Sunday, May 26, 2013

‘Scripture and Strategy, The Use of the Bible in Postmodern Church and Mission’

What I learned about different methods of Missions and Evangelism in the light of Scripture, in response to the required text for Church Planting.

By Michael Ireland, Candidate for MA in Divinity from CLIMB School

In Scripture and Strategy (William Carey Library, Pasadena, CA, © 1994), author David J. Hesselgrave says his underlying thesis is that “Holy Scripture itself must occupy a central place in the future strategy of the churches and their missions.” (emphasis mine).

In order to do this, Hesselgrave looks at the testimony of Scripture Authors, reviews in broad outline some of the ways in which representatives of church and mission have used (and abused) Scripture in modern times, and makes special note of the ministries who demonstrate that, rightly viewed and used, the Bible itself possesses the highest potential for impacting a postmodern world for Christ.(emphasis mine).

The author states categorically, that in spite of past failures in missionary enterprises, “progress seems always to be linked with complete confidence in, and careful examination and utilization of, the revealed Word of God.” (p.11) [my emphasis].

Early in the book, Hesselgrave tackles the question of “by whose authority” (p.17) churches and missions face in seeking to evangelize the modern world for Christ. He then traces the rediscovery of Biblical Authority, how modernists have been rethinking Biblical interpretation, hermeneutical methodologies, including the relationship between “meaning then,” and “meaning now,” addresses the subject of using the Bible “in context,” the place of the Bible in Christian ministry – including a look at ‘Message and Method’ – the process of confirming believers in the Christian faith, and the scope of the Great Commission.

By Chapter Eight of 11 chapters, Hesselgrave comes to what I believe to be the heart of Christian missions and evangelism today, “Counseling Christians Concerning Spiritual Warfare,” (pp.120-135).

In this chapter, Hesselgrave reviews the work of Tim Warner, a Bible College Missions professor and minister in the area of Spiritual Warfare.

Hesselgrave describes an approach used by Warner which missiologists refer to as “power encounter.” Here he describes Warner’s work in the 1980s and 1990s among people in the United States, as well as missionaries and nationals abroad, who faced great spiritual and psychological needs – those who were casualties of the warfare between God and Satan. Many were referred to him by Christian psychologists and counselors in the Chicago area where Warner served at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He since aligned himself with Dr. Neil Anderson’s Freedom in Christ Ministries.

Both as a theorist and practitioner, Warner gained credibility as an authority on spiritual warfare and, in 1991, the results of years of study and involvement were set forth in a book on the subject, Spiritual Warfare: Victory over the Powers of this Dark World,

Hesselgrave goes on to describe how, in recent years, the primary focus of Warner’s thinking and ministry has gradually shifted from “power encounter” to “truth encounter.” He says of Warner that “he is no less convinced that there are times when believers must confront Satan and demonic spirits directly in the name and power of the Lord Jesus Christ, but he become increasingly aware of the fact that if God’s people are to avail themselves of their resources in Christ they must first understand and believe what I means to be in Christ.” (my emphasis.)

Hesselgrave says Warner often quotes one of his college professors who used to say, “People may not live what they profess, but they will always live what they believe.”

Hesselgrave continues by saying that only Christians who really understand and believe what the Bible says about those in Christ have a foundation for coping with the world, for victorious living, and for effective ministry. He adds, “By definition, then, the truth encounter precedes the power encounter and constitutes preparation for it.” (my emphasis). The author cites Paul’s prayer for the believers in Ephesus (Eph. 1:17 – 2:7), which Warner refers to over and over again.

In conclusion, from reading this book, I learned that no matter what methods or techniques of missions and evangelism are employed, either at home or overseas, that Christian believers need not only to prepare themselves with Biblical and theological knowledge, but to be trained in how to present the truth of the Gospel to their hearers by means of ‘truth encounter’, but also how to deal with the Enemy of Our Souls in the power of the Resurrected Christ in a ‘power encounter’ so that Christian conversion may be thorough and complete.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Muse and the Call of God

The Muse came calling early this morning. That is, earlier than the clock radio would have gone off if it had been set.

