Who’s on First?

As a Christian, we’re constantly warring between two sides of ourselves – the unrepentant flesh and the redeemed new creation. This war manifests itself in many aspects of our lives as the flesh tries to regain dominance, something which ultimately will never happen, in manners such as a temptation to lust or envy, or an urging to sin in some particular manner. No manner of temptation or urging to sin, however, can compare with the subtlety and destructive power of putting oneself first.

“Thou shalt have no other god before Me”

This is the first commandment and it is often the one most broken. I know in my life, the manner in which I hold my ideal priorities is

  1. God
  2. Family/My fiancee
  3. Work
  4. Myself

Yet so often I find myself slipping gradually into a cycle of, quite literally, reversing that list. I become most important, followed by my work, etc. In doing so, everything becomes about me – what I want to do, how I support my wants, who I use to get what I want, etc. This is a complete inversion and misapplication of my life.

Rather than myself, God should be first. My relationships should bring Him glory, not me my “needs”. My work should further His goals, or allow me to do so, not feeding my material wants. My person and actions should be glorifying to God and edifying to His body, the Church, not satiating myself with my own desires.

Church, can you see the danger of this gradual slide. This transition from God to self as the number one priority in each of our lives can and will render us inert, insular, and isolated, not moving, growing, and spreading the Gospel with those we interact with. This is exactly what Satan wants, to nullify the effect Christ has on us and, through us, the world and, by allowing ourselves to give in to this subtle reversal, we are playing right into his hands.

So, I ask you right now, where do your priorities lie? Are they where they need to be or have you, like myself and so many others, allowed your focus to be shifted towards yourself?

A current medical school applicant, James grew up on the missions field in Cape Town, South Africa. He graduated from Liberty University in May 2014 and is seeking, ultimately, to serve as a missionary doctor.  Read more from James at Third Culture Musings.

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A Visible Kingdom in a Culture of Death

The culture of death has never been so visible. It’s every where you look today. The sanctity of life has lost all meaning.

Another black teenager dies in a drive-by and we just flip the newspaper page because it happened in the same section of town that last week’s shooting occurred. And oh, by the way, he was in a gang. “That’s just life in the inner city”, we say.

A man is arrested for shooting his wife in a fit of rage and we shrug because there was a history of domestic abuse and no one cared enough to intervene before things got out of control.

New abortion statistics are released and we grieve for a minute, decide to send $15 to our favorite pro-life candidate’s campaign, and we don’t think about it again until the next major election.

A terminally-ill cancer patient moves to a state where euthanasia is legal and we cry for a minute that she decided to take her own life but we do little to address the real issue.

We hear the stories about countless Mexican lives being lost due to their country’s ever-thriving drug industry and the only concern we have is “guard our borders better so they don’t come here.”

Christians lose their lives by the hundreds in Iraq and we pray for them before chalking it up to radical Islam doing what radical Islam does.

Ebola kills thousands of men, women, and children in West Africa and we irrationally freak out about the minuscule possibility that a handful of American kids on a mission trip on the other side of the same continent will bring the disease back home with them.

Where’s the concern? Why aren’t Kingdom people taking a stand for life?

In this Advent season, we celebrate the Kingdom coming near. The celebration of God sending his own essence in the person of Jesus to this condemned world to redeem all of humankind is what this season is all about.

Yet, even though Christ came and raised up a Church and taught it to be actively involved in all matters of life and death, it decides to stay in the periphery, paying politicians to deal with the issues rather than tackling them head-on.

Life matters. Every single person made in the image of God matters to God and thus should matter to us, His people.

Black, white, red, brown, yellow, illegal, elderly, diseased, unborn, mentally-ill, homeless, incapacitated, criminal–they all matter to God.

Where are the Kingdom people at times like this? Sure, there are ministries helping the hurting. In most cases, however, you have to look with a high-powered microscope to find Kingdom people.

The Kingdom is strong enough, viable enough, and populous enough to be extremely visible in these tumultuous times.

