Go Ye


cover_achancetodie
I’m reading a biography of Amy Carmichael, missionary to India and a few other places.

At a young age she was challenged at a missionary convention regarding the need to take the gospel to those who had not heard.

Elisabeth Elliot, who wrote this particular biography, put it this way:

Before the convention [Amy] had been pondering the agonizing question of the fate of those who had never heard of Jesus Christ. It was as though she heard “the cry of the heathen,” and could not rest because she could not gladly stay at home and do nothing about them. (A Chance to Die: The Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael by Elisabeth Elliot, p 52)

Still, she didn’t expect that she herself would leave home to go and become the ambassador for her Lord and Savior. But she prayed.

Four years later, when God called her to serve in foreign lands, He made His will very clear to her: “It was that snowy Wednesday evening [of January 13, 1892] that the categorical imperative came, not just once but again and again: Go ye.”

Regardless, the decision was not easy. She lived in a time without air travel, internet, or even international phone service. Going to foreign places meant a long term interruption to her familial relationships. She had commitments at home.

As she struggled with what she was to do she wrote of “‘those dying in the dark, 50,000 of them every day,’ of her own longing to tell them of Jesus, and her misgivings.” (p 54)

Convinced by counsel from her mother and others, who reminded her that she was God’s and that if God asked for her, how can she but go, Amy made her decision.

She believed she was responding to God’s direct call on her life. She was to go because thousands of people were living and dying without hearing the gospel. They were lost, in need of a Savior. And she had what they needed.

I can’t help but compare what weighed on Amy with what seems to weigh on Christians today. Honestly, I don’t hear about the passion for the souls of those living in places without Christ. I hear about poverty and disease and oppression, but not as much about people dying without Christ.

So I wonder if Christians today are as concerned for the lost as we are for the needy.

We seem to believe that our mission is to help people become more comfortable, and then, when they are no longer hungry or homeless or jobless or oppressed, they’ll give thought to their spiritual condition.

But I suspect that’s not true. The early Christians had no comfort or ease to offer those they evangelized. They preached Christ and Him crucified. The preached the fellowship of His sufferings. They preached dying to self and taking up their crosses. They told those who believed to be imitators of them as they were of Christ, and then they became martyrs.

The conventional wisdom today is that people who are hungry or homeless or living in danger are not open spiritually. Their focus is on their spiritual needs. Maybe that’s so. I’m no psychologist, I’ve done no studies on the subject. I do know that people in other ages and generations made a difference spiritually because they preached Christ.

Do we need a different approach today? We’re living in a different time, witnessing to people of the 21st century. Don’t we need a 21st century strategy?

Perhaps. But I can’t help but think of Romans 10:14

How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?

God clearly cares for the needy. He chastised Israel for their treatment of orphans, widows, and strangers, and James specifies that “pure and undefiled religion” includes visiting “orphans and widows in their distress.”

But what’s the point? Our religion is to demonstrate what we believe. It isn’t to replace the commission we’ve been given to make disciples or to go into all the world to preach the gospel.

Amy Charmichael heard God’s call to “Go ye” because her heart was sensitive to the lost. May we the Church be just as heart broken over the spiritual condition of those without Christ. Yes, we can still care about their needs, but may we never be more concerned with meeting physical needs than with providing Living Water and Everlasting Bread.

Published in: on September 12, 2016 at 7:35 pm  Comments (10)  
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Salt


Table_salt_with_salt_shaker_V1
I’m pretty sure I could spend all day, without success, trying to write an intriguing first line to make people want to read what I’ve written about salt. It’s just not a “sexy” topic.

But I came across something in Scripture that I think is cool, so bear with me.

In Exodus Moses has gone up the mountain to meet with God. There he receives the Ten Commandments but also instructions about the Tabernacle and all its furnishings, the priestly garments, and the process for consecrating Aaron and his sons before they begin their service.

Among all those instructions is a recipe for the incense that they were to burn before God–a recipe that was not to be used for any other purpose. Tucked between the list of ingredients and the warning not to use it like a common perfume was this:

With it you shall make incense, a perfume, the work of a perfumer, salted, pure, and holy. (Ex. 30:35 – emphasis mine)

Salted. And it’s not grouped with the ingredients but with the quality of the incense—the pure and holy mix that would be placed before God day in and day out.

I’m no chemist and have no idea what effect putting salt in with the other ingredients would cause. Would it act as a preservative? Would it enhance their natural aroma? Would it kill off bacteria?

