April 2009


Can any Good come out of conflicts?

Not all conflicts can be avoided. They seem to be a given of our human condition, and given the pressures in say matters financial, there is likely to be an increase rather than a decrease of wounded hearts.

I’ve been thinking of a little talk that I wanted to have with my own grown children on the subject and I think I’ll post the essence of it here and invite you to listen in. Attitude they say is the key to a lot of things in life and I really think that is the beginning of harvesting good out of the conflicts that we can’t avoid. So whether we’re thinking of conflicts in our professions, in our families and neighborhoods, or even in our faith communities, what I’m thinking of just now will probably apply.

Where do all these conflicts usually come from? Don’t they all come from something we do or say in the hearing of those we are in community with? And doesn’t it always involve hurting or being hurt by oneanother?  I am not thinking now of conflict resolution but in the attitude we should have about conflict in the first place if we are to be able to receive the “silver-lining” of even the worse situation.

If we really learned this, we could see a lot of conflict coming and be prepared to make the best of it. I have learned so much from my wife and children about this whole human activity. I learned not to get in a shouting conflict with the one I adore, complaining about something she has said or even some little thing she does that offends me for the simple reason that once I started I knew she could always pull out her list about me and then we would really be in for it.

And here’s the point: even with the ones we love the most we have to expect and be prepared to handle the C word-conflict. In fact it is very logical once we think it through: the ones we love the most are exactly the ones who know us best, and that includes our weaknesses or our vulnerabilities which is what allows them to hurt or offend us more deeply. In our relationships, the closer we have been, the more we have let the other know us, our hopes and dreams, the more we have exposed ourselves to real hurt and the more likely we are to hurt the other without even knowing it.

There is a simple solution if we are ready to agree that the conflicts are usually fueled by trying to defend ourselves, by avoiding a direct hit on our self image by defending and or retalliating. Chances are we would diffuse a lot of conflicts by not reacting in this way but rather deliberately choosing to take a hit, to suffer even a loss financially and get on with the positive things of living.

So what I want to say to those that love me, conflicts are inevitable simply because we are both involved in the human condition, and even more so because we know oneanother so well. So we will minimize the conflict by not wearing our feelings on our sleeves-out where they can be so sensitive and easily hurt. Then we will Know that because we love oneanother, and respect oneanother, we will spend our energies on seeking the good fruits that peacemaking brings to all.

Respect oneanother. Treat oneanother with dignity. Listen carefully to oneanother tell you what they really mean, how they really feel. Seek peace and unity even when it seems to fly away from you. Remove the hurt from the conflicts and the good will come flowing in to replace it. Shalom. Salaam.Paz.

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HABIB Koite and BAMADA

I went to a concert at Berea College last evening.WOW! Let me try to explain in a few words what the New York Times calls an “incredible” musical group from Mail, West Africa. Habib Koite the lead singer and guitarist is a graduate of  the National Institute of Arts in Bamako, Mali.  The group made their first tour outside of Africa during the summer of 1994. Speaking of their most recent album, Afriki , Habib reveals a deeper passion: using his music to inspire his own people.

People here in Africa are willing to risk death by trying to leave for Europe or the USA, but they are not willing to take that risk staying to develop something here in Africa…Life can be really good or really bad wherever you live. People need to understand that. Even though Mali is poor, we still have good quality of life; you can walk outside and smile and someone will smile back.

The group, formed in 1988 with young Malian musicians who had been friends since childhood, now makes friends for Mali all over the world with their music. Mali has rich and diverse musical traditions, which have many regional variations and styles that are particular to the local cultures. This made the concert experience last night a brief encounter with another of the world’s proud heritages, thanks to six very talented ambassadors using music as diplomacy.

Listen to their music :Habib and Bamada on MySpace

Are Americans being given another chance?

It was 1956. From the steamy jungles of Ecuador, news spread around the world that five young American men were mercilessly killed by members of the Auca tribe (now known as the Waodani)-a people those young men had gone to serve and befriend and ultimately take the Gospel of Jesus Christ to. That seemingly senseless tragedy a half century ago has become an inspirational marvel as that tribe is now friends with the families of those they killed! This is the story of one of those brave torchlighters–Jim Elliott.

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He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose”. – Jim Elliott, writing in his personal journal in 1949 while a student at Wheaton College.

As I come to the final months of involvement in the “Year of Saint Paul” emphasis proclaimed by Pope Benedict XVI, its time to try to come to some conclusions about what I’ve learned. I didn’t lay all this out in the beginning. I had an idea in general where it was heading but I didn’t check the calender for example and see how Easter and Holy Week would be a perfect time to coincide with the great themes of the Apostle. But here we are and I could not have planned a better time to “cut to the chase” as they say about what He was all about.

