The Foolishness of God

A reading from 1 Corinthians 1:18-31:

18 For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, ” I WILL DESTROY THE WISDOM OF THE WISE, AND THE CLEVERNESS OF THE CLEVER I WILL SET ASIDE.” 20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. 22 For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. 26 For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; 27 but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28 and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, 29 so that no man may boast before God. 30 But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, 31 so that, just as it is written, ” LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD.”

The Word of God for the People of God. Thanks be to God

Hallelujah

One of the things humans avoid at all costs is to be seen as foolish. To be foolish means to lack good sense or judgment. If I were to ask you to share the time you felt the most foolish, I bet there would be no hesitation in your memory to bring up that awful moment. Our foolishness has a way of lodging itself in our psyche to the point that some people need therapy to get past foolish episodes and the humiliation that goes along with it.

My memory has no problem bringing up my first memorable foolish moment. I was in probably the second grade when it happened. We were working on an art project, and I started daydreaming and quietly singing a silly little song, over and over again. When I finally came to myself, the teacher and all my classmates were looking at me with laughter in their eyes, holding back the real laughter that came seconds later. I did not need therapy to get past this, but it is something I will always remember.

In our reading for this morning, the words foolish or foolishness appear six times in the 14 verses. We see that because God is wise, He uses foolishness to dismantle the wisdom humans think they walk in.

Let’s look behind the scenes of this portion of scripture and get a sense of what Paul was saying and why. Paul was writing to a church that he founded and spent 18 months with at the end of his second missionary journey. Corinth was a center of religion, commerce, and a mix of Greek, Roman, and oriental thought. Although not to the extent of nearby Athens, Corinth was, in short, proud, busy, and intellectual.  Besides carnality reigning in the culture, it was alive in the church, as well. It seems, as Paul wrote later to the Romans, that the Corinthians thought higher of themselves than they should and lacked sober judgment.

I have broken our reading into four sections, adding additional scriptural references and comments to each. The first section is verses 18-19:

For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, ” I WILL DESTROY THE WISDOM OF THE WISE, AND THE CLEVERNESS OF THE CLEVER I WILL SET ASIDE.”

Paul begins this portion of scripture with a quote from Isaiah 29:14. I believe whenever an Old Testament scripture is quoted in the New Testament, that it is worth our time to look at what is quoted in the context it was quoted in the Old to gain a clearer picture of the import that scripture has in the New. Let’s read Isaiah 29:14 in the context of verses 13-16 for a fuller understanding. Isaiah 29:13-16:

13 Then the Lord said, “Because this people draw near with their words And honor Me with their lip service, But they remove their hearts far from Me, And their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote, 14 Therefore behold, I will once again deal marvelously with this people, wondrously marvelous; And the wisdom of their wise men will perish, And the discernment of their discerning men will be concealed.” 15 Woe to those who deeply hide their plans from the LORD, And whose deeds are done in a dark place, And they say, ” Who sees us?” or “Who knows us?” 16 You turn things around! Shall the potter be considered as equal with the clay, That what is made would say to its maker, “He did not make me”; Or what is formed say to him who formed it, “He has no understanding”?

Isaiah is talking here about religion; traditions and reverence learned by rote, versus a heart relationship with God. Religion is a mind game. John Wesley was famous for his letters. The Rev. Ted A. Campbell, associate professor of church history at Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology, a scholar on Wesley’s letters, estimates Wesley wrote nearly 18,000 of them. Some were only a sentence or two and others were many pages long. Wesley wrote to one recipient, “Beware you be not swallowed up in books! An ounce of love is worth a pound of knowledge.” Now Wesley was not against knowledge. In fact, he encouraged his lay preachers to read deep and wide on many subjects. What Wesley was against was people becoming proud because of their knowledge and not ministering in the love of Christ to others.

Humanism and Postmodernism are, at their core, man’s attempt to increase his knowledge so he can “think his way out” of moral issues using intellectual prowess. Sin is not something man can think his way out of. Sin is a heart sickness that requires a heart remedy. The cross of Christ is that remedy.

