GIVING UP YOUR PERSONAL RIGHTS FOR THE GOSPEL

What is more important to you: your personal, spiritual, and ministry rights, or the integrity and advancement of the gospel of Jesus Christ?
Don’t be too quick to say it’s the gospel.

Over several decades in ministry, I’ve discovered there are not as many Christians and church leaders as you might think who walk the walk when it comes to laying aside their legitimate human and spiritual rights for the sake of the gospel. Yes, many pastors preach it on Sundays, but how they live is often quite different. It’s the fruit of the “professionalism” of Christian leadership.
A question dating back to Paul

This was the primary question facing Paul—would he fight for his personal and spiritual rights, or would he choose to lay them down for the integrity and advancement of the gospel? Paul’s answer, found in 1 Corinthians 9, is “yes,” and he lived it out in his ministry.

The primary issue facing Paul in 1 Corinthians 9 was that certain church leaders in the city of Corinth were questioning, accusing, and opposing Paul (1 Corinthians 9:3). How could these latecomers to church leadership question Paul? They apparently wanted to build themselves up in Corinth by undercutting Paul. Paul said he would rather die than get robbed of his ability and grounds to boast in Christ.

Paul spends a good part of this chapter emphasizing that he’s free in Christ (9:1), that the risen Christ had commissioned him as an apostle on the Damascus road (9:1), he was the founding apostle of the Corinthian church (9:2), and he also provides a rather long list of personal and spiritual leadership rights that were his. In other words, he had authoritative rights! Paul had the “right” to confront, attack, and start a huge fight with these would-be leaders, and he would have likely won with no problems. How dare anyone question Paul’s apostolic calling and credentials! After all, he has rights! He could have decided to take a strong stubborn stand in defense of his personal rights, blow up the church in Corinth, and leave it in ashes. But this is not how Paul responded.
Paul’s primary concern

His primary concern was not his personal reputation or rights, but the reputation, integrity, and advancement of the gospel of Christ.

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CONSUMERS OR DISCIPLES

One of the great challenges to authentic disciple-making today is the consumer mentality of our culture.  It is a mentality that has shaped much church strategy and leadership thinking. It often reduces evangelism to simply church marketing.  Alan Hirsch has some important things to say about this troubling dynamic.

THE POLITICIZING OF GOD

“God is not a Republican.”

“Genuine Christians are not defined by their involvement in activist politics.”

“Democrats and socially responsible Christians are not synonymous.”

Since at least the early 70’s, when the unspoken social contract based on Judeao-Christian values began to unravel; there has been a troubling tendency to politicize our religious preferences. Mormon and conservative media personality Glenn Beck’s challenge to churches to again reclaim the moral leadership of the nation is not a new development.  It is just the latest expression of our tendency to claim that concern for values is a spiritual concern (rightly so) but to equate such values with our personal political philosophies.  And in doing that we have begun to divide our political candidates like the sheep and the goats.  Good Christians have to a particular political position. In mainline churches, good Christians are persons who embrace the social agenda of the Democrats.  In evangelical circles, the small government, and business orientation of the Republicans is the true faith.

Christians should participate in the political process.  They should have a social conscience, be proactive citizens, and vote according to their values. But those values need to be based on biblical values, not a party line that is always cultural than Christian, closer to the world’s values than genuinely biblical.

Reality check. No political party in America is dedicated to accomplishing the purposes of God. All of them are committed to getting  candidates elected to continue or to claim their share of power. None of them believe they are under the headship of Jesus Christ. Even when they use religious language, they are still dedicated to the interests of men.  Electability not fidelity to God’s truth is what they are concerned about.  Electability that genuinely comes from appealing to the preferences and prejudices of the public, not seeking to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Who is the better Christian? Obama or Bush, Reagan or Roosevelt, Carter or Kennedy? And how is that measured? By their religious piety or practices? By their church going? By their denominational affiliation? By their social liberalism or their morality campaigns? By seeing their political agenda is spiritual terms?  The implication being that God will always bless the better Christian.

The outcome is the denigration of one candidate or party as anti-god and the elevation of the other as the party of God. The true saints in the party you do not  prefer are not recognized. And the shallow saints of the party you prefer are not held to accountabilility.

And for persons not yet Christian, the door is closed to God,but  not because they don’t agree with the political agendas of people who are claiming God is on their side. And for some of these people the door is closed to God because they can’t love a God who lets politics define his character and set his agenda.