Kingdom always starts small. It all started with a baby in a manger. 30 years later it was Jesus plus the twelve. A few years later, 120 people carried the Kingdom mandate into the Upper Room. Soon thereafter, that 120 turned into 3,000. And it kept multiplying from there. 2,000-plus years later it should be much more than what we see.

Life and death is a Kingdom matter. Do what you can, where you can. Reach out. Do not be polarizing in a time when we should be incarnational.

Stand with the oppressed minority. Pray for the sick. Minister to the homeless. Serve the weak, downtrodden, and lonely. Reach into the ghetto. Help the illegal.

Every life matters. Every Kingdom-minded Christian is needed. Let’s do the work.

Joel A. Barker is a worship pastor, minister of the Gospel, blogger and church-planter-in-training from Chattanooga, Tennessee. Follow his Kingdom Voice Ministry blog at joelabarker.com.

From Point A to Point B

Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them everything I have commanded you.
Matt 28:19-20

Looking at Jesus’ last words before His ascension, we can see how the great commission tells us our goal, what we need to do, and what we should do once that is achieved:

  1. Make disciples
  2. Baptise them
  3. Teach them to do the same

I find it rather funny that Jesus never expanded on that first point: “Make disciples.” It has always remained that very direct end goal with no real how-to ever given. There’s no 12-step program, Romans road, or Evangi-cube exposition given to the apostles. Instead, He leaves it rather open-ended and, honestly, I’m glad He did. You see, by not giving us a roadmap to discipleship, Christ emphasized the work-less, God-focused nature of salvation; He forced us to look back on His example; and He gave us freedom to evangelise in the way best fitting our personalities and talents.

Throughout the Gospels, we see Jesus mentioning and alluding to the fact that there is no way to salvation except through Him (cf. John 14:6). He is not telling the disciples to seek salvation through the law, as Paul would later admonish the Galatians against, but that He is the only true source of righteousness and the only source sufficient to cover a lifetime’s worth of sin.  All of this culminated on the cross when, as Christ died, the temple curtain tore, signifying that the barrier of sin between man and God was now broken. It was not the law that brought salvation, but Christ.

Christ also drew many to him and proclaimed the coming of the Kingdom of God. His is the example we follow, when we evangelise and disciple those around us. Christ showed evangelism in a number of ways, all tailored around the individual he was meeting with. When talking to Nicodemus (John 3), Jesus spoke as an academic, with well-worded arguments and reasonings. When He was speaking to the woman at the well (John 4), however, His approach was loving, yet confrontational of her sins, ultimately offering rescue and salvation from the burden of it all. These are just two examples; there are countless more showing “how to evangelise.”

With discipleship, however, we see a more consistent theme running: Christ calls, Christ teaches, then Christ sends. Note that those whom He called already knew of who He claimed to be. They didn’t necessarily know Him, but they knew of Him and were expecting Him. So, we can say that discipleship follows evangelism, which makes sense. Yes, it’s true you can disciple someone to salvation – that happens often in churches, especially in Sunday school or youth group – but for true discipleship to develop, it must be with a current Christian. That doesn’t mean that the great commission is telling us to forgo evangelism. No, Christ said to make disciples, so we need to evangelise before we can even get to that step, as though it were a step 0.5 of sorts.

Which leads me to my last point, Christ gave us freedom in evangelism. Christ gave examples during His time on Earth, true, but He also gave us very unique skills and personalities in order to reach the disparate peoples of this planet. I, for one, am terrible at conveying the Gospel to a feelings-oriented person, but I can talk evolutionary theory and philosophy while tying in basic theology till the cows come home. God made me able to reach specific types of people very well and He gave me the passion and desire to evangelise to them as well. Now, that doesn’t mean I forgo evangelism to all people – I am to be preaching the Gospel to everyone I meet and, often, God uses my deficiencies to act in ways that blow my mind. Rather, it merely means that I am well-equipped in a specific area.