 She was pretty insistent that I get up and write. Strange, really, because She hasn’t called on me much lately -- and suddenly decided to visit me! Who on Earth does She think She is, and what on Earth does She think She’s doing?

I want to ask Her why She’s bothering me now, after not having visited me for so long. And to make a sudden appearance at the doorway to my creativity when not called upon? But that’s the nature of the Muse. You have  to be ready to answer the Call, to make the walk to your computer, sit down, and face the hollow page.

Fortunately, the Muse has given me inspiration, a topic, and something to put on paper. For starters, talking about Her. I don’t know if She likes to be talked about in this way. She likes to come and go – somewhat like the unseen wind -- showing up at inopportune moments, demanding to be heard, insistent upon being taken notice of. But talk about her? She might take off and leave me stranded with nothing to say! Particularly if what I say about her isn’t complimentary. But then, why would I ‘Diss’ her when She comes to help?

Dear Muse, it has been so long since You last showed up, and I am wondering ‘why now?’ What is it that You have for me, what is it that You want me to say? Is it an insight, a flash of inspiration, a world-shattering revelation? Something ‘Mankind’ needs to hear, or a whisper that brings understanding and a solution to a current problem? Is it personal or communal, for just me, or for someone else?

Often, when the Muse decides to visit, it is because She has a tidbit that is needed, a piece of the puzzle that has been missing, a clue to a nagging problem. Her absence has been quite problematic in itself, and Her arrival on this day is a welcome surprise! I could have ignored Her, and stayed in bed. I could try to shut Her out, but then I risk offending Her and losing the benefit of Her accumulated wisdom. “Do not quench the Spirit of God.”

I am sure She has visited others who were waiting for Her to show up, but didn’t know it. I am sure others have waited for inspiration, and didn’t know where to find Her. I am sure others have waited for Her to come calling, only to find, Not Today. And I find that if I ignore Her, She will shout from the rooftops to get someone to pay attention. She’s like that. She makes you think that you are special in having Her call on you, but then if you spurn Her, She will tell others what She had intended for you. And who wants that? “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit.”

What She tells you in the dark, She intends for you to reveal in the light of day. That is the way She works, and She trusts you with her knowledge, wisdom, insight, and understanding. In fact, Her name is ‘Wisdom.’ And She is not averse to shouting from the rooftops that which She knows. She really is there for everyman who will listen. It is a wise man who listens to Her counsel. “Wisdom cries aloud in the streets!”

I have to admit there is part of me that doesn’t want to listen to what The Muse has to say. But there is also part of me that is honoured to be visited and to be ‘in on’ what She has to say. John the Revelator says: “Let Him who has ears, hear what the Spirit is saying to the Churches.” We fail to listen to our own detriment. It takes a trained ear to listen, to hear, and to obey the call of God through Her. But it is open to everyman who is called by the Spirit of God, “for all who are led by the Spirit, these are called the children of God.”

There is Another who calls us by name. To be called, to be chosen, is the prerogative of God. For whom He foreknew, He predestined, and whom He has chosen before the foundation of the world, He has also called. He has set apart the godly for Himself. And He has chosen good works for them to walk in. “For we are saved by Grace, and that is not of ourselves, it is the FREE GIFT of God by faith, so that no man should boast.”

And that Faith comes by Hearing, and that Hearing by the Word of God. “To all who received Him, He gave the right, power and authority to become the Children of God.” And that is what we are if we listen to and obey His Spirit.

“My sheep know my voice, and they know me, and follow me” the Good Shepherd said.

Do you hear Him calling you today? Are you willing to follow Him wherever He may lead?

He also said that to see the Kingdom of Heaven, “You must be Born Again.” That is, to be born of the Father, by the Holy Spirit, not of man, or the will of man, or the power and strength of man, but by God the Father, through the Holy Spirit.

“Not by power, nor by strength, but by my Spirit,” says the Lord.

“I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No man comes to the Father, but by Me,” the Saviour said.

Do you not hear His voice calling you by Name? Are you willing to respond?

“Now is the Day of Salvation.”

“Now is our Salvation nearer than when we first believed.”

“If I go away, I will prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to myself, that where I am, you may be also.”

Friday, February 15, 2013

Pardon et moi, Excuse et moi, Pardon my French...