Section two contains verses 20-25:

 Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?  For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

Here, Paul continues, equating those perishing with the worldly wisdom that they boast about. He later expanded on this theme in the first chapter of his epistle to the Romans. Romans 1:16-25 says,

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ” BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.” For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.  For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.  For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.  Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

Does it get any clearer, that we live in an age where man has remained futile in his speculations and acts from a heart of foolishness?

Our third section is verses 26-29:

For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God.

Paul powerfully here echoes Jeremiah, the prophet, from chapter 8, verses 4-13, where it is written:

4 “You shall say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD, “Do men fall and not get up again? Does one turn away and not repent? 5 “Why then has this people, Jerusalem, Turned away in continual apostasy? They hold fast to deceit, They refuse to return. 6 “I have listened and heard, They have spoken what is not right; No man repented of his wickedness, Saying, ‘What have I done?’ Everyone turned to his course, Like a horse charging into the battle. 7 “Even the stork in the sky Knows her seasons; And the turtledove and the swift and the thrush Observe the time of their migration; But My people do not know the ordinance of the LORD.  8 ” How can you say, ‘We are wise, And the law of the LORD is with us’? But behold, the lying pen of the scribes Has made it into a lie. 9 “The wise men are put to shame, They are dismayed and caught; Behold, they have rejected the word of the LORD, And what kind of wisdom do they have? 10 “Therefore I will give their wives to others, Their fields to new owners; Because from the least even to the greatest Everyone is greedy for gain; From the prophet even to the priest Everyone practices deceit. 11 “They heal the brokenness of the daughter of My people superficially, Saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ But there is no peace. 12 “Were they ashamed because of the abomination they had done? They certainly were not ashamed, And they did not know how to blush; Therefore they shall fall among those who fall; At the time of their punishment they shall be brought down,” Says the LORD. 13 “I will surely snatch them away,” declares the LORD; “There will be no grapes on the vine And no figs on the fig tree, And the leaf will wither; And what I have given them will pass away.”‘”

And that snatching away is not an Old Testament reference to a pretribulation rapture. Rather, it refers to the snatching away or consuming of the harvest, which is their punishment.

Our final section is verses 30-31:

But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, ” LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD.”

This is a reference to what is written in Jeremiah 9:23-24, and I will end with this:

23 Thus says the LORD, ” Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; 24 but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the LORD. 

When Jesus Comes a Calling

Christ Calling the Apostles Peter and Andrew
Duccio di Buoninsegna

Matthew 4:12-23

Now when Jesus heard that John had been taken into custody, He withdrew into Galilee; and leaving Nazareth, He came and settled in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali. This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet: ” THE LAND OF ZEBULUN AND THE LAND OF NAPHTALI, BY THE WAY OF THE SEA, BEYOND THE JORDAN, GALILEE OF THE GENTILES– 

” THE PEOPLE WHO WERE SITTING IN DARKNESS SAW A GREAT LIGHT, AND THOSE WHO WERE SITTING IN THE LAND AND SHADOW OF DEATH, UPON THEM A LIGHT DAWNED.”  From that time Jesus began to preach and say, ” Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Now as Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who was called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. And He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. Going on from there He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and He called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him. Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people.

The Word of God for the people of God! Thanks be to God!

Have you ever dreamed of something new? Maybe it’s a new car or new house. Perhaps a new job or at least a promotion. Some people dream of a new relationship, where all the conflicts in their current relationship will suddenly be swept away. Yes, that would do it.

The problem is, when and if we get the new thing, whatever that is for us, we are usually not prepared for what comes along with it. A new car means higher insurance premiums and with all the new electronics in cars today, repair bills can be more than expensive.

A new house comes with its own set of challenges. Unless it’s just been built, there are things like roofs, heating and cooling systems, hot water tanks, plumbing misfortunes, and a host of other maintenance chores that must be planned and budgeted for.

New jobs can be great but often take time you hadn’t planned on to get up to speed. And there are no guarantees you’re going to like it. Promotions are the same, with your employer’s expectations rising for you the higher you go.