In context, I lean toward the latter, but the fact is we don’t really know. Later, in Leviticus, we read that God commanded salt to be included with every grain offering, and there it is tied with the covenant of God (see Lev 2:13).

Which brings me to the take-away nugget from this verse in Exodus. Thousands of years after Moses met with God, Jesus calls us—His disciples—the salt of the earth. What did Jesus mean by this? He was speaking to a Jewish crowd who most likely knew about the place of salt in worship. According to Strong’s Lexicon salt as a symbol in an agreement was, and is still, common:

Salt is a symbol of lasting concord, because it protects food from putrefaction and preserves it unchanged. Accordingly, in the solemn ratification of compacts, the orientals were, and are to this day, accustomed to partake of salt together

Perhaps the best understanding, then, especially considering the context and what Jesus next said about us being light, is that, as salt, presented before God day after day, pure and holy, we are to stand as a witness to His faithfulness. We are the sign to the world that God has changed the course of things. Destined to face judgment, Man can now be reconciled with God, and we are the proof this is so.

Unless …

Salt loses its saltiness.

SaltInWaterSolutionLiquidReminding you again that I’m no chemist, I’ll suggest the one way I know that salt can become unsalty. It can be diluted, particularly with liquid. I suppose heat or cold might also break apart the basic elements and the salt would cease being salt, but I don’t know.

Anyway, that doesn’t seem to be what Jesus is saying. Apparently the salt He referred to was still salt, just not salty. Without the quality that characterizes it, salt is worthless, Jesus said (see Matt. 5:13). Salt that isn’t salty could no longer be detected by those looking for evidence of God’s faithfulness.

Some years ago, author and speaker Rebecca Manley Pippert wrote a book about lifestyle evangelism entitled Out of the Saltshaker & into the World (IVP). The premise is that Christians should “let our lives provide the witness to our faith.”

It’s a great concept . . . unless we’ve lost our saltiness.

This post originally appeared here in September 2012.

Published in: on July 8, 2016 at 6:06 pm  Comments (1)  
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Affecting Culture Through Stories


HollywoodStreetPreachingHow important are stories? Next to actual Bible study, I suggest they are the most powerful teaching tools available.

Way back when—more than twenty years ago—I read a book by Gary Smalley (which, it turns out, was re-released several years ago) entitled The Language of Love. In that book, Smalley suggested a communication technique that would especially help women reach men, not with abstract information but at the heart level. The technique, in essence is, to tell a story.

After reading that book, I began to see ways in which our culture has been and is being shaped by the stories we embrace. Changes in attitudes toward a particular moral idea often follow the gradual changes in depicting the topic in the media. (The typical pattern is first to make a joke about the subject until joking about it is normative; then joking changes to acceptance and open discussion; acknowledgment, especially of the rights an individual has in connection to the subject then morphs to an attitude of “everyone does it” or “they’re just like us.” This pattern is evident in things such as the attitudes toward pornography and homosexuality).

I was reminded of this by two unrelated sources. One, a letter from a US-based ministry, quoted statistics published in the AARP magazine (that’s for seniors), including questions like, “Do you believe in God, in heaven, in hell?” The startling thing for me was this report:

There was a sizeable number of individuals who believed in a second time around. 23% believed in reincarnation (50 years ago the % would have been 1.)

Now for the second source. In a blog post including information from an interview about the non-fiction book, Rethinking Worldview author Mark Bertrand said this:

After all, the average Christian has been much more profoundly influenced by non-Christian art and entertainment than he has by non-Christian evangelism and apologetics.

That line made total sense as I thought about the 22% of our population who have converted to belief in reincarnation, without people standing on the street corners handing out tracts about it. Or holding reincarnation tent meetings.

Mind you, I am not against these kinds of evangelism tools in the hands of Christians. The point is, persuasion often comes in more subtle ways—through pop culture, through art, through literature.

I’ve ranted before about the “innocent” little Disney movie that so many Christians embraced, The Lion King, in which many New Age teachings were front and center. Shortly thereafter (at least here in SoCal), makeshift shrines began to appear on the street when someone died, followed with claims that “I know my deceased ____ is watching over me/helping me/looking down on me.” I’ve heard such anti-biblical comments from people who claim to be Christians. And maybe are.

The point is, the culture, and story in particular, has had a greater influence on forming belief about death and the afterlife than has the Bible and preaching about the subject. Well, to be fair, maybe not a greater influence. After all, the reincarnation number is still not the majority.