(C) 2011 by Stephen L Dunn

IT’S NOT ABOUT CHURCH GROWTH

One of my passions is equipping congregations and their people to engage in the ministry of evangelism.  It is, after all, the Great Commission. My motivation can be found in Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 5.

11 Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. 12 We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart. 13 If we are “out of our mind,” as some say, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. 14 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:[] The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

We know that people absolutely need to be reconciled to God, to make their peace with Him.  People need to become new creations so that they can thrive as God intended, so that they can stop living as citizens of a dying planet and become citizens of the eternal kingdom of God.

Evangelism is the ministry to change peoples’ eternal destiny and to open the door to God’s abundant life now. It is what God intended from the foundation of the world.  It is what he has invited us to be a part of as ministers of reconciliation.

Too many traditional churches, with their narrowed inward focus give all their attention to the already persuaded instead of those who are seeking a life-transforming relationship with Jesus Christ. Nothing is done to engage in evangelism except to pay lip service to its “importance.”

These churches rarely engage in actual evangelism and have no strategy (or real intention) to do so.

Other churches, who have an organization focus on their survival as a specific group engage in evangelism primarily to gain members to sustain what the present members have already decided is valuable. Instead of being ministers of reconciliation, they are marketers for the best little club in town.

They are not concerned with multiplying the kingdom of God. They are concerned that their particular expression of the Church continue.

If you were a person genuinely seeking an authentic, life-changing relationship with God– wouldn’t you feel more than a little bit used?

And wouldn’t you be right?

ULTIMATELY, FAITH … WORKS

Two kinds of Christians undermine the witness of the Body of Christ.  The first are people who believe that faith is defined by believing in a set of doctrinal propositions and focusing on that belief as their “ticket to heaven.”  A right set of beliefs is more important than actions that reflect those beliefs.

The second is the group of Christians who still embrace the world’s evaluative standard of “what’s in it for me?”  They are often looking for a method or program that will make them happy. And they want to find such a solution that costs them as little as possible.

“Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.” – James 2:18, New Living Translation

Ultimately faith works. By that I don’t mean faith is simply effective for coping with living. I mean faith, if it is true faith, works.

The world is concerned with tangible benefits. But tangible almost always has to do with material things.  A place in my Father’s House in the future is a tangible thing, and rightly so. But if it makes me so heavenly minded that I stop worrying about those who are poor and oppressed on this planet, or those whose lives are a shambles on this side of eternity, then I have lost the true meaning of Jesus’ words, “I am my Father are one.”

If all faith is to me is a means to make life easier on this planet, then I will be loath to put those tangible benefits at risk to share my faith or to lay down my life for a friend.  I will never choose the way of sacrificial servanthood.

Ultimately faith works.  It takes what it believes and daily applies it to the utmost to do what Jesus came to earth to do and commissioned us to do until he returns.  Truth faith is neither a set of beliefs or a set of tools. True faith is a lifestyle that reflects what Jesus would have us to do.

(C) 2011 by Stephen L. Dunn

WHAT HAPPENED TO JANUARY?

What happened to January?

Two words – WINTER STORMS

Some of the coldest, iciest, snow-laden weather on record has bombarded the eastern half of the US relentlessly most of January.  And as January ended, the Oklahoma-Texas-Missouri bloc of the southwest/midwest was devastated by blizzards of historic proportions.

A whole lot of church cancelled services and small groups and rehearsals and parties and ministries during these last 30+ days.  Not a few church budgets took major hits also, because when there’s no “church” (meaning no church services) offerings often go undeposited and even forgotten when the thaws come.

But was the Church cancelled for inclement weather.

Not if you understand that the church is not something you go to, but something you are.  The Church is the Body of Christ on mission with Jesus to serve the world and to spread God’s kingdom influence.

That can be done with a snow shovel as well as a sermon.

It can be done in a soup kitchen feeding the homeless as well as in a service with pipe organ or worship band.

The Church can be in cold houses where prayer and a much-needed hot meal are delivered.

The Church can be in a ride by four-wheel drive when someone else’s car cannot even get out of the driveway.

The Church worships when it opens it doors to the homeless and the hungry, when it pays someone’s heating bill, when it watches a sick child because mom must go to work.

The Church worships went it honors God by loving its most unloveable neighbor who only comes to the church when they want a hand-out.

The Church worships went it lets its praises rise up when everyone else is grousing about cancelled school, and unplowed streets, and public services that are not available because of the weather.

The Church is not something you go to, it’s something you (and a whole lot of others) are.