We’ve shown that he was all about the Gospel- the full Gospel in contrast to the truncated versions so prevalent in America. The one who truly understands the Gospel of Christ as God’s own testimony concerning what He has accomplished for the human race, understands it as a summons from God to His rebellious children to give up their rebellion and be reconciled to their Heavenly Father.

Jim Elliott, just one of the thousands of Christian martyrs of the 20th century, understood the same thing the Apostle Paul did in the 1st century. He understood that by obeying the summons to enter the Kingdom of Christ, he also accepts an obligation to no longer live for his own ego, but for the glory of another. Is this not exactly what Christ told his very first disciples:

If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, and whoever losses his life for my sake will find it. For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?

The Apostle Paul, in a real way, represents the second generation of disciples who were given the same summons to follow Christ. Here is how he expressed his reasoning: “For the love of Christ constrains us, because we judge thus- that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.”

Is it not painfully clear that America has been reminded about just how fleeting the material treasures of our rebellion are and how at any moment they can be evaporated into thin air? Who is the real fool then, the one who insists on keeping his toys or the one who answers the summons to enter the eternal Kingdom with treasures we cannot imagine?

Was Jesus’ prayer answered?

intercessor

The Gospel narratives can sometimes be a little problematic, especially if we’re trying to fit all the pieces together in a kind of time-line. It is very helpful to remember that each of the four accounts were written by different authors with their own very personal styles and goals. In the first three Gospels, the account of Jesus praying as He left the Passover meal with the disciples and headed to the Mount of  Olives to pray, is focused on the extreme struggle that He alone was having as the time for His death was upon Him. That is the scene depicted here with the three sleeping disciples in the back ground.

But the Apostle John’s version of this same time of prayer is entirely different. It is obvious from the begining of the text in the 17th chapter that Jesus has now won the previous struggle, so much so that His tone completely changes and it is now a prayer to the Father from a position of victory, so that He speaks as though He has accomplished the mission the Father sent Him to earth to accomplish. This part of His prayer was evidently just before Judas came with the kiss of betrayal. It has always, together with the “upper room discourse” which John alone records for us (chapters 14-16), been one of my favorite passages in the Bible.

The High Priestly Prayer

17:1 When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.

“I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. 11 And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. [1] 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them [2] in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, [3] that they also may be sanctified [4] in truth.

20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. 24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

 The Holy Bible, English Standard Version copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission.

A message by James Boice: Christ’s Prayer for God’s City, from his book, “Two Cities, Two Loves”

How the Gospel of the Kingdom Produces Missional Apologetics                                        johnarmstrong

April 6, 2009 newsletter
John H. Armstrong

The Bible is a book of truly big ideas. We often miss the really “big ideas” because we spend too much time on the lesser ones, often the ideas that we enjoy debating with other Christians. If we are to become missional apologists then this all has to change, sooner than later. I believe we must return to the one really big idea of the gospel of the kingdom.

But here is the problem-we assume that we all know the gospel. (I want to challenge this assumption as long as I live.) We think the gospel is simple (it is in one profound sense)-it is good news about getting our sins forgiven if we personally trust Jesus to save us. You know, “Invite Christ into your heart and get your sin problem solved so you can go to heaven when you die.” The problem, of course, is that this is not the gospel of the kingdom at all. . .

When Jesus began to teach in the synagogues, and heal the sick, he “proclaimed the good news of the kingdom” (Matthew 4:23). The gospel means, in its simple essence, good news. The good news, in short form, is God’s provision of complete salvation through the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

When the writers of the four Gospels wanted to report that the gospel was being preached they said things like this: “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15). Jesus even spoke of the necessity that was placed upon him to “proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God” (Luke 4:43).

Some have argued, falsely I believe, that this kingdom of God/good news connection is not found in the Fourth Gospel. (Some even once argued that the gospel of the kingdom was for the Jews, not for the rest of us. Thankfully this idea is almost totally dead.) But consider this about the Fourth Gospel-the most oft-quoted of all texts about new life in the gospel is found in John 3 where Jesus spoke to Nicodemus about his need for birth from above. Here our Lord says, “No one can see the kingdom of God without being born again” (John 3:3) and later “No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5). The point here is obvious. Being born of God, and believing the good news, amounts to seeing and entering the kingdom of God. The new birth and the kingdom are intimately connected.

