Monday, February 25, 2013

How should we support missionaries? Here’s some ideas

It is one thing to “have” missionaries on your bulletin board at church. It is quite another to “support them” in a way that is consistent with what the Bible teaches. John instructs the church in his third letter to support them “in all your efforts,” and that missionaries should be sent on “their journey in a manner worthy of God.” Why? Because these “have gone out for the sake of the name.” They have left behind family and friends and comfort and security and moved, in some cases, to a place where they will face trials and suffering and sometimes even death. Not for their name’s sake, but for His.

How should we support missionaries, especially those whom we have sent out from our own church? I would suggest three things at minimum that would fill up part of what John meant by “in all your efforts.”

With prayer. John Bunyan said, “You can do more than pray after you’ve prayed, but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed.” We are to pray first and most of all. Jesus said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.” The promise to give us whatever we ask is in the context of mission. As we go and bear fruit in the mission he has given us, we can pray with confidence. That means we can and should pray with boldness for the missionaries we support, that God would protect them and provide for them. But even more importantly, we must pray that God will use them for the sake of his name.

With practical help. From a prison cell in his last months, Paul asked for three things from his son in the faith, Timothy. He asked for his cloak. Paul was cold. He asked for his parchments and books. Paul wanted to read, especially the Word of God. He asked for Timothy to come to him. Paul was lonely! We support missionaries when we write to them or Skype with them. We support them when we send them supplies. We support them the best, perhaps, when we go and visit with them to encourage them and help them in the work.

With financial support. We support a family of nine we sent to Bocachica, Colombia. Let me share one of their recent prayer requests about living on an island where there is a daily struggle to have clean drinking water.

We have dug a second well. We hit sweet water, however, it only gives 20 gallons (per day) ... for a family of 9 it’s nowhere near enough. The problem is we don’t at this time think we should put more money into this well. It may be that we need to look for another owner who will let us use their land to put another well on. However in the area we need it ... the owner is hungry for money. So without buying land, which we can’t do at this time, we are back to square one.

Hudson Taylor said, “God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supply.” The missionary’s job is to make sure he is doing God’s work in God’s way. But where does “God’s supply” come from? Most often, it comes from God’s people. We must make sure that we are doing our part to supply the needs of the missionaries we support. With prayer, practical help, and finances.

J. Mark Fox is the author of “A Faithful Man” and the pastor of Antioch Community Church on Power Line Road in Elon. You can Tweet him @jmarkfox and can find all of Mark’s books on Amazon or other online sellers. Email Mark at markfox@antiochchurch.cc

Friday, February 22, 2013

Book Giveaway: Brothers, We Are Not Professionals

Win this book. Read our review of it. Check out the WTSbooks.com sale on it. That is all.


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Book Review: Brothers, We Are Not Professionals by John Piper

Later this week we will be giving away a copy of Brothers, We Are Not Professionals so stay tuned!

Just at the beginning of the month, I came on staff at my church full time. And let me tell you, the pressure in a mere two weeks (largely that I have placed on myself) to step up my game has surprised me. The drive to be professional, polished, prepared, proficient—the performance trap had swallowed me whole. So the arrival of John Piper's revised edition of Brothers, We Are Not Professionals could not have come at a better time. These were challenges and questions that I needed to consider as I evaluated the tendencies of my own heart. As Piper asks in his new preface:
  • Is there professional praying? 
  • Is there professional trusting in God's promises? 
  • Is there professional weeping over souls? 
  • Is there professional musing on the depths of revelation? 
  • Is there professional rejoicing over truth? 
  • Is there professional treasuring the riches of Christ? 
  • Is there professional walking by the Spirit? 
  • Is there professional exercise of spiritual gifts? 
  • Is there professional courage in the face of persecution? 
The beauty in Piper's plea is that it relieves us of the burden of oppressive professionalism—and calls us to humble, Spirit-empowered ministry in one sweeping movement.