Bringing everything back to the Great Commission, Jesus didn’t give us an explicitly worded roadmap to get from point A to point B. Instead, He gave us a list of checkpoints. How we reach those checkpoints is up to us and we have been given the tools to do so. So, with our skills in hand, let us evangelise to and disciple those we come across, to the best of our abilities, in in the way that means most for them, bringing God the glory at their salvation and subsequent obedience, bringing in turn more disciples to further the work assigned to us.

A current medical school applicant, James grew up on the missions field in Cape Town, South Africa. He graduated from Liberty University in May 2014 and is seeking, ultimately, to serve as a missionary doctor.  Read more from James at Third Culture Musings.

A Problem with the Western Approach to Global Engagement

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By Patrick Hubbard 

            From the outset of this article I want to be clear that my intention is not to beat up on Western missionaries or organizations.  Rather, I hope through this article to help you see things from a different perspective that may be beneficial to our efforts to expand the kingdom of God to the ends of the earth. The problem mentioned in the title is the problem of fragmentation.  What do I mean by fragmentation?

            In the West we are inclined to break things down into individual units.  With regards to global engagement and mission we divide the task into many separate components.  We have ministries that focus on segments like church planting, evangelism, orphan care, development and poverty alleviation, justice, human trafficking, etc.  The list is almost endless and the specifications abound.  As a result we have a myriad of denominational and parachurch organizations working and overlapping one another. 

            One benefit to this approach is that specialization/expertise in specific areas is helpful when addressing very complex issues like poverty and all of its social and spiritual implications.  However, let’s think for a moment about the downside.  To put this into perspective lets zero in on one hypothetical community.  We’ll call it Example Town (ok so I’m not very creative).  Example Town is a very poor community in the developing world and, as is expected, has many different spiritual and social problems.  These problems are typically addressed by numerous ministries from the various segments listed above.

            For example, Ministry A is a church planting ministry working in Example Town.  This in and of itself is very unusual.  Normally, church planting ministries from the West do not focus their efforts on very poor communities.  Instead they usually invest their resources in middle and upper class communities where the church can quickly become financially self-sustaining.  That being said, in this case, Ministry A has decided to work in this needy community.

            In keeping with their Western propensity to break things down into individual components Ministry A focuses their church planting efforts on the spiritual needs of the people.  They do evangelism and preach at multiple services a week.  They do an excellent job of caring for the souls of the community but are not very effective at caring for bodies.  This is okay for them because, in part, they know others will come and minister to the bodies while they do the “more important” work of winning souls.

            Enter Ministry B which is a group that focuses on feeding the hungry.  They are staffed by godly people who love Jesus and want to feed him by feeding the poor.  Thus they arrive in Example Town and setup a feeding center.  They serve three meals a day and give the children in the community vitamins.  They really help the poor families in Example Town to avoid malnutrition.  They even do some Bible stories with the children but they have no real ties to Ministry A or to the local body of Christ, except that hunger forces some members of the church to eat there on a regular basis.

            There are lots of orphans in Example Town.  Aids has really taken a toll here.  Ministry B is able to feed some of the orphans but they are not able to get them off the streets.  Thankfully Ministry C shows up and builds an orphanage to care for these children.  The Western couple who runs the orphanage love the children and, as best they can, treat all 80 of them as if they were their own.  Now that they have arrived the orphans don’t have to eat at Ministry B any longer so they are able to help other families.  This is a great help to the community as well, but outside of this the two groups have little to do with one another and even less to do with the church that Ministry A is planting. 

            Ministries A, B, and C are doing good work in Example Town.  Souls are being won, the poor are being fed and orphans are being cared for.  This is all excellent news, but unless something changes in the community the people will always be poor and need ministries A, B, and C to care for them.  Fortunately, Ministry D is sending a team to Example Town.  This is wonderful because Ministry D is focused on poverty alleviation and development.  They jump right in and begin making micro-loans and teaching job skills in the community.  As Christians they are governed by the gospel, but their focus is structural change, so they decide to leave the spiritual work to Ministry A.