Excuse my French, but I am a brilliant writer -- even if I say so myself -- and even though my mind feels like mush, with the medications I am on to keep my thought life and emotions stable, I believe that is just the ‘State of Mind’ I need to be in to create something absolutely marvelous.

If we are too concrete, too solid, there is no room for creativity to swirl around and produce something fresh, something of note, something of worth, something that will last and stand the Test of Time.

Writing, like life, needs flexibility, the ability to flex, and be fluid, moveable, transparent, adjustable and adaptable. We need the ability to change our minds, to prefer something other than ‘standard fare.’ The diet of standard fare is for the masses, the ‘Un-thinking’ ones, those who will soak up just about anything that is dished out to them, and believe it to be true.

I want to ‘dish out’ more than tripe, more than fodder, more than just plain old trash. I want to write something that will stop people dead in their tracks, yet move them at the core of their beings. Yes, ‘shake, rattle, and roll.’ I intend to stir up people to think outside the box, to renew their thinking patterns, to leave their old, well-worn ways of thinking about things, to question their hidden core beliefs and to examine them in the fresh light of a new day, a day they haven’t lived before. I want them to rethink their old ways so that if something is really and realistically, ‘truly true’, they will know it at the core of their beings and their belief system. A rut is just a grave hole with both ends knocked out.

At its least harmful, Doubt is well worth examining – at least once in a lifetime, if not more. We do not grow by not questioning, by not examining, by not scrutinizing, our thinking. If we truly ‘doubt our doubts and believe our beliefs’, the Truth will shine through, and found to be of worth, and our belief systems will prove themselves to be worthy of our trust, our belief. If our beliefs cannot stand the time of trial, the time of testing, they might not be worthy of our trust. Let us endeavor to be worthy of our beliefs, and in turn, find our beliefs to be worthy of our trust in them. Let us move on from a milk feed diet, and start to grapple with meat, real meat, meat that can provide nourishment and nutrition for our souls.

That way we can leave ‘the elementary things’ behind and grow into Maturity.

Please allow me to temporarily interrupt your normal thought processes and to challenge your normal thinking patterns to enable you to determine if your thinking is straight, if your belief system is accurate in terms of reality, and if your doubts are really that disastrous...if at all damaging to your psyche and injurious to your soul.

 In the Book of Romans, the Apostle Paul says that 'right thinking leads to right actions.' It will also determine your destiny. The Psalmist says that 'the Fool says in his heart that there is no God.'

So, in the spirit of 'Peace on Earth and Goodwill to Men,' let me ask you if your belief is real, if your doubts are troublesome or problematic, if your thoughts are logical, etc., etc., etc...

Take a moment to sit back in your favorite chair, close your eyes, and imagine. Imagine that if your thinking is off-kilter, faulty, disastrous, or just plain "stinking thinking." Ask yourself, Where will you end up with thinking like that? If your thinking is illogical, inaccurate, or just plain dumb, where will that lead you?

Now, don't write me to let me know where you are in 'the process,' but turn your thoughts God-ward, and prayerfully ask Him to lead you by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit to redirect your thinking into paths of Truth, Righteousness, Holiness and Justice.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

How The Life and Ministry of Paul, The Apostle, Affects Us Today

The first thing when it comes to a discussion of the life of Paul that a student of the Bible needs to consider is that when Saul was confronted by the Lord Jesus Christ on the Road to Damascus is that he was totally captivated and dramatically changed by the experience. It was such a dramatic experience for him, that he also changed his name. The Damascus Road experience changed Paul forever, both in character and personality and the direction of his life. His name was changed in order to reflect the change that happened in his heart toward God, in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul says that “this was that” for which he was apprehended by the Lord. The “this” for “that” for which he was ‘arrested’ by the Risen Christ was in order that he ‘might know Him and the fellowship of His sufferings and the power if His resurrection.’ When Ananias came to Paul, the Lord told him he should tell Paul of the “many things” that he would suffer in His Name. Paul was later to suffer shipwrecks, beatings and stonings for naming the name of Christ.