 But this book isn't just a caution against the slick and skillful specialist/pastor ideal. Within this book lies the heartbeat of Piper's ministry and writing in seed-form. The themes and passions of John Piper's pastoral life are here as well. With chapter titles like "God Loves His Glory", "Live and Preach Justification by Faith", "Consider Christian Hedonism", "Give Them Passion for Missions", and "Sever the Root of Racism", I cannot help but think of books like Desiring God, Finally Alive, and Bloodlines. In deed, this book is as much as anything else a survey of Piper's teaching and writing over the years, and that is by no means a criticism.

But speaking of criticisms, if I have one of the book it is that Piper has given himself a fine line to try to walk between what he is calling us away from and what he is calling us to. While the high bar of professionalism in the ministry has it's pitfalls, it is not the only high bar that pastors may set for themselves. In back to back chapters he challenges us to become students of the original Hebrew and Greek texts and of Christian biographies. This is not to say that I don't think either of these things are greatly beneficial! But if our aim is to deconstruct the professionalist tendencies of the pastorate, we must be careful not to merely trade one elite class of preacher for another.

While Brothers, We Are Not Professionals may not be Piper's most seminal work, it is quite possibly his most comprehensive. Thus I would say this book is not only a must read for pastors, but it is a great place to start for anyone who would like an overview of most of Piper's other writings. The chapters are rarely longer than six or seven pages; short enough read and meditate on (or cram in between meetings). But the weight and gravity of the challenges here will take a lifetime apply. And lest your own bent towards performance is already despairing at that thought, let Piper's prayer correct:
"Banish professionalism from our midst, Oh God, and in its place put passionate prayer, poverty of spirit, hunger for God, rigorous study of holy things, white-hot devotion to Jesus Christ, utter indifference to all material gain, and unremitting labor to rescue the perishing, perfect the saints, and glorify our sovereign Lord. In Jesus' great and powerful name. Amen."
Rating: 4 of 5 stars 

Recommended for: Pastors and those looking for a survey of Piper's works

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Gospel message will stand

In the final paragraph of his last-recorded letter, before he greets those whom he loves, Paul issues a warning to Timothy to beware of one Alexander who “did me great harm,” and who “strongly opposed our message.” That set me thinking about the difference between message and methods. Much of what Christians protest about one another really has to do with the latter. There’s the story about two preachers who were standing on the side of the road holding signs. The first sign read, “The End is Near.” The next read, “Turn around now before it’s too late.” One driver flew past and yelled, “Get a job, losers!” followed closely by another who screamed, “Get lost, you religious nuts!” A few moments later the preachers heard the screech of brakes, followed by two loud splashes.

One preacher said to the other, “Do you think we should change our signs to say ‘Bridge Out’?”

You may not like those who stand on the street corners and preach or hold up signs that warn of impending judgment, but your argument is more with methods than message. You may not like the fact that some pastors give an altar call every Sunday morning and others, hardly ever. That’s methods, not message.

You may not like the way an author like C.S. Lewis uses fantasy to write about the Gospel. Method, not message. It is part of the Christian maturing process that teaches us to distinguish between method and message, and to give each other great leeway with the former. Not with the latter. The message of the Gospel, as preached by Jesus and explained by the Apostles, must not be changed in any way. When someone changes it, or opposes it, to use Paul’s language, we must beware.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer saw it clearly in the very earliest days of Hitler’s reign in Germany. Der Fuhrer made it illegal for Jews who had converted to Christianity to be members any longer of the German church. Bonhoeffer wrote in response, “What is at stake is by no means whether our German members of congregations can still tolerate church fellowship with the Jews. It is rather the task of Christian preaching to say: Here is the church, where Jews and Germans stand together under the Word of God; here is the proof whether a church is still the church or not.” Strong message, but one that is supported by the teaching of Scripture: Someone who opposes the Gospel is a heretic, and a church that rejects the Gospel is apostate. Its lampstand has been removed.

