
Certainly the term diakonos can be applied to a woman (e.g. Phoebe), but whether in such a case it has a technical or general sense remains debated. That Paul connects Phoebe in this role with a specific church might argue for more of a technical, official sense. How such officials functioned in the early church and whether male and female diakonoi exercised the same roles is unclear. We have to work very hard lest we read back our 21st century assumptions as to what women can and cannot do in the church, into the first century emerging Christian house churches as described in the New Testament.

 

 

The Anatomy of Atheistic Slogans

I’m sure some have heard the slogans about to appear on city buses, from Montreal to Vancouver, many times before in their lives. Two of them run as follows; "There’s probably No God", or "There is no God so Stop Worrying". O really? Is this the best that atheistic societies can come up with? Why not use the more forceful and certainly more interesting "God is Dead!" slogan on Frederic Nietzsche. You cannot help but feel for these folk as they attempt to come to grips with their minority status in the realm of ideas today. As for "worrying" what God might mean for our lives, this slogan completely misses the mark. Even avid theists stopped worrying about what God means for them long ago. One might call these people ‘theoretical theists but practical atheists’. They populate the pews of nearly every church in the land, including the most conservative of Evangelical churches. We theologians call this condition the late modern religious malaise. Our lives in the west have been so comfortable and self-sustaining over the last 60 plus years that one only need nod in the direction of the divine, now and then. The rest of the time God can be forgotten. If our times have any distinguishing feature it is not atheism or theism but, as the Germans say, Gottesgewissenheit, or ‘God-forgetfulness.’There is no God poster

We might have seen something of a return to concern about our relation to the divine in the current circumstances, perhaps even a substantial increase in such since 9/11, but by and large the last half of the 20th, and the dawn of the 21st, century in the west was hardly marked by a theistically induced angst, given the socio-economic situation. If there is an overwhelming slogan for what is really going on it would be "God is forgotten" or "forget God and live as you please". This was the condition of Israel as stated at the end of the book of Judges in the Hebrew Bible where it says "everyone did as he saw fit." (Jdg. 21:25) We in the west have not viewed God as a serious threat to our existence since the rumbling guns of WW I & II faded away in the 1950’s.

While we are perhaps headed for another round of questioning our existence in relation to the divine in the not to distant future, we are hardly there yet. A lot more has to happen before the tenuousness of our existence is so forced on our horizon that we are driven to a re-examination of our lives in relation to the possibility of the existence of the divine. The fact is the softness with which these slogans are putting the question may well engender a new and fresh round of clear, unmitigated theism. Perhaps a better slogan might be "Shush! God is Asleep" or "Please Don’t Wake God." Atheists would have better success in furthering their agenda if they promoted this practical atheism then raising the specter of theoretical atheism, which is sure to be met by an equally ardent theism, especially from the serious followers of God in the so-called "monotheistic faiths." C’mon you can do better than that can’t you. Perhaps the problem is the reverse for atheists that it is for theists. Perhaps they have become so accustomed to living life without God that they secretly miss fighting with God and are now bucking for a fresh brew-ha-ha with the divine, and God’s supporters. One cannot help thinking though that their slogans are just as insipid as the practical atheism of the theists. Picture a big yawn from the current writer at this point, and do wake me up when this is over.

As for the slogan "There’s Probably No God", this is said with all the gusto of a politician, testing the waters to see if he/she should venture the "full Monty" and say outright, "there is no God". Perhaps they are awaiting the polling data on this slogan. This slogan will only invite the opposite sentiment, "perhaps there is a God" in the mind of the reader of such a slogan? What then? How should we live even if God is only ever confined to the realm of probability, either way? Perhaps this is the secret angst that sits at the heart of the late modern religious malaise? We cannot seem to break the spell of Kantanian agnosticism. All of our reasoning either for or against leaves us both wanting more and less of the divine? In fact, the slogan really does point to the real struggle the atheists are having. Since their reason militates against the affirmation of God, but does not permit them absolute proof, they are always suspended in (dis)-belief. They exist in a kind of intellectual "no-mans-land" (with due respect to "women" here). The best they can hope for is that we will be reaffirmed in out late modern religious malaise and continue to forget about God. But again they are begging the question when they put it out there is such a public way. What happens if the net result of their advertising issues in a re-affirmation of strong theism in the land generally. How will they spend the next several years in their discussion groups? What ever will they do with the rest of their advertising money? How will they come to grips with the money they wasted? Here’s a slogan for you theists out there, "There Are No Real Atheists so Stop Worrying." I know I already have. God will be God in the Freedom that is God’s to be God and not a wit of whit from theists or atheist will change that! So good night and sleep tight!

“There is probably no God”

This is GREAT! A Canada-wide evangelism campaign organized and funded by atheist and humanist societies.  Atheist and humanist societies in Canada are following a similar move in England to post slogans on the sides of buses and in other locations, one of which reads, “There is probably no God.  Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”

Perhaps you are not as excited about this as I am, as it is obviously intended to be an anti-religious campaign.  But consider the reality: perhaps the greatest stumbling block in our efforts to speak with people on a spiritual level concerning Jesus is the Canadian taboo about discussing religion.  Faith is a “private” matter.  To break down this barrier and engage people about the gospel is very difficult. How do we bridge the gap and initiate a significant conversation without being invasive? Well, good news! God has orchestrated a campaign, free of charge, to break through the barrier.

Please do not be offended at the slogan.  God isn’t threatened by it.  Instead, take advantage of the opportunity to ask people what they think of it.  They may give you opportunity to do the same.  I read about a Christian bus driver in England who refused to drive a bus with that slogan on the side, and the company is accommodating him.  He is following his conscience, and it is good that his position is being respected.   However, can you imagine the opportunity?  I think I would enjoy taking a poll with the people coming on the bus: “Do you agree or disagree with the slogan?”  I think that could start some great conversations.

having the issue raised publicly provides us the opportunity to speak

Think about the stimulating and helpful questions that arise from the slogan: “Is there less worry without God, or only less hope?”  “Can we truly enjoy life if there is no purpose or meaning to it?” “What kind of God do these people think probably doesn’t exist?” “If God doesn’t exist, do love and morals exist?”  We don’t need to have clever answers to these questions, but having the issue raised publicly by others provides us the opportunity to speak of our hope in a God of love who has revealed himself in Jesus.

This situation brings to mind a number of Bible verses. “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Gen 50:20 TNIV) and “In the LORD’s hand the king’s heart is a stream of water that he channels toward all who please him” (Prov 21:1 TNIV). Take advantage and enjoy your conversations.

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If Your Right Hand Offends You…

Jesus uses extreme images in teaching how we should live the Christian life. For example, in the Sermon on the Mount at Matthew 5:27-30, he taught this:

"You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lusfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away.  It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell."

Jesus’ point is decidedly not to recommend acts of naive self harm, as though gouging out an eye or cutting off a hand will keep our minds from impure thoughts. Rather, by these shocking images of harm he is helping us to see that we need a righteousness in the area of marital faithfulness that surpasses that of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. He is interested in his disciples’ outer life to be sure. But he is also just as keen to address the inner life because that is the root from which the fruit of behavior comes.

It strikes me that the images Jesus uses are intended to compel us to ask ourselves whether we, in response to his teaching and with the help of God’s Holy Spirit, are consciously and seriously engaged in strategies for self preservation in how we relate to our spouses and think about those who are not. What do we allow and forbid ourselves and how does this affect our actions and our thought life. Are we living with a conscious and serious intent?Aron Ralston

The story of Aron Ralston is a shockingly powerful modern illustration of the dynamics that stand back of Jesus’ teaching.

Ralston is the young climber who became trapped in a three foot wide section of the Blue John Canyon in Canyonlands National Park in Utah when an 800 pound boulder shifted, pinning him by his forearm. After four long days his water ran out. On the sixth day he knew that he would die in the canyon. Help had still not come. So, he committed himself to an extreme resort that, when the story got out, shocked the world and made him an instant celebrity.

Ralston cut off his own arm.

Applying a tourniquet just below his elbow, he did the deed with his own knife. No anesthetic; no going back. He then rappelled sixty feet to the canyon floor and hiked out some seven miles before a rescue helicopter spotted him and rushed him to a medical center.

At a press conference, when he was asked what it felt like to cut off his own arm, reporters were shocked by his reply.

He said, "My self-amputation was a beautiful experience because it gave me my life back." (my emphasis added).

Ralston’s action, like Jesus’ images, was not about self harm. Rather, it was about self preservation.

Discerning God’s Plans

His Mighty Power at Work in Us” (Eph. 3:20)

We are almost two months into our new fiscal year. The strategic plan I presented to the Board for 2009 gradually is unfolding, but the energy required to move our desired projects from idea, through planning, to implementation and then evaluation and redesign is immense.

With God it is different. He speaks and the universe is created. No gap exists between his thought and the actualization of his thought. He has no limits to his ideas, his power, and his presence. His ideas may have stages, but their implementation happens effortlessly. He feels no weariness or doubts. With God, second-guessing never occurs. He sees the end from the beginning. Resources are never lacking. His will does get done “on earth” and “in heaven.” Not so with us.

God tells us in his word that unless our plans are in step with his they ultimately will fail. We believe that God can turn our failures into his successes because He is God. However, the opposite is not true – we cannot bend God’s plans to serve our personal agendas.

I think the greatest challenge believers have, particularly believers in positions of leadership, is to discern God’s plans and seek to align the mission and vision of their ministry as much as possible with God’s agenda. This is easier said than done. Even when we seek to gather God’s wisdom through a group of mature Christian leaders, like a board of governors, it is an act of faith to expect we can and will discern God’s direction.

One of these “acts of faith” embedded in our 2009 strategic plan focuses upon training Children’s Ministry leaders. In the past few years God has generated among Evangelical churches a new vision for children’s ministry, but finding effective, competent leaders for such ministries has proven to be challenging. God has put the desire within our collective hearts at Northwest to try and respond to this leadership deficit. Despite numerous discussions, the way forward has not been clear. However, thanks be to God, we can see a program for training Children’s Ministry Leaders potentially in place and implemented by September, 2009. Perhaps God is signaling to us that it is time for us to walk in step with Him in this initiative.

We know that such training will contribute to the health of Christ’s church, the salvation and discipling of many children, and the accomplishment of God’s Kingdom plans.

Please pray with me that God will help us faithfully initiate this program – another small, but significant step in Kingdom building. Your investments in Northwest form part of this divine planning and enabling.

When we live and serve “under God’s mighty hand” we know “his power is at work in us” (Eph. 3:20).