Though the Pauline epistles speak far more often of the gospel without this kingdom link, the same message is still found there. At least sixteen times Paul writes about “inheriting” or “living in” the kingdom through the good news of grace. And the writer of Hebrews, the second letter of Peter and James all refer to “the kingdom” as well. The Apocalypse even says that God “has made us to be a kingdom” (Revelation 5:10). Make no mistake about this-our loss of this emphasis on the gospel and the kingdom is not small. In fact, so far as I can tell, this might be the most important loss to the message of the good news in the modern era.

Social Gospel, Spiritual Gospel, or the “Gospel of the Kingdom

In the 19th century a great debate arose in the Christian church about the gospel. Some argued that what was missing in the era of great revivals, and the later post-Protestant developments in church history, was the social gospel. By this they had in mind the fact that the gospel spoke to things like justice, mercy and concern for the poor. Many evangelicals saw danger in this social emphasis and reacted. They defended the biblical truth that the gospel was about sin and forgiveness, about grace and personal salvation. The great tragedy was that this debate not only divided the church but it radically altered the way people heard and understood the most important message ever given to humankind.

What was the cause of this loss? I believe the answer lies in this question of understanding the nature of the gospel of the kingdom. When we pit personal forgiveness against the transforming power of the good news to change lives, through God-given repentance, we have missed the point. The gospel of grace changes us and changes everything around us. This is not a private message. It is a public declaration of what has been done in Jesus Christ. It is a message that announces to the whole world that God “through him [Christ] . . . reconciled to himself all things” (Colossians 1:20).

When we make the gospel exclusively about private forgiveness, without the call of God to share in reconciliation and transformation in the world, we invent a privatized message that does not transform people and cultures. This message has no connection to the kingdom, which is the actual context of all forgiveness and personal salvation. In avoiding the “works” paradigm many evangelicals have actually created a gospel that is detached from the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. We have lost the gospel of the kingdom.

When Simon the Sorcerer professed faith (we wonder if his faith was real in light of what follows in the story) Luke records that Philip had been proclaiming “the good news of the kingdom of God” (Acts 8:12). When people believed this same gospel they were baptized. Later in Acts we read that the gospel was preached in many cities and new disciples were told that they would have to go through many hardships “to enter the kingdom of God” (Act 14:22). But even more persuasive is the text in Acts 19:8. Here we read that Paul entered the synagogue in Ephesus and “spoke boldly for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God.” Do you not see it? We would think this text should say that he argued about the gospel. But Luke has no hesitation at all in equating the proclamation of the good news with the reality of the kingdom of God itself.

An Authentic Kingdom Community

One can rightly deduce, from reading the whole of Scripture, that the church is not identical with the kingdom of God but the community that we call the church exists to serve that kingdom. The church expands the kingdom’s impact throughout the whole world. Simply put, the gospel-and thus the church-are always directly related to the kingdom. We have separated them and this has created nothing short of spiritual chaos.

People made in God’s image long for relationships. Having lost their relationship with God through sin they have lost all deeply satisfying relationships with their fellow human beings. All the unrest and social breakdown in the family and society is the result of this brokenness. But the gospel of the kingdom restores broken relationships, with both God and people.

Genuine loving relationships, in which trust and respect are central, are desired by all people. This is a part of that “God-shaped vacuum” we have heard about. And this is why the greatest apologetic of all is missional, or communal. People cannot function as they were made by God without relationships. This is why they gravitate to bars, civic clubs, college fraternities and sororities, sports teams, Gay Pride groups, Internet chat rooms and hundreds of other expressions of human community. And this is why the church fails to present the gospel of the kingdom effectively when it is ceases to be a unique community of people living eternal life in loving relationships.

The fullness of the kingdom of God must be preached and it must be demonstrated. This is not an either/or, but rather a both/and. The best apology that we can give to people today is to show them the implications of the kingdom of God at work in a healthy church. This is why the evil one attacks the church the way he does. He does not need to attack the world. The world already does what it does because they follow him. He attacks the church (cf. Ephesians 6, which refers to spiritual warfare in corporate ways, not private ones) because if the church fails to preach and live the gospel of the kingdom then there is no apologetic that can draw the world to the church.

Conclusion

The generation born since 1965 longs for community more than any I have ever encountered. I am not surprised by this given the impact of modernity and consumerism. I believe the answer to this is missional apologetics.

Put more simply, the answer is found in loving communities that are involved in the real lives of deeply broken people. The staple of kingdom/gospel ministry will always be intentional spiritual friendships. Let me put this as plainly as I know how:

No Christian should ever be without at least one intentional and significant relationship with a non-Christian.