I know many of you saw the Super Bowl a few weeks ago. One of the most popular $3 million advertisements during the game had this tagline at the end: “The one thing that’s true is what’s true for you.” That message clearly opposes the truth of the Gospel. In fact, you could use that statement by L. Ron Hubbard, a credo that underpins the Scientology cult, to justify Hitler’s slaughter of more than 11 million people. It was “true” for Hitler that Jews and other non-Aryans were inferior and therefore expendable. Hitler’s philosophical hero, Friedrich Nietzsche, prophesied in his book “The Will to Power,” that a race of rulers would rise up, highly gifted in intellect and will, a superhuman race. William Shirer wrote this: “That in the end Hitler considered himself the superman of Nietzsche’s prophesy cannot be doubted.”

We can agree to disagree on methods: how we will proclaim the good news of the Gospel. The Gospel message, however, must stand. It will stand.

J. Mark Fox is the author of “A Faithful Man” and the pastor of Antioch Community Church on Power Line Road in Elon. You can Tweet him @jmarkfox and can find all of Mark’s books on Amazon or other online sellers. Email Mark at markfox@antiochchurch.cc

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Wrestling with Lent

Last year, a couple of us here at CIC had a friendly debate on the merits (Yes! Pun intended) of observing Lent as Protestant Christians.

While we both conceded valid points on the other's side, one piece was decidedly more in favor than the other. And since no one has come up with any reflections or reactions to Lent this year, I thought I'd take this opportunity to offer those two pieces. I've shared the closing thoughts here, but let me commend both of the pieces in their entirety to you.

Note: I use the words "pro" and "con" here in a very polarizing manner, and Tim would be the first to say he's not completely against observing Lent (and does so in his piece). But this is a blog, and I've learned that a blogger must use his words in the most incendiary and divisive way possible or you're no better than a second-rate blogger.

CON: Our Obsession with Lent by Timothy Bertolet
I am sure many who celebrate Lent as Protestants are well meaning. I just worry: are the doctrines of the Reformation so far gone that we can't even see the works-righteousness approach that is creeping back into our Christianity? I worry that evangelical young people celebrate Lent because it is cool, trendy and a mark of 'serious Christian commitment.' If this is true it is horrid to the 'good news' of the gospel.

I don't want to be legalistically for or against Lent. I would just caution you to think about things Biblically and carefully. Examine your heart before you proceed. Ask yourself: what does this say about my doctrine? Will Lent highlight the gospel of free grace or take away from it?
I would say in some cases--though admittedly not in all--it actually does begin to point away from free grace in the gospel. The danger is that we never notice the subtle shift in direction and soon find ourself heading down a road to another gospel.
PRO: The Gospel and Lent: A Reformer's Reasoning by Jared Totten
And here's where grace and the gospel comes home. My church takes every Sunday off during Lent...Every Sabbath leading up to Easter is a mini-celebration that we are no longer under dietary laws—and The Law in the larger sense. Lent fasting is for prayer and submission and dependence, but we will always and only do these imperfectly. So each Sabbath of Lent—but especially Easter—is a celebration of the fact that our right stand does not depend on a fast (and its success or failure). It does not depend on how well or how long we pray. It depends solely on the One who fed himself and depended on prayer and the Word throughout his faultless life. It rests completely on the One who submitted to being emptied, being a servant, being humbled, and being crucified. My righteousness rests in the fasting of another, the dependence of another, the submission of another, the prayers of another.

Fasting isn't an end in itself (if it is, then it's just dieting). But when we willfully give up something good in order to learn greater dependence on and submission to God through prayer and the Word, then our very discipline reflects and identifies with Christ in his humble incarnation and celebrates Christ in his perfect substitution. I can hardly think of a better preparation for Easter.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Get Keller's latest at a steal over at Westminster Books!