We tend to take our shortcomings into a new relationship and the new ends up being a mirror of what we should have figured out in the old.

I can vouch for my statements because each new thing I just mentioned, I have had. The new car, the new house, the new job, and the promotions. I’ve had the new relationships, too. And I stand by my guns that we are seldom prepared for what comes with something new.

Today in Matthew 4, we read of Jesus calling four of his disciples; Peter, Andrew, James and John. These men were fishermen. It was their life and livelihood. They were in family businesses like many others who lived by the sea of Galilee. It was expected that these young men would follow their father’s footsteps and continue the family trade. Was there ever a question in their minds that there was more to life than fishing? Were there ever dreams in their hearts for something new?

When Jesus came a calling, what was in that calling? In other words, what did Jesus expect of these men of Galilee and what did they expect of Jesus? In Jesus’ day, it was common for rabbis to practice a trade part of the time and teach part of the time. It was common for disciples to work part time, too. Some rabbis were from priestly families, so they would have a stipend from the Temple, but many were manual laborers. Remember, Jesus was a carpenter. The word really means a construction worker, either in wood or in stone. We don’t see Jesus doing that work, even part time, after His baptism when His public ministry began. Some disciples might work seasonally and take time off between planting and harvesting, etc. This makes sense with how the Gospel accounts describe the disciples fishing occasionally, even after they had become disciples of Jesus.

Often disciples would travel together with a rabbi, and they would take weeks away to go on a teaching trip. A disciple had to ask his wife’s permission to be away from home to study longer than 30 days. When they traveled, rabbis and disciples would pool their money to buy food. Jesus received contributions from wealthy women, and they were known for supporting other rabbis too. When they traveled, the villages they taught in were expected to extend hospitality, giving them food and shelter.[i]

We know from our reading that the four fishermen left their boats, left their nets, left their fathers, and left their steady income to follow the Rabbi, Jesus. I believe this is what Jesus expected of them. It was part of the deal.

In Matthew 8:21-22 we read, “Another of the disciples said to Him, ‘Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.’  But Jesus said to him, ‘Follow Me, and allow the dead to bury their own dead.’” Now this might sound harsh, unless we knew the rest of the story. Biblical scholars suggest the man was not asking to literally bury his father, but rather to take a leave of absence from his spiritual duties to return home and care for the material care of his aging father, until his death, with no guarantee how long that might be. The unnamed disciple wanted Jesus to bless his request to follow Him at a more convenient time. Jesus asked the man to put the things of God first and let other family members care for the everyday needs of someone Jesus knew was spiritually dead already. There was an eagerness Jesus sensed in the fishermen, and the other disciples He called. There was no eagerness in this disciple.

The calling of God is never convenient. In first Kings 19:19-21 we read the calling of Elisha by Elijah:

So he departed from there and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, while he was plowing with twelve pairs of oxen before him, and he with the twelfth. And Elijah passed over to him and threw his mantle on him. 

He left the oxen and ran after Elijah and said, “Please let me kiss my father and my mother, then I will follow you.” And he said to him, “Go back again, for what have I done to you?” 

So he returned from following him, and took the pair of oxen and sacrificed them and boiled their flesh with the implements of the oxen, and gave it to the people and they ate. Then he arose and followed Elijah and ministered to him.

Why was this different than the story in Matthew 8? Elisha went home to bid his parents farewell, not to ask their permission. And then he sacrificed the oxen he was plowing with along with the implements, symbolically giving up his life, his livelihood, and his family to follow the calling of God upon his life. 

It is said that John Wesley rode 250,000 miles on horseback, gave away 30,000 British pounds, preached more than 40,000 sermons, and wrote or contributed to over 400 books and other writings.  Just how convenient does that sound?

So what happens “When Jesus comes a calling?” We’ve already seen several aspects that help answer that question. There is, however, one last aspect I want to present; that being God calling us to a life of functional holiness. David N. Field, in the August 15, 2017 online issue of Ministry Matters, gives us a clear picture of what holiness looks like from a Wesleyan perspective.