Sadly, however, only 29% believed they would go to Heaven because of a belief in Jesus Christ, though 88% said they believed THEY would go to heaven. Clearly, our culture is an eclectic hodge-podge of false teaching, with truth mixed in.

And how can we sort through the sludge to show the gospel? Next to Bible study and good expository Bible teaching in church, I tend to think stories can be the most effective tools.

With some minor revision, this post first appeared here in September 2007.

The Unprofessional Prophet


The book of Amos in the Old Testament is one of the smaller prophecies. Hence, Amos is considered a minor prophet. In truth, he wasn’t a prophet at all.

Amos was a farmer. He grew figs and herded sheep, and yet he ended up delivering some scathing prophecy to Israel. At one point the priest for the idol Israel set up at Bethel tried to kick him out of the city, claiming that he was conspiring against the king and saying he should take his prophecies to Judah.

With an open invitation to hightail it to safe territory, Amos stood his ground. He wasn’t a professional prophet. The king didn’t have him on retainer and no one had hired him to do freelance prophecies a la Balaam. Rather, God took him from his day job and said, Go, prophesy. So that’s what he did.

I love his unwavering obedience. I also love his amateur status. It reminds me that God essentially takes believers in Jesus Christ out of our day jobs and tells us to go make disciples. That appointment is for fig growers and doctors and electricians and social workers and teachers and carpenters and writers. And yes, for some professional preachers and missionaries and evangelists, too.

The other thing I’m mindful of is that Amos was commissioned to deliver bad news—Israel was to be judged and they were destined for exile. The Christian, however, gets to deliver good news—the way of escape from judgment, new life in Christ, and the hope of an eternal, heavenly home.

Amos didn’t mince words. He got right to it, telling Israel that God loathed their arrogance, that those most at risk were the ones comfortably rich who closed their eyes to the need for repentance. They cheated the poor, accepted bribes, and hated reproof.

To Amos’s credit, he interceded for Israel and twice God relented of the judgment He had disclosed to Amos through a vision. But the third time, He said, enough.

Then the LORD said to me, “The end has come for My people Israel. I will spare them no longer.” (Amos 8:2b)

Still, Amos went to the people and pleaded with them to repent.

Seek good and not evil, that you may live;
And thus may the LORD God of hosts be with you,
Just as you have said!
Hate evil, love good,
And establish justice in the gate!
Perhaps the LORD God of hosts
May be gracious to the remnant of Joseph. (Amos 5:14-15)

They did not, and judgment came. But perhaps the harshest part was the famine God proclaimed:

“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord GOD,
“When I will send a famine on the land,
Not a famine for bread or a thirst for water,
But rather for hearing the words of the LORD.
People will stagger from sea to sea
And from the north even to the east;
They will go to and fro to seek the word of the LORD,
But they will not find it.” (Amos 8:11-12)

That passage reminds me of Romans 1 where God says He gives man over to his sin because he rejects God, choosing instead to worship the creature instead of the Creator (vv 24 ff).

It’s not a happy picture, but that’s the one Amos the unprofessional prophet was assigned to deliver.

How much better is our assignment today! The unprofessional Christian gets to say, Guess what? The One you rejected is the One who loves you and who died to redeem you from your sins, if you will but believe.

I’d say we have the better part, so I wonder why it seems so hard to tell the good news.

This post, with some minor edits, first appeared here in May 2012.

Published in: on April 16, 2015 at 6:08 pm  Comments (9)  
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The Future Of The Church In Western Society


St-Damase-Eglise_churchIs the Church in the US on the decline? Our influence upon society is not as great as it once was. We have numerous false teachers claiming to be part of the Church. And to a degree we ourselves seem more intent upon working for societal change than for spiritual change. Could it be that the Church is dying?

Not at all.

With little effort, we can learn about the growth of the Church in unexpected places–places that persecute Christians and places with economic struggles.

And yet, there is a distinct pattern developing. Look at the churches the Apostle Paul established on his missionary journeys. Over time, they disappeared as salt in their world. Look at the churches spread throughout the Roman Empire. Who today is worshiping in the great cathedrals of Italy, Denmark, or Belgium? Or what about those churches established after the Reformation by Martin Luther and John Calvin and John Wesley? Where is their witness in Germany or France or England?

One might wonder if Christianity doesn’t just play itself out after time, and perhaps the Church in the US is experiencing the downside as Biblical faith is ushered out the door. There may be some truth to this concept, but not as a part of inevitability due to some endemic problem with religion or, specifically, with Christianity.