I am biased, I admit it. If a deal comes across my radar for a new Tim Keller book, you're probably gonna hear about it. Especially when it's from our friends at Westminster Books. So lemme cut to the chase: Keller's latest, Galatians For You, is ridiculously cheap at WTSbooks.com right now. While it retails hardcover at $22.99, right now you can get a copy for $11. Or if you buy five or more, you can get them for $10 (and free shipping as Westminster does for any order over $49).

Monday, February 11, 2013

It takes a long time to grow an old friend

The Bible says “Job’s three friends” came to him when they heard of his great suffering. That made me wonder … did Job just have three friends? Or was it that he had three close friends, which are more than most people? I think of Jesus, who also had three close friends, Peter, James and John, when he walked the earth. Who are the three you would call “close friends?” The ones who, if you were afflicted as Job was, you would want them to come and be with you? By the way, I have heard that these three men were a great comfort to Job until they opened their mouths. Sometimes friends don’t need friends to talk, just to sit in silence, and suffer and pray with them.

It is interesting that Paul also wanted three friends to come and be with him in his last days in prison. In his final chapter, Paul specifically mentioned those men he wanted by his side. We can learn something from each request.

First, Paul says to Timothy, “Do your best to come to me soon.” Timothy was Paul’s spiritual son, a friend he had invested in through teaching, prayer, and ministry. You could easily make the case that there was no one Paul loved more. He told the church in Philippi that he was hoping to send Timothy to them because, “I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare.” Timothy was a younger man, a disciple of Paul’s, and arguably his closest friend, even though the miles often separated them.

Second, Paul mentions Luke, who was Paul’s constant companion in his last years of ministry. Luke is the beloved physician who joined Paul during the apostle’s third missionary journey. You will notice the narration of the book of Acts (written by Luke) changes from thirdperson “they” to firstperson “we” in chapter 21. Luke was with Paul during some of his greatest struggles, and Luke was with Paul in prison. Not in the cell with him, but there for him every day. Luke was never mentioned by Paul as a great evangelist or an effective Bible teacher. He would not be remembered for that. He would be remembered for his ministry of presence and his acts of service. He helped Paul just by being there by his side.

Third, Paul asks for Mark. Really, Paul? This is the same young man who left you and Barnabas on the first mission trip, and when Barnabas wanted to take his cousin on the second journey, you said, “No way!” And then you and Barnabas split up. Is that right, Paul? Is this the same guy? Paul might reply to our questions, “No. He’s not the same guy. And neither am I. God has changed both of us.” This is an encouragement to me and it should be to all of us, because we all have our John Mark stories where we have failed miserably. Or someone else has been a John Mark and has failed us. Even though John Mark quit on Paul, he didn’t quit on God. And God certainly didn’t quit on him. Since that time, Mark had been Peter’s assistant, traveled with Paul, and is now preparing to write the second Gospel account. Mark’s failure in his early days of ministry was the back door to great fruitfulness. What a treasure is a friend! Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote, “Friendship is a sheltering tree.” John Leonard said, “It takes a long time to grow an old friend.” The rewards of close companions, patiently cultivated, far exceed the labors.

J. Mark Fox is the author of “A Faithful Man” and the pastor of Antioch Community Church on Power Line Road in Elon. You can Tweet him @jmarkfox and can find all of Mark’s books on Amazon or other online sellers. Email Mark at markfox@antiochchurch.cc

Monday, February 4, 2013

Find a vision for family devotions

In my very limited Spanish, with the help of some charades, I asked Luis if he had led his family in devotions that morning. He said yes. Guillermo said the same thing. It was, for me, one of the highlights of our week in the impoverished community called Bocachica, some 1,900 miles away in South America. The night before, I spoke through a translator for about an hour to men and women who came to hear how they could make their marriages and their families stronger. I began the three-night conference by encouraging the married men there to step up to spiritual leadership in their homes. A good place to start, I told them, is with consistent family devotions.