So what was Wesley on about when he spoke of holiness? Firstly, we must distinguish it from some common substitutes. Holiness is not moralism — the following of a system of rules and regulations that condemns and ostracizes those who do not keep them. It is not social activism — the pursuit of justice in the social and political realms. It is not simplistic charity — seeking from anadvantaged position to do good to the less fortunate. It is not “spirituality” devoid of theological or ethical content. At its core, holiness is a transformative relationship with God in Christ by the Spirit that liberates us from sin, and which empowers and motivates us to love God and our neighbors. A Wesleyan understanding of holiness has the following characteristics:
▪It is a life transformed and shaped by cruciform love — it is a self-sacrificial love that gives ultimate loyalty to God and seeks the integral and holistic well-being of others.

▪It is a holiness of heart and life — it includes both the transformation of our inner attitudes, motivations, and values and the transformation of our outward behavior. 
▪It is dynamic and reciprocal — a genuine inner transformation leads inevitably to outward behavioral change. At the same time, the expression of the change in concrete actions facilitates the growth and deepening of the inner change.   
▪It arises out of responsible grace — God initiates the transformative relationship but we must respond to God’s work. This leads to a spiral in growth as God in turn responds to our response.
▪It is integral and holistic — it includes and integrates personal, communal and social dimensions.
Wesley was convinced that the transformation brought about by the Spirit brought true fulfillment, for by participating in such transformation one was sharing in the goal for which God had created human beings. Thus holiness leads to happiness.

So, I asked earlier, “Have you ever dreamed of something new?” In the context of “When Jesus comes a calling,” are we prepared for what comes along with that calling? Are we ready for His calling us to obedience? Are we ready for His calling us to the unknown?  Are we ready for His calling us to put first things first? And are we ready for His calling us to functional holiness in our lives?

If we are, we are in for the adventure of our lives. Matthew 8:23 tells us, “Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people.” These are the things we will be part of if we heed His call and travel with the rabbi.  Amen


[i] https://ourrabbijesus.com/a-question-about-disciples-rabbis/

Wesleyan Small Group Structure as a Scriptural and Dynamic Model for Home Group Meetings

John Wesley, the father of Methodism, was thought to be an organizational genius in his day, even by those who did not agree with his doctrines. As we look at his small group structure, it is evident that it is a scriptural and dynamic model for home group meetings in our day, as well.

Before examining the Wesleyan structure, the scriptural basis for such a structure should be mentioned. Acts 2:42 tells of the early church structure employed directly after Pentecost with the addition of thousands of new believers, and bears resemblance to the Wesleyan model: “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42 NASB).

As Acts 2:42 tells it, continuing steadfast in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship is holding fast to the teachings of the Bible and to those who faithfully teach them. Know those who labor among you. Do not get caught up in a bunch of fringe teachings that will draw you away from the central tenants of the faith or get involved in ministries that are promoting such things.

Fellowship, or koinonia, is a transliterated form of the Greek word κοινωνία, which refers to joint participation, the share which one has in anything, a gift jointly contributed, a collection, a contribution, etc. Their fellowship was centered on their individual and communal devotion to Jesus Christ. This was love in action; friendship that was possible, vital, and relevant because of the constant presence of the One who “lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

Acts continues with the breaking of bread. Communion has become so common in our day.  The early disciples saw the bread and cup as not only a memorial to what Jesus had done, but a reminder of what Jesus expected them to do as well.  Do we embrace the persecution and cross that produced the broken body and blood in our own life on behalf of others? Or do we feel we can bypass that part of the Christian message, which is the Christian message?

And the prayers. Prayer was the power the early church relied on. The church today has largely replaced prayer time with social events wrapped in religious terminology. An amen at the end of the evening does not make it a time of prayer.

Although not an exact facsimile of the Acts 2:42 model, Wesleyan group structure has the components we see in Acts. The structure, although divided up into three distinct meeting types, can be easily adapted to delineate different stages in a 90-120-minute contemporary home group setting. We will now look at Societies, Classes, and Bands, and their distinct purpose within the Wesleyan mindset.