Names in the Bible are very important. Your name reveals your character and your personality. We see this with Abram, who became Abraham. We see this with Isaac, who became Israel. We see this with Simon, who became Peter. We see this with Saul who became Paul. Saul’s change of name to Paul reflected the change of heart he underwent after meeting Jesus.

When Paul was confronted by Jesus on the Damascus Road, he was literally and dramatically stopped in his tracks. At the time he was in hot pursuit of anyone belonging to or associated with ‘The Way’. He was a ‘firebreather’, breathing out death threats to anyone who named the name of Jesus the Nazarene. He was armed with letters from the High Priest, and had authority to capture and/or put to death anyone following what was considered a blasphemous sect, and an insult to the Jewish God of the Pharisees and Saducees.

Saul, as he was then, truly and honestly thought that he was doing God and Judaism a favor by rooting out ‘the blasphemers’. He considered himself to be righteous before God because he was a Hebrew of Hebrews, a Pharisee of Pharisees, and as regarding the Law, complete and in right standing with God in obedience to the Law of Moses.

Saul was zealous for the Law and saw himself as being able to live according to the Law, and as having done so. But it was his experience with meeting the risen Christ that literally ‘opened’ his eyes, and he was able to ‘make a 180 degree turn’ (which is the definition or repentance!). Paul even says that ‘no good thing abided in his flesh’ or earthly nature. It was the encounter with Christ that made him see his earthly nature for what it was. He says that he was ‘the greatest of sinners.’

When he became Paul, he chose to know nothing more or less than ‘Christ crucified and risen from the dead.’ Jesus became to him an all-consuming passion. In fact, this became the basis of his ‘Magnificent Obsession’ – “Christ in you, and You in Christ” made possible by the death and resurrection of Christ. This is Paul’s Gospel or good news – that we are ‘in Christ’ – baptized into his name and character, as well as into his sufferings and his victory over Death. Paul also states ‘Christ in us’ and all that Christ won on the Cross of Calvary is ours, because ‘if we suffer with Him, we shall also reign with Him.’ This is the ‘glorious mystery’ spoken of down the ages, which angels wanted to look into and for which he was appointed an Apostle to reveal.

When Paul met Christ on the Damascus Road, and later spent time alone with Him in the Arabian Desert, he realized that ‘right standing’ with God came through Jesus Christ, and Him alone. Paul realized that he had no righteousness of his own, but that righteousness was imparted by God through Jesus Christ and His redeeming work on Calvary.

Paul states that ‘God was in Christ reconciling Himself to the world.’
“It was as if Christ Himself were appealing to you through us,” he writes.
This was Paul’s passion in every church he planted – he was “jealous to see Christ formed in each of you, until every man is made complete in Him.”
This is why Paul was so angry at the Galatian Church when they went astray after listening to the Judaizers– “Who has bewitched you?” he asks them.

Paul also says that if anyone – even an angel from Heaven -- were to preach “another gospel,” they were to be accursed. He was passionate that new believers understand this mystery of the Gospel.  They were “God’s letter written on human hearts.”

We, too, are God’s ‘human love letter’ to the world. If we are arrested, apprehended and ‘caught’ by God, as was Paul, we become New Creations (2 Cor.5:17). This is, in fact, was God was doing in Christ all along. He was making ‘one new man’, and there are “now therefore no Jew, nor Gentile, nor male or female, nor circumcised nor uncircumcised “for we all are one in Christ.”

Paul also writes about being “adopted” by God into his family. This is a huge theme for him, and he says that by being adopted, we have the rights, privileges, and authority of the One who adopted us. We become a legitimate child of God.

The Apostle Paul underwent a ‘radical transformation’, and this is only possible in our own lives when we surrender to the atoning and redeeming work of Christ on Calvary as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Paul says, “ I am crucified with Christ, and I no longer lie, but the life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God,” Gal.2:20. The totality of the work of Christ on the Cross, and the power and presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit, gives us the ability to live transformed (changed) lives.

If we die with Christ, which we did on Calvary’s Cross 2,000 years ago, we shall also live and reign with Him.

Monday, December 31, 2012

'The God of Abraham, Isaac,and Jacob'

The writer to the Hebrews says that in the past, God chose to reveal Himself in many and various ways, and that in these latter days, He has chosen to ‘speak’ to us through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, the ‘great I am.’

