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Missions 101

Calvin on Humility

Apr. 24, 2015By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio

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From Institutes II.ii.11:

I have always been exceedingly delighted with the words of Chrysostom, ‘The foundation of our philosophy is humility;’ and still more with those of Augustine, ‘As the orator, when asked, What is the first precept in eloquence? answered, Delivery: What is the second? Delivery: What is the third: Delivery: so, if you ask me in regard to the precepts of the Christian Religion, I will answer, first, second and third, Humility.

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Don’t Glamorize the Christians “Over There”

Apr. 23, 2015By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio

The grass is always greener on the other side. Or so we think.

How many times have you heard the purity of the global church (especially the persecuted church) extolled in contrast to the vile American church? I’ve lost count. There is usually a formula to how it is said: “X Christians in X country risk X in order to share the gospel. X Christians have undivided and passionate devotion to Christ. They are way more committed to the gospel than the American Church.”

If it were so simple...

blog-pics-120005e29ea5d7We tend to glamorize things we know little about. I remember in high school and college
thinking of how great it would be to a be a leader, but never realized the sacrifice, hard work and impossible decisions that had to be made. I wanted the title without the responsibility. Before I was married I had a plan for how to love my wife and my children in God’s perfect way. I knew exactly what I would do. I had examples. Lo and behold - it’s not so simple.

The Global Bride of Christ is a complex, messy and mistake-prone place where saved sinners find a home. Jesus loves the church so I am as slow to criticize her as I would be slow to criticize someone else’s bride. We have varying degrees of theological and character flaws, which we can not agree to all the time. None of us are perfect, and we need to hear that sometimes.

I wonder if part of the glamorization it comes from misreading missionary biographies. There are some amazing stories of what people have done. But - their stories are not normative and often biographies are just highlight reels of someones life. Not everyone needs to be a hero. It’s similar to reading David and Goliath and thinking we should be like David, when we are more like someone in the crowd watching.

My friend recently attended a conference in Asia for missionaries from a certain country in the region. This is a country supposedly known for missionary zeal. The conference, led by evangelical leadership was racist - filled with messages on how great and superior their culture and people were, how God had chosen them to finish reaching the nations and how God had given them visions to confirm this calling. Another missionary called it a "western funded joke."

I was working with pastors in another country that ride bikes between villages to plant churches. They are doing amazing things from my perspective. I was a little thrown off when the pastors began fighting over who got what bike.

I was worshiping in a house church. Some of the people in the church had been in jail and some of them had parents in jail, all because of their commitment to Christ. We sang two (western) songs and then was the time for the message. I had never heard a sermon do so much magic on a biblical text. It was a bad sermon - real bad.

I was in a country where I was training pastors, when a person from a local tribe told me of her shock that I would train people from another tribe, since in her mind they could never become Christians. They were evil - no good came from them.

These of course are isolated instances and do not reflect every Christian in the region. But neither do our over the top stories we share on a regular basis. Let’s be thankful for what God is doing all over the world, but let’s not place anyone on an unattainable pedestal. There are amazing ordinary Christians in the town you live in as well as around the world.

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My Template For Dealing with Conflict With Christians

Apr. 22, 2015By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio

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Here are eleven things I tell myself when in conflict with other Christians.

  1. The person I am in conflict with is someone for whom Christ died. God loves this person. (Read Romans 8 with this person in mind).
  2. I don’t assume the other person has bad motives but is operating from a pure heart.
  3. Labeling them as proud is not a good starting point and is probably a sign that I am proud.
  4. Chances are I am wrong about something and need to examine myself (Jer 17:9).
  5. I probably do not have all the facts (Prov 18:17). I need to hear more than one side of the issue.
  6. Sometimes it is much better to overlook an offense (Prov 19:11).
  7. I need to own my responsibility for the conflict and confess it to them. The chances of having a log in my own eye are pretty good (Mt 7:3-5).
  8. I need to treat them the way I would want to be treated. Or better yet, treat them the way I would want someone to treat my children.
  9. Escaping through denial or flight is not an option. I must go and be reconciled (Mt 5:23-24).
  10. I might need to bring someone in, not to gossip, but to give me perspective and potentially mediate the situation (Mt 18:16).
  11. If they ask for forgiveness, I need to give it to them. Peacemakers is helpful here. I am promising:

a. Not to dwell on the incident

b. Not to bring the incident up and use it against them

c. Not to talk to others about the incident

d. Not to allow the incident to stand between us or hinder our relationship

Could this list be longer? Of course. Some conflicts are complicated and at times it seems impossible for their to be a breakthrough. This is just a good place for me to start.