Societies were educational in nature, via lectures, preaching, and exhortation. These were held in larger settings where an ordained or assigned leader would expound on the faith. This was not a group participation meeting but rather a time for group teaching. We can liken this to the sermon or lesson time in a small group setting, i.e. the apostles’ doctrine.

Classes were transparent groups of 8-10 people who shared their struggles, victories, and encouraged one another toward great intimacy with Christ and one another. The personal experience of Christian living and the pastoral care of believers was at the heart of these meetings. This was a time for group participation and ministry. We can liken this to the sharing and caring time in a small group setting, i.e. fellowship and the breaking of bread (literally and spiritually).

Bands were even smaller groups focusing on a common desire of improving attitudes, emotions, feelings, intentions, and affections through what Wesley termed “close conversations.” These were times to share more personal matters that might not be advantageous in the larger group. These smaller homogenous groups were broken down by gender, age, and marital status. We can liken this to a personal ministry time in a small group setting, i.e. the breaking of spiritual bread and prayer.

Small group ministry is the perfect place for people to learn how to relate to others in a “spiritual” atmosphere. Many people are unsure of themselves in such a setting, especially if they are new in the faith. Five-fold ministry leadership has the responsibility to draw out of others what they may see as insignificant or insufficient. A perfect illustration of the significance and sufficiency of a “little” gift in the hands of God is seen in John 6.

Therefore Jesus, lifting up His eyes and seeing that a large crowd was coming to Him, said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these may eat?” This He was saying to test him, for He Himself knew what He was intending to do. Philip answered Him, ” Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, for everyone to receive a little.” One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to Him, “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are these for so many people?” Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. Jesus then took the loaves, and having given thanks, He distributed to those who were seated; likewise also of the fish as much as they wanted. When they were filled, He said to His disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments so that nothing will be lost.” So they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves which were left over by those who had eaten. (John 6:5-13)

In biblical numerology, the number 2 can mean the verification of facts by witnesses, the number 5 can represent grace, and the number 12, faith and completion. We must assume that the lad with the five barley loaves and two fish offered them graciously to the disciples. It is not likely that Andrew coerced the boy’s lunch from him. This offering became a witness to the power of God and how God’s grace reciprocates grace. The twelve baskets of leftovers not only became a witness to the lack of faith in the disciples, but God’s gracious provision for them anyway, a completion of grace upon grace.

1 Corinthians 14:26 in the VOICE (Thomas Nelson Publishers and Ecclesia Bible Society 2012) paints a picture of what the Apostle Paul, as well as John Wesley, was after in connection to body ministry. “What should you do then, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each person has a vital role because each has gifts. One person might have a song, another a lesson to teach, still another a revelation from God. One person might speak in an unknown language, another will offer the interpretation, but all of this should be done to strengthen the life and faith of the community.” The application is certainly easier to appreciate and implement in the small group setting.

Personal Gifts are the Best Because Life is Messy

My greatest gifts this year were personal gifts. They were seeing my aquaintences, friends, and family come through some hellish events and circumstances with a smile on their faces.

I watched as many fought illnesses of one kind or another. They are still with us, finding reasons to smile in the everyday workd of pain management and medication changes, and home nursing care. A few lost the fight but even they had a smile because they knew where they were headed.

I talked to some that were contemplating suicide. They are still here, ready to give life another chance.

Others lost loved ones; parents, siblings, children. They are still here, too, trying to put the pieces back together through grief unimaginable.

I talked to a lady at a Christmas party and we shared how hard a year 2019 had been for us both. But we are still here, looking forward to how God is going to bless us in 2020.

These were all presents to me because we are made to relate. We are made to cherish old friendships and cultivate new ones. You are the personal gifts that make me happy to pray for you, send a word of encouragement, or just whisper I love you when nothing else can be said.

Many blessings to you in 2020 and beyond.