Note, I did not say every Christian is an evangelist. Nor did I say that every Christian is to be a trained apologist. (A careful study of Colossians 4:2-6 will dispossess you of this faulty, but all too popular, notion.)

I have known several Christians who left other religions to become followers of Christ. One, a Muslim, told me time and again that the one factor that drew him to become a Christ follower was the love that he saw in Christians for one another. Several studies of the reasons why Muslims convert to Christ show the same thing. It is not our ability to convince them that Mohammed is a false teacher, or even that the Koran is dangerous, that ultimately wins them to Christ. It is their seeing us living in a love that they cannot and do not know.

The great early church theologian Tertullian said this so well: “It is the Christian’s way of life that shows the validity of his beliefs: goodness is their identifying characteristic” (cited by William Dyrness, Christian Apologetics in a World Community, 28).

(I usually don’t post excerps from others in such detail, but this was so good and fit in with my recent posts and conversation with some that I made an exception. John Armstrong is a very dear friend,Director of ACT3 ministries. He teaches a course in Missional Apologetics at the Billy Graham School of Evangelism at Wheaton College).E4Unity

To follow the Four Part Series-Here

The Saints Gallery @E4Unity does not sub-divide by heritage: you have to look elsewhere for that.

However, since I mentioned this week a celebration of 400 years of the Baptist heritage, I thought I might add a few names of Baptists here in America that would be in any Saints gallery: men like George W. Truett, Walter Rauschenbusch, and Martin Luther King. Each one a Baptist minister, each one made tremendous contributions to the Church of Christ as well as to America, but very different in their gifts and perspectives involving their Christian faith and how it was manifested in their individual and professional lives.

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Walter Rauschenbusch – A German-Baptist that worked among the working poor in the early 189o’s and developed what became known as the “social gospel”. But it would be a great mistake to brand his ministry by that phrase without trying to understand the man himself and his environment, which is suddenly not so strange to our own situation.

Rauschenbusch sought to combine his old evangelical passion (which he never abandoned) with his new social awareness. He adopted critical approaches to the Bible and identified himself with liberal theologians like Albrecht Ritschl and Adolf Harnack. The kingdom of God became the theme by which he pulled together his views on religion and science, piety and social action, Christianity and culture. Did he get it right? He certainly tried.

George W. Truett – Known as a great Preacher and educator, Dr.Truett was pastor of First Baptist Church, Dallas,Texas, for 47 years (until his death in 1944). His influence and contribution to the city of Dallas and the Southern Baptist Convention is astounding. But he was also a strong advocate in this country for religious liberty and his spirit in the above link-a 1920 address on the steps of our nation’s Capitol building, is very different than the recent voices of the “religious right”.

What is the explanation of this consistent and notably praiseworthy record of our plain Baptist people in the realm of religious liberty? The answer is at hand. It is not because Baptists are inherently better than their neighbors — we would make no such arrogant claim. Happy are our Baptist people to live side by side with their neighbors of other Christian communions, and to have glorious Christian fellowship with such neighbors, and to honor such servants of God for their inspiring lives and their noble deeds. From our deepest hearts we pray: “Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity.” The spiritual union of all true believers in Christ is now and ever will be a blessed reality, and such union is deeper and higher and more enduring than any and all forms and rituals and organizations.

Martin Luther King – I can only add here my personal appreciation for this man and what he gave his life for; a vision that went far beyond his own race or time. When you are able to appreciate the Black church heritage and especially their own preaching tradition, then you have no hesitation to tag him as one the outstanding preachers in our generation. God gave him an incredible mind and speech pattern that was all his own. Take a few minutes to listen to his speech against the Viet Nam War at the link above. You may not agree with his politics but surely you will agree  that he has left a large legacy, especially in the principles of non-violence for all religious people.

So these and many other men and women in our history were of the Baptist heritage and some use to speak of that as a “large tent” with room for greatly diverse convictions. Each one testified to Christ from their own perspective. I have not tried to hide the weaknesses or the warts of any of these men-that is not for me to do. The Baptists are making giganic contributions in almost every field; education (there are more Baptist Colleges and Universities in America than any other faith), healthcare (hospitals and clinics and a host of human service centers), and orphanages, and especially in advancing world-wide the gospel of the Kingdom.

These are just a few reasons to celebrate what God has been able to do through the people called the Baptists these last 400 years. To God be the glory great things He has done. If only we had been more obedient we could have greatly multiplied these efforts.