The problem is with Mankind, not with Christianity.

Interestingly, the Bible forewarns the Church of the possibility of losing our place in society. I’m referring to Revelation 2 and 3, in which John, via the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, records a message to seven specific churches.

Here’s the thing. Should God by His mercy give many more years to this world, then the Church in the US must pay attention to what Scripture says, or we too can lose our place in the evangelism of the lost.

So what is it we find in Revelation? First, to the church in Ephesus:

But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you, and will remove your lampstand out of its place – unless you repent.
– Revelation 2:4-5

My question, then, is this: Has the Church in the US left its first love? Do we love God as much as we love liberty? Or our family? Or our health? And our wealth?

Perhaps the worst mistake a church can make is to operate as if there is no error in us, or within us. Certainly Paul didn’t approach the churches he wrote to in the New Testament as if, now that they’d come to Christ, sin was a thing of the past. Instead he warned, reproved, confronted, and forgave.

These elements are also present in John’s writing in Revelation. No surprise, since both authors wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. What I like about John’s passages is that the messages to the churches categorize the sinful behavior–for them and for us–he’s warning against.

However, in an enumeration of specifics, it’s easy to use those in prideful comparisons. Well, I gave the newspaper delivery guy a $5 Christmas bonus last year, and I know my neighbor didn’t. Too bad he’s not as generous as I am. And while I’m thinking about it, thank God, I’m not like those selfish Wall Street CEOs.

Looking at the overall command–love your neighbor as yourself, for example–forces us to either examine our own lives or ignore the commandment. Neither option will lead to pride in connection to law keeping. If we examine our lives, we will repent or rebel. If we ignore the commandment, we’ve already chosen to rebel.

The angel’s admonition from God to the church in Ephesus was to repent because they had left their first love. The second church to receive similar instruction was that in Pergamum:

But I have a few things against you, because you have some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit acts of immorality … Repent therefore; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth.

Here John points out what these people were doing by relating their actions to those of an Old Testament prophet–a prophet, it turned out, who was trying to work both sides of the fence. He had said he would only report what God told him to. God’s message was a curse on the army opposing Israel. But it was the king of Israel’s enemy who hired the prophet. So he turned around and told the king what he could do to erode Israel rather than defeat the nation outright.

Pergamum was tolerating just such people–those who taught others how to chip away at truth and lead God’s people into turning their backs on Him. They were, in fact, tolerating false teachers. Might this not be something the Church today should guard against?

I’m not talking about the leaders of a particular body or denomination. I think all of us who name the name of Jesus need to see if those we listen to are consistent with Scripture. Or do our teachers direct us to political action more than to prayer? To demand of God rather than repent before Him? To express our anger toward Him instead of praise the Giver of good gifts? Or any number of other ideas that square with psychology, societal norms, or what have you, while clashing with Scripture.

Who on my bookshelf holds to the teaching of Balaam? My prayer is that the Church in the West will repent. But that starts with me.

Originally posted as Part 1 and 2 of a miniseries “A Christian Worldview of the Church”

Published in: on November 1, 2013 at 6:39 pm  Comments Off on The Future Of The Church In Western Society  
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Salt


I’m pretty sure I could spend all day, without success, trying to write an intriguing first line to make people want to read what I’ve written about salt. It’s just not a “sexy” topic. But I came across something in Scripture that I think is cool, so bear with me.

I’m reading in Exodus. Moses has gone up the mountain to meet with God. There he receives the Ten Commandments but also instructions about the Tabernacle and all its furnishings, the priestly garments, and the process for consecrating Aaron and his sons before they begin their service.

Among all those instructions is a recipe for the incense that they were to burn before God–a recipe that was not to be used for any other purpose. Tucked between the list of ingredients and the warning not to use it like a common perfume was this:

With it you shall make incense, a perfume, the work of a perfumer, salted, pure, and holy. (Ex. 30:35 – emphasis mine)

Salted. And it’s not grouped with the ingredients but with the quality of the incense—the pure and holy mix that would be placed before God day in and day out.

I’m no chemist and have no idea what effect putting salt in with the other ingredients would cause. Would it act as a preservative? Would it enhance their natural aroma? Would it kill off bacteria?

In context, I lean toward the latter, but the fact is we don’t really know. Later, in Leviticus, we read that God commanded salt to be included with every grain offering, and there it is tied with the covenant of God (see Lev 2:13).