Patrick

Birthday Presents to My Fragile Self

I turned 65 today. I spent yesterday reflecting on the previous year, not in recapping the joys of victories won, although there were some, but instead lamenting areas of fragility I’m learning to come to terms with.

Last year was the year of increased health issues that left me feeling vulnerable and weak. Nothing as overwhelming as my bout with myelofibrosis in 2008, but enough things stacked on top of each other to make their total weight a burden I found difficult to bear. Like a snowball rolling down a hill, the more it turned, the heavier it got. I can’t give enough praise to my wife, Janice, who, fighting her own health issues, was able to push that weight off me enough to keep me from being crushed. And thank you to Steve Garrett and Robert Boyet, who showed up at my apartment with a KFC lunch one day, and to Dee Swearingen for regularly checking up on me over coffee. And to the countless people I know were praying for me, thank you!

In light of all I’ve discussed here, I decided to give some birthday presents to my fragile self. Here they are.

1. I give my fragile self the right to feel fragile when he needs to.

2. I give my fragile self the permission to gain strength and heal.

3. I give my fragile self the opportunity to share with others to help them heal, too.

4. I give my fragile self the right to be optimistic about the future.

“For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees?  But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it. 

In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words;  and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?” (Rom. 8:24-31 NASB)

Happy Birthday to me!

Why Time Alone is Vital for Leaders

The nature of leadership is the nature of servitude. Leaders respond to servitude in giving of themselves in many ways in a variety of circumstances, some easier than others. Without times of solitude to get alone with our inner selves and calling, we can become hardened to the real needs around us and turn into machines that keep running but are mainly unproductive. Jesus took time away from the crowds and His disciples to pray and to listen. We are far more apt to sentimentalize His habit than we are to emulate His pattern by applying it to our lives.

Leaders are like batteries with a constant draw depleting their energy. Without times of recharging the power dwindles. Many leaders do not realize when their spiritual batteries are low. A weary leader will often switch from Spirit power to soul power without even realizing it and carry on for a season. Their charisma, personality, and persistence can mimic Spiritual power. They may still flow in the gifts of the Spirit. But a depleted soul is no soil for growing the fruit of the Spirit the Father is so eager to see. Time alone to recharge, re-evaluate, and refocus is critical to spiritual growth and longevity in the ministry.

I hear from many international leaders with a vision of what they want to accomplish. I do not look at their goals as unattainable, but I often question if their ideas are based solely on the needs they see around them. I also sense a spirit of competition in some to outdo other ministries in their area. When I visited Kampala, Uganda, in 2008, I took in a beautiful outdoor fruit market. Under the tent was stall after stall of every type of fruit imaginable. But every booth had the same fruit beautifully displayed. There was no distinction or uniqueness between the vendors. Buildings, sound systems, social programs, and the caring and feeding of orphans and widows are all exceptional in their place, but to have these things to best the pastor down the road is not worthy of God’s favor. It takes a leader willing to get alone with God to discern God’s particular vision for them and their ministry. Too many leaders have the “Messiah Complex,” putting pressure on themselves to be the savior of their world. No leader can be everything to everybody, and God never intended it to be so.

If a leader is too busy to get away, they are too busy. As a young leader many years ago, my spiritual father recommended Charles E. Hummel’s 1967 essay “Tyranny of the Urgent.” Hummel begins with a poignant observation: “Have you ever wished for a thirty-hour day? Surely this extra time would relieve the tremendous pressure under which we live. Our lives leave a trail of unfinished tasks. Unanswered letters, unvisited friends, unwritten articles, and unread books haunt quiet moments when we stop to evaluate. We desperately need relief.