The author knows Hebrew history and that God first revealed His Name to Moses through the burning bush that was not consumed, in the backside of the desert at Mt. Sinai. It was there God chose to reveal his name (character) to Moses as I AM THAT I AM, (I am, always have been, and always will be what I am) and ‘The God of our Fathers’, or more specifically, ‘the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.’

In Exodus 3:14, we see the ‘law of first mention’ at work, as God revealed Himself to Moses as the ‘Eternal One,’ who is self-existent – He has always been, and always will be. He relies upon and needs no one else for His existence. He is the ‘first cause’ of all that exists.

God chooses to name Himself after three great patriarchs to show how he can take and use those who are in a relationship of ‘covenant kindness’ with Him. He chooses to use Abraham, the son of an idolater and idol worshiping family, so that we may see God is ‘the Originator.’ He chose to reveal Himself through Isaac through the latter’s ability to ‘receive’ all that he had as if it came from the hand of God; he chose Jacob as an illustration that we do not need to ‘struggle’ or ‘wrestle’ with God. The only striving we need to do as believers under the ‘kindness covenant,’ is to ‘enter into His Sabbath rest,’ since Christ has ‘performed the work’ of Salvation on the Cross of Calvary. Jesus said it was the Father’s good pleasure to ‘give us the Kingdom.’ Even though the Scripture also says the Kingdom is ‘taken by force’ and that violent men seek to take it by violence, it is Christ who has won the battle – through the violence of the Cross -- to give us the Kingdom as children of the King,  as a gift.

We see through the ‘God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,’ that it was always the Father’s intention to ‘give us an inheritance’ which is stored up in Heaven for those who believe. God is always the initiator and always makes the first move toward Man. By choosing Abraham, we see that not only did God start the process of entering into a covenant with Man, but that he completes everything He sets out to do – ‘I will perform it’. In Isaac, we see a man who learned over time to receive all that God had for him – especially an inheritance (which is a picture of what we followers of Christ have [viz. Paul, ‘the Inheritance of the Saints’]) through the Blood of the Cross – as a Son of the King. In Jacob, we see a man who learned that he didn’t need to wrestle with the Angel of the Lord in order to get a blessing – the Inheritance – but came to realize that the blessing came through brokenness – in his case a dislocated hip. However, in the process God gave him a new name, Israel, which foreshadowed the nation through whom all the peoples of the Earth would be blessed. This ties in with the promise of God to his grandfather, Abraham, that he would be ‘the father many nations,’ through his Seed (note singular) pointing to the Promised One – the Messiah, the Saviour of the world through whom all blessings come, in this world and the next.

We also see through one Old Testament story and one New Testament story that Mephibosheth and the Prodigal Son were ‘recipients of grace’. The Prodigal already had an inheritance waiting for him and, after frittering away his share of the fortune, realized that the inheritance was always waiting for him at the home of his father. When he came to his senses and returned home to his Father, he realized that the inheritance was not through works, but by grace. Mephibosheth, on the other hand, was an unexpected recipient of the grace of God through the ‘covenant of kindness’ shown to him by King David. He was a nobody, but God, through David, made him somebody in the King’s palace.

We also see in the New Testament how Nicodemus learned the inheritance was through the New Birth, and that this is spiritual and supernatural in basis and operation, and not by effort or of natural means. “With God, ALL things are possible!”

Paul takes up the thought that God will complete all that He has started in Phil.1:6. He also remonstrates with the Galatians about expecting to receive the gift through human effort. “What then, do you expect that what you began in the Spirit you can accomplish in the Flesh? You did not so learn Christ!!”

In conclusion, we see that God takes ordinary men and reveals Himself as the self-existent, unchanging, Eternal One, teaching us that His ‘covenant of kindness’ is not obtained by works of the flesh, but by grace through the Spirit.

By way of application, we need to see ourselves as God sees us, that He has adopted us into His family, that we are heirs, and co-heirs with Christ – and that everything that is His is also ours, that he has created good works from before the foundation of the world for us to walk in, and that He has already said to us ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’ All this is ‘obtained by grace through faith’, and is not of our own doing lest any man should boast.