            Example Town is a lucky place.  They have foreigners from four ministries caring for their needs.  Meanwhile the members of the church that Ministry A is planting show up like clockwork for services and worship events, but they aren’t very engaged in the community.  As non-Westerners they have a deep concern for the whole individual and community.  However, their church says the soul is what is really important and besides those nice people from overseas are taking care of the orphans and the hungry for them.  As a result they continue to learn about Jesus and want to be involved in ministering to the community but they can’t compete with Ministry B, C, and D so they will just keep winning souls and watching from the sidelines.

            Before I go any further let me be clear.  This is a very simplistic generalization to hopefully make a point.  The examples above are not intended to represent any particular ministry, but are intended to point out a very typical approach to global engagement by the West.  If Ministry A, B, C, and D actually represented any specific ministries I would adamantly affirm their love for Jesus and desire to serve him by engaging the world.  That being said I would like to propose an alternative approach.

            Now imagine Example Town is a needy community among the global poor.  Currently no one from the West is working in the community and the people are struggling with spiritual and physical poverty.  One day Ministry E shows up.  Ministry E is a church planting ministry, but they are different from Ministry A described above.  Ministry E thinks like the local people think.  They believe that Jesus loves whole people and they don’t divide them into souls and bodies.  Instead they believe that their church planting efforts should be comprehensive in nature.  They want to bring total transformation in the community so that it reflects the kingdom of God in every aspect of life and they want this to be done by the local church, the local hands and feet of Jesus.

            With this in mind Ministry E begins working in the community in much the same way Ministry A would.  They visit homes and lead cell groups.  They organize corporate worship services and even have Sunday School.  However, as they enter people’s homes and spend time with them they quickly realize that the people in Example Town are hungry.  Rather than contacting Ministry B and asking them to send someone to open a feeding center they decide to dedicate some resources to equipping the small number of new believers they have reached to begin feeding the hungry in their community.

            The church plant explains to these new followers of Christ that they are to love God and love their neighbors.  This love is a sacrificial love that sets aside self and serves others.  With this understanding and minimal resources from Ministry E the local body begins to deliver food to the community and prepare meals.  In the process, in a very green and unpolished way, they begin telling their neighbors about the one who died to give them new life.  The one who was hungry, tired, and rejected so that they would not have to be.

            As they continue to feed the hungry among them, their numbers grow, and they take notice of all the orphans in their community.  They search the scriptures to see what obligation they have to these orphans.  They learn that as Christians they have a responsibility to care for widows and orphans.  So, naturally they begin helping them.  Even in their poverty they determine to do something.  Some of the church members give their blankets and warm clothing to the elderly widows.  Others take orphan children into their homes.  Realizing that they cannot do this alone they approach Ministry E, who is helping to plant the church in their community, and Ministry E joins them in working together to care for the widows and orphans.

            Finally, the members of the church plant realize that unless some things change structurally their community will always struggle with these issues.  They develop plans to help the young people stay in school and provide job skills training.  They develop ways to begin breaking the cycle of poverty.  The problem is they too are poor and in need of these things personally as well.  They go back to Ministry E and share their vision.  The leaders of Ministry E, wanting to encourage the local body as they seek to transform Example Town for the glory of Christ, join them and begin equipping the local church to implement their vision.  They even provide the seed money to begin several projects the local leaders have planned and will execute.

            I hope you see the difference between the two examples.  The most significant is the involvement the local church has in the approach Ministry E takes.  Of lesser significance, is the cost savings that result from one organization taking a comprehensive approach and joining with the local body, rather than four separate entities working in Example Town. In this example the approach of Ministry E represents the approach of Living Bread Ministries.  Living Bread is the organization I founded for the purpose of comprehensive church planting among the global poor.  We are currently working in Brazil, Thailand, and Kenya and all of our church planting efforts follow the comprehensive approach demonstrated above.  To learn more visit www.livingbread.org.