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Come to Number One

Apr. 21, 2015By: Dave DeuelAuthor Bio

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Darren recently posted George Barna’s poll results for the most Post Christian Cities in the United States. I am writing to you from the center of the number one region in upstate New York inviting you to prayerfully consider joining us. 

What about the difficulties? Yes, many of the cults and mutations of Evangelical Christianity started here. Yes, the work here can be very challenging. Yes, pastors and their families get discouraged like they do anywhere else. But the Lord is doing so many good things in this region. Closed churches are reopening. Dedicated pastors are planting new churches. Spiritually famished people are hearing the Gospel for the very first time and responding. Christians who have never been vocal about their faith before are speaking up and sharing Christ with their families, friends and neighbors. Crucially, pastors and their families are growing spiritually through the difficulties.

Yes, it is challenging in the number one Post Christian region. But the blessings are great! And Christians here tend to know where they stand. Doesn’t the light always shine brightest in the darkness? So, please prayerfully consider joining us in doing the Lord’s work in the number one Post-Christian region in the United States. By any standard, you will be joining some incredibly dedicated pastors and their families. There is no confusion about what we need to do. And there is comparatively little luke-warmness among believers here. Come join us. 

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The Most Important Words in the Bible

Apr. 20, 2015By: Jackson WuAuthor Bio

What are the most important words in the Bible? They are not “God”, “Jesus”, “love”, and “gospel.” My students are surprised when I say this.

They are even more shocked to hear my own suggestion: the most important words in the Bible are conjunctions

Sandro_Botticeb10738c3fcConjunctions are words like because, therefore, however, so, etc. These are the type of wordsthat get us into the mind of the writer. They help us understand the inner logics of a passage.

Conjunctions are incredibly practical. When reading the Bible, we want to grasp how to apply the text to our own life. However, that will only be possible if we can think the biblical writer’s thoughts after him. Conjunctions matter because obedience matters.

 

Satan Tempts Us to Omit Conjunctions

When Jesus was in the desert, the devil tries to tempt Jesus by grossly manipulating an Old Testament passage. Consider Matt 4:5–6,

Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” 

The devil quotes from Psalm 91:11–12. Intriguingly, this passage includes a glorious promise. One wonders why the devil would remind Jesus of the goodness of God. Ironically, the devil tries to provoke Jesus to sin by highlighting the grace of God. 

How is that possible?  

The devil conveniently omits key conjunctions in the psalm. The promise of vv. 11–12 is based on the “because” in v. 9.

Because you have made the LORD your dwelling place––the Most High, who is my refuge…[therefore] he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.

What is the devil’s strategy? He only highlighted God’s promise (v. 11–12) in order to provoke presumption, yet left out the precondition (v. 9). 

Promise – Precondition = Presumption

Basically, this is the same formula used by those who preach the prosperity gospel. Not only that, this sort of logic appeals to us all. It’s what undergirds any temptation. We want to get something but without counting the cost. 

Similarly, observe vv. 14–16, where God’s promises depend on multiple conjunctions.

Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name. When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.

The devil does not quote the conjunctions and instead only highlights God’s blessings. The conjunctions indicate the reason why God will act on behalf of the one who is faithful to Him.

 

Protection Against Presumption 

How often do we succumb to a similar temptation to overlook conjunctions and forsake important applications of God’s word?

We should not be presumptuous and think that little words like “because”, “therefore” and “so” are of little consequential. God inspired them just as He inspires the rest of Scripture. (This is why I was dumbfounded to find that the Chinese translation of the Bible deletes the words “because” and “therefore” over 50 times in Romans 1–11 alone!!)

I sometimes hear people say something like, “I just want to be practical. I don’t want to get tied up in a lot of theology.” These people tend to minimize the importance of theological study, the biblical languages, and other “abstract” concepts. They are quick to ask why this or that idea practically matters for their ministry. I have heard individuals criticize “theologians” for having more head-knowledge than action.

There are two obvious problems here. First, we can only apply what we understand. This leads to a second problem. Every person on the planet has a gap between the knowledge they have and their applying that knowledge.

Because this topic is so important (yet so neglected), I will use the next post to show the practical importance of conjunctions in Paul’s writing. His conjunctions prevent his theology from simply being “abstract” philosophy.

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