“First, pick a 15-minute time slot with which you can be most consistent; for my family, that is first thing in the morning, but your best time may be at supper or in the evening. Next, select a book in the Bible, and start with chapter one. I would recommend the book of Proverbs, since it is easily understood and is a wonderful manual for raising children. Get everybody settled with their Bibles open, and read a few verses. Take turns reading. If it’s just you and your wife who can read, that is easy. But if any of your children can read, let them take a turn as well. After you have read a few verses, answer questions about the text. What does it say? What did the writer mean? How should we respond? Are we commanded to think something is true or to know something is not true? Or are we commanded to do something or to stop doing something?”

I then took 1 Peter 3:7, as an example, which says, “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.”

“Notice several things about this verse,” I said. “First, husbands are supposed to live with their wives. You cannot leave her! Then, he is to live with her in an understanding way. Here’s the good news: Men do not have to understand ‘women.’ Here’s the better news: God commands us to understand our wives, and wherever he commands, he also provides a way.”

We went further in discussing how to lead our families in devotions, ending with prayer. “I will ask for prayer requests from my family,” I said. “Then, we all get on our knees and take turns praying.”

I talked some more about the joys of teaching your children the Bible, and learning alongside them in the process.

“Make it a topic of conversation at the dinner table,” I said. “Bring up something you heard on the radio or at work and ask, ‘What does the Bible say about that?’ Challenge what you watch on television with the same questions. In so doing, you will be teaching your children to think and to live biblically.”

The next two days, the conference attendance grew, and more men told me, along with Luis and Guillermo, that they had begun leading family devotions. On the last night of the conference, almost every man came forward in response to an invitation: “All of you who want to make a public commitment, before God and each other, to learn to be the spiritual leaders in your homes, come forward and we will pray with you.” How about you, husbands and dads? Will you also take that step?

J. Mark Fox is the author of “A Faithful Man” and the pastor of Antioch Community Church on Power Line Road in Elon. You can Tweet him @jmarkfox and can find all of Mark’s books on Amazon or other online sellers. Email Mark at markfox@antiochchurch.cc

Friday, February 1, 2013

The Real Radical

Over at the "The Blazing Center," Stephen Altrogge has a post entitled "Jesus Doesn’t Want Your Risk, He Wants Your Life." He says a number of things that I've been mulling over for a couple of years. I have seen what he talks about illustrated over and over again.

In all our evangelical emphasis in doing great things for God, being bold, taking risks, etc., I think, we have more often appealed to an idol of youth: the glamour of adrenaline filled risk taking. Admittedly I am more of a cautious introvert so my thoughts might be skewed the other way. But the emphasis on doing "big" things for God can play into idols that the heart has to be big.

Obviously if God calls you to be a missionary, to go overseas, to do something that is beyond your comfort zone, you should do it. But how many young people get fired up to do "the big" but haven't first had a life habit of faithfulness in the little things? It seems to me, Jesus tells us to be faithful in little before we are faithful in much.

Let me illustrate with a story. When I was a young man in youth group, I knew of some individuals who would go on "missions trips" through these high adventure programs that involved boot camp like training followed by a work trip to some exotic place with a real need. I cannot judge these individuals hearts, but by their own admission they did it at least in part to "get away for the summer." It seems the lure of excitement was primary and secondary was "oh I get to serve God too." I, on the other hand, spent a number of summers working as a camp counselor at your average run-of-the-mill Bible camp. I loved this ministry. On occasion at college mission rallies and other venues people in my situation, were subtle berated or looked down upon because we we're being bold with our summers by going overseas or taking risks for God. What was our fear? Why wouldn't we take a bold step of face for God? Didn't we love the lost? Apparently we weren't radical or adventurous enough. It was always "you need to get out of your comfort zone" by implication if you didn't not you weren't really following God.

With this, there comes into our Christianity this sort of two tier structure of average Christians verses those who "really sacrifice." It happens all the time. The missionary who gives it all up to go overseas--they are bold. But the quiet wife who sacrifices day in and day out to stay with her drunkard husband and slowly sees God's grace change him... well she wasn't bold for God. The person who takes the wild crazy adventure: they are really living for God. But the quiet Sunday School teacher who shows quiet love and long term patience with that group of rowdy boys... well that's good for them but they aren't taking any bold risks.