Which brings me to the take-away nugget from this verse in Exodus. Thousands of years after Moses met with God, Jesus calls us–His disciples–the salt of the earth. What did Jesus mean by this? He was speaking to a Jewish crowd who most likely knew about the place of salt in worship. According to Strong’s Lexicon salt as a symbol in an agreement was, and is still, common:

Salt is a symbol of lasting concord, because it protects food from putrefaction and preserves it unchanged. Accordingly, in the solemn ratification of compacts, the orientals were, and are to this day, accustomed to partake of salt together

Perhaps the best understanding, then, especially considering the context and what Jesus next said about us being light, is that, as salt, presented before God day after day, pure and holy, we are to stand as a witness to His faithfulness. We are the sign to the world that God has changed the course of things. Destined to face judgment, Man can now be reconciled with God, and we are the proof this is so.

Unless …

Salt loses its saltiness.

Reminding you again that I’m no chemist, I’ll suggest the one way I know that salt can become unsalty. It can be diluted, particularly with liquid. I suppose heat or cold might also break apart the basic elements and the salt would cease being salt.

That doesn’t seem to be what Jesus is saying. Apparently the salt was still salt, just not salty. Without the quality that characterizes it, salt is worthless, Jesus said (see Matt. 5:13). Salt that isn’t salty could no longer be detected by those looking for evidence of God’s faithfulness.

Some years ago, author and speaker Rebecca Manley Pippert wrote a book about lifestyle evangelism entitled Out of the Saltshaker & into the World (IVP). The premise is that Christians should “let our lives provide the witness to our faith.”

It’s a great concept . . . unless we’ve lost our saltiness.

Published in: on September 12, 2012 at 6:22 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , , , ,

The Unprofessional Prophet


Amos was a farmer. He grew figs and herded sheep, and yet he ended up delivering some scathing prophecy to Israel. At one point the priest for the idol Israel set up at Bethel tried to kick him out of the city, claiming that he was conspiring against the king and saying he should take his prophecies to Judah.

With an open invitation to hightail it to safe territory, Amos stood his ground. He wasn’t a professional prophet. The king didn’t have him on retainer and no one had hired him to do freelance prophecies a la Balaam. Rather, God took him from his day job and said, Go, prophesy. So that’s what he did.

I love his unwavering obedience. I also love his amateur status. It reminds me that God essentially takes believers in Jesus Christ out of our day jobs and tells us to go make disciples. That appointment is for fig growers and doctors and electricians and social workers and teachers and carpenters and writers. And yes, for some professionals, too.

The other thing I’m mindful of is that Amos was commissioned to deliver bad news — Israel was to be judged and they were destined for exile. The Christian, however, gets to deliver good news — the way of escape from judgment and the hope of an eternal heavenly home.

Amos didn’t mince words. He got right to it, telling Israel that God loathed their arrogance, that those most at risk were the ones comfortably rich who closed their eyes to the need for repentance. They cheated the poor, accepted bribes, and hated reproof.

To Amos’s credit, he interceded for Israel and twice God relented of the judgment He had disclosed to Amos through a vision. But the third time, He said, enough.

Then the LORD said to me, “The end has come for My people Israel. I will spare them no longer.” (Amos 8:2b)

Still, Amos went to the people and pleaded with them to repent.

Seek good and not evil, that you may live;
And thus may the LORD God of hosts be with you,
Just as you have said!
Hate evil, love good,
And establish justice in the gate!
Perhaps the LORD God of hosts
May be gracious to the remnant of Joseph. (Amos 5:14-15)

They did not, and judgment came. But perhaps the harshest part was the famine God proclaimed:

“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord GOD,
“When I will send a famine on the land,
Not a famine for bread or a thirst for water,
But rather for hearing the words of the LORD.
People will stagger from sea to sea
And from the north even to the east;
They will go to and fro to seek the word of the LORD,
But they will not find it.” (Amos 8:11-12)

That passage reminds me of Romans 1 where God says He gives man over to his sin because he rejects God, choosing instead to worship the creature instead of the Creator (vv 24 ff).

It’s not a happy picture, but that’s the one Amos the unprofessional prophet was assigned to deliver.

How much better is our assignment today! The unprofessional Christian gets to say, Guess what? The One you rejected is the One who loves you and who died to redeem you from your sins, if you will but believe.

I’d say we have the better part, so I wonder why it seems so hard to do the work of evangelism.

Published in: on May 9, 2012 at 6:17 pm  Comments (1)  
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