“But would a thirty-hour day really solve the problem? Wouldn’t we soon be just as frustrated as we are now with our twenty-four allotment? A mother’s work is never finished, and neither is that of any student, teacher, minister, or anyone else we know. Nor will the passage of time help us catch up. Children grow in number and age to require more of our time. Greater experience in profession and church brings more exacting assignments. So we find ourselves working more and enjoying it less.” After describing a busy day in the life of Jesus, Hummel interjects, “What was the secret of Jesus’ work? We find a clue following Mark’s account of Jesus’ busy day. Mark observes that ‘…in the morning, a great while before day, He rose and went out to a lonely place, and there He prayed’ (Mark 1:35). Here is the secret of Jesus’ life and work for God: He prayerfully waited for His Father’s instructions and for the strength to follow them. Jesus had no divinely-drawn blueprint; He discerned the Father’s will day by day in a life of prayer. By this means He warded off the urgent and accomplished the important.”

We, as leaders, seem to gravitate to the urgent in others’ lives only to find out their urgent was not so urgent after all. Many persons’ urgencies can wait. If someone is asking for prayer, ask them if they’ve prayed about the situation themselves. Don’t let their uncomfortable need always take you away from what is essential. And you will only know the true nature of a request when you have asked God and waited for His answer.

Social media has also become a trap that captures many hours without us being aware of it. Here is my advice. Unless social media is your only ministry, limit your time online, and secondly, don’t let social media become your primary ministry.
The urgency of the next post or prophetic word or comment on someone else’s timeline may not be the critical thing you need to be concerned with at the time. Social media, in all too many cases, is a tool that has become the master. The world will not end if you don’t post or respond for a day or two. Maybe when you come back to it, the time away will have given you something worth others reading.

What is another practical way to free you up? Learn to say no. People need to see you put up some healthy boundaries in your life. Make time away to recharge a regular part of your schedule. If you don’t schedule it in, others will schedule it out. Lead by example. I hope you are inspired to look out for your spiritual growth and strength. No one can do it for you. Your times of solitude will make a more strategic and effective leader.

Apostolic Attributes

Although there are numerous ways to critique and validate apostolic leaders, there are common attributes that mark many leaders serving in this capacity. It is also important to note that not all apostles minister the same way with the same gifts and calling. In looking at apostolic leadership, we must apply the same scriptural principles found in Romans 12 balanced with their specific job description in Ephesians 4. This balance means taking, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons.  But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (Rom. 12:4-7 NASB), while acknowledging “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-13). Apostolic (and all five-fold ministry) leaders are first members of the Body of Christ, and then leaders in a specific capacity for the building up, equipping, and health of the Body of Christ.

If we were to survey those men and women who consider themselves apostolic leaders in today’s church, it would surprise us the divergent personalities, ethnicities; political, religious, and social biases; and any number of cultural differences we might find. An apostolic leader is not a “cookie-cutter” mold, waiting to be filled by anyone willing to fit the correct outside form. Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 3:1-5, “But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good,  treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these.” Many who might look the part, in spite of the diversities, are no more than playing church and deceiving others as they do so. They may have gifts, and they may have followers. But what is their character? Are they showing the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23), or are they “boastful, challenging one another, envying one another” (Gal. 5:26) in the flesh? A fruitful life on the inside will manifest sweet, healthy fruit on the outside.

Useful lists exist that display the ideal attributes of apostolic leaders. I want to narrow my list to those things I feel are essential basics. I see these attributes as necessary no matter what could or should follow them. Without these essentials acting as a foundation, whatever building done will lack stability and longevity. Here is my shortlist.

1. Humility. James 4:10 tells us, “Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.” We get a clearer picture of what humbling ourselves means in Romans 12:3-5. “For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.  For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function,  so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” Sound judgment about ourselves is not self-humiliation but instead seeing both our strengths and weaknesses that we might fully utilize the one while improving on the other. Apostolic leaders are keenly aware of the work to be done in their lives and make time to do it.

2. Keeping first things first. Acts 2:42 says of the early growing church, “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Apostolic leaders model community centered on the word of God, fellowship around the word of God, recognizing Jesus as the living word of God, and making prayer to God a privilege and responsibility of the local assembly.