On and on it goes. We rank things not by how people are being faithful to God's calling and being obedient but rather by 21st century appeals to adventures. Yes, God calls people to those type of things too--and if it's God's call, good, go for it. But let's not let the world's rating system of risk, glamour and adrenaline junky become the measure of what a "radically submissive Christian" must look like.

As a pastor, I have counseled people who want to run away do something bold for God. But when you talk to them, you find out they really just want to retreat and run from the battle God has called them to fight. The bold thing is a glamorous escape, the mundane fight is boring and hard, with little notoriety. God often calls us to fight our Christian life in the trenches, and their is nothing glamorous about the trenches. The gritty work of discipline and sanctification God produces in us is the fruit of real sweat, tears and anguish. It is never sexy just messy and painful. The "glamorous, bold and risky" has a sort of Hollywood movie star appeal. 


In Mark 8:35, Jesus said, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” To be a Christian, we must lose our life for the sake of Jesus. We must be willing to give up everything for the sake of Jesus. This at the heart of what it means to be a Christian. Jesus gets all of my life. Jesus gets all of me. Whatever he says goes. I am no longer my own. That’s crazy, radical, risky talk.  
What does this look like practically? What does it look like to be radical for Jesus every single day? Well, it actually looks pretty ordinary. At least in the world’s eyes. Being radical for Jesus means fighting against our sin aggressively, and being willing to do whatever it takes to cut sin out of our lives (Matt. 5:29). It means blessing those who hate you, and giving your possessions to your enemies (Matt. 5:39). It means being poor in spirit, meek, and hungering and thirsting after righteousness (Matt. 5:2-11). 
The Bible’s description of the radical Christian life is not particularly sexy or glamorous. Being radical for Jesus means being subject to the authorities (Rom. 13:1). It means being patient in tribulation, constant in prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, and showing hospitality (Rom. 12:12-13). These aren’t particularly exciting things, but I think we need to realize that these are radical! The world does not operate this way. Those who don’t know God curse in the midst of tribulation, never pray, indulge their sins, curse their enemies, and despise righteousness. If we seek to obey the Bible, we will be radical. If we seek to follow Jesus, that will inevitably lead to crazy love.
Sometimes "losing our life" means sticking in the hard unglamourous fight for years, without any renown or recognition. The spouse who stays with their difficult partner. The sick person who endures a long illness with not much to show for it. The older woman who can barely get out of the house but becomes a private prayer warrior and makes it to church. The young person who takes an afternoon to visit the elderly and shovel their snow. The father who works two jobs to put food on the table and still sacrifices sleep and "me time" to play with his kids and make their sporting events because he knows God's high calling upon fathers. These are all "unglamorous" and by most standards hardly get points for being radical--but doing them may involve you putting down your selfishness. The latter should be the aim.

Especially for my generation and younger, seeking the glamorous, the exotic, the adventurous, or the radical may [although not always] be more of a way for some to feed their selfishness rather than actually deny yourself and put self to death. Do we ask the probing heart questions to root this out? Or are we more captivated by the intoxication of 'doing big things for God.'  

My advice would be worry about being faithful and obedient. If that is your goal, you will find plenty of places in your daily life where you have to be bold or do radical things that are not set by the world's standards of bold and radical (true forgiveness is radical by the world's standards). Out of that, if God calls you on a "wild adventure" in the traditional sense of that phrase then you have been faithful where you are and follow the open door.

One final thought: watch out for pride and the lust for celebrity. Sometimes these things are the very reason the bold and glamorous appeal to us, we just cover it with the excuse "think of what I could do for God." Do you want to follow God because you love Him and you are just honored to serve him, even if all you ever do is clean up puke in a rescue shelter, or do you want to follow God because you know "I can do really big things for Him, he could really use me in a mighty way."