3. Equipping the body. The job description of every five-fold minister is one of fitting or making ready the body of Christ as a ship is made worthy of sailing the waters in which it will soar. Another word picture is that of a broken bone reset in its proper place, now able to heal and function with strength. Apostolic leaders take their mandate to bring maturity to the Body of Christ seriously. They have an anointing for seeing the big picture, making strategic adjustments, and calling out and placing individuals in ministry positions that will benefit the church in the process of building itself up in love.

Perhaps you have a list of apostolic attributes not mentioned in my shortlist. I’d love to hear what you see as essential apostolic attributes. Please comment and let me know. Blessings.

Biblical Illiteracy in America

“This scandalous problem is our own, and it’s up to us to fix it.” (Mohler) What scandalous problem? Biblical illiteracy. Who is us? According to Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, “This really is our problem, and it is up to this generation of Christians to reverse course.” How big is the scandal?
“Fewer than half of all adults can name the four gospels. Many Christians cannot identify more than two or three of the disciples. According to data from the Barna Research Group, 60 percent of Americans can’t name even five of the Ten Commandments.
“Some of the statistics are enough to perplex even those aware of the problem. A Barna poll indicated that at least 12 percent of adults believe that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife. Another survey of graduating high school seniors revealed that over 50 percent thought that Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and wife. A considerable number of respondents to one poll indicated that the Sermon on the Mount was preached by Billy Graham. We are in big trouble.” (Mohler)
What appears most disturbing about recent research is that an increasing number of Christians fall within the ranks of the Biblically illiterate.
“Christians who lack biblical knowledge are the products of churches that marginalize biblical knowledge. Bible teaching now often accounts for only a diminishing fraction of the local congregation’s time and attention. The move to small group ministry has certainly increased opportunities for fellowship, but many of these groups never get beyond superficial Bible study.” (Mohler)
Stating the problem in even more glaring terms is Dr. Kenneth Berding, Ph.D., professor of New Testament at Biola University’s Talbot School of theology:
“I’ve heard people call it a famine. A famine of knowing the Bible. During a famine people waste away for lack of sustenance. Some people die. Those who remain need nourishment; they need to be revived. And if they have any hope of remaining alive over time, their life situation has to change in conspicuous ways.
“Christians used to be known as ‘people of one book.’ Sure, they read, studied and shared other books. But the book they cared about more than all others combined was the Bible. They memorized it, meditated on it, talked about it and taught it to others. We don’t do that anymore, and in a very real sense we’re starving ourselves to death.” (Berding)
Another aspect of Biblical illiteracy is the tendency of church leaders to teach and preach selective passages and themes to the exclusion of presenting the big picture themes that carry us from Genesis to Revelation. Without a connection to the whole, the parts have no place to nest. As Berding says, Christians used to be known as people of one book. But Christians must also be known as people of the whole book.
Dr. J. Carl Laney, Professor of Biblical Literature at Western Seminary offers a way forward when stating, “How can pastors, seminary professors and Sunday School teachers move beyond merely telling the stories of the Bible to declaring the great story of God’s plan for the ages? The key, I believe, is to give more attention to proclaiming the major Bible themes in our teaching and preaching.” (Laney)

Mohler, R. Albert. The Scandal of Biblical Illiteracy: It’s Our Problem. 20 January 2016. Article.
20 September 2019. <https://albertmohler.com/2016/01/20/the-scandal-of-biblical-illiteracy-its-our-problem-4/&gt;.

Laney, J. Carl. Biblical Illiteracy in the Church Today, Part 1. 21 June 2016. Western Seminary.
Article. 21 September 2019. <https://transformedblog.westernseminary.edu/2016/06/21/7466/&gt;.

Berding, Kenneth. The Crisis of Biblical Illiteracy & What We Can Do About It. Vers. Spring
2014. 2014. Article. 20 September 2019. <http://magazine.biola.edu/article/14-spring/the-crisis-of-biblical-illiteracy/&gt;.

Schreiner, Thomas R. The Problem with Much Preaching Today—And Biblical Theology as the Remedy. 1 March 2010. Article. 21 September 2019. <https://www.9marks.org/article/preaching-and-biblical-theology-101-pbt-101/&gt;.

%d bloggers like this: