Category Archives: Discipleship

Walking in the Dark

Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained, But happy is he who keeps the law. – Proverbs 29:18 (NAS)

Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he. – Proverbs 29:18 (KJV)

Such a simple verse but one that perhaps can guide us even beyond its apparent meaning(s). I include two versions here because it seems most of us are more familiar with the interpretation of it from the King James Bible.

There are many who have seen the first part of this verse to mean, essentially, that where there is not a plan or a goal, the people will die. But the word vision here is more than simply projecting our thoughts into the future toward a desirable end or accomplishment. The Hebrew term for vision is chazon (Strong’s 2377). It is derived from the primitive root, chazah, which simply means to gaze at, behold, to perceive mentally, contemplate . . . to have a vision of.

The sense that arises is that this is more than simply seeing something. It implies, rather, mental insight and, specifically for God followers in this context, prophetic vision, to see or hear God, to understand His ways and leadings. To know “the mind of Christ.” To recognize the voice of one’s shepherd means having spent a significant amount of time with the shepherd. To recognize the voice and to truly hear the words, the leadings of a leader, we must weigh their words in the context of more awareness of who they are, how they have acted historically, what agendas are at the forefront of their movements, from where their motivations arise.

The wisdom of this Proverb is telling a truth about our relationship with God and how it affects our reality, our potential, our purposes and aims, our outcomes. To understand God’s leading we must know God, at least in the best sense of how we can in our limited capacities to comprehend an infinite and glorious God. As we become familiar with who God is and what God is like, we can begin to hear (understand) His Word and His leading with increasingly clarity.

To expand the opening of the verse, we might say: “Where the people do not know God, and do not have a realistic knowledge of God’s plan and purpose, they are separated from God and they will not follow Him. Death, spiritual separation from God, is their plight.”

The rest of the verse is rather easy then to anticipate as the contrast to the opening phrase. “Happy is he who keeps the law.” Here, keep is the Hebrew shamar (Strong’s 8104), the same term used in Genesis 2:15 where God put Adam in the Garden of Eden to keep it. Shamar is to steward, to watch over, to tend to diligently. Esher (happy, Strong’s 835) is derived from asher (Strong’s 833), to be straight. Strong’s tells us that asher is used in the sense of being level, right or happy, even, figuratively, moving forward, being honest, prospering . . . to be blessed. That’s a lot packed into a single word.

It appears then that Proverbs 29:18 says: Where we do not know and follow God, we die. Where we do know and follow God, we live. Prophetic knowledge, comprehending God’s heart, leads us into life. The more prophetic knowledge (which manifests adherence to His ways), the more life force within us. This life force gave Jesus the ability to produce enough bread to feed the five thousand, to heal blind eyes, to restore strength to lame legs . . . to overcome death for all humankind.

The challenge to the church, that is, to every follower who claims Christ as Lord and Saviour, is to know God and live in obedience. The problem occurs as we see it all around us and in many ways, the church is failing. It is failing to meet the needs of the poor and marginalized, it is failing to lead the world toward righteousness. And the question must be faced: why? Why is the church failing? Why is that life force of the Resuurected Christ so weak?

Sometimes it almost seems that God is lackadaisical in His expectations of the church. That is simply not true. We do not often take seriously that we will answer for our handling of the truth. We do so at our peril and at the peril of ministering to the world in ways that demonstrate the true glory of the only living God.

I have had the privilege and opportunity to study God’s Word more than most. Yet I have not been nearly as diligent in that as I could have been. What I see is that, like myself, the failings of the church at-large, both to minister within and to be a light to the world, are due in large part to a our lackadaisical approach to God’s Word.

We do not succeed in advancing God’s Kingdom, by the power of our testimony as living witnesses to God’s grace and mercy, because we tend toward laziness. We gain a bit of understanding, tend to take it as the whole truth, and make that bit of knowledge an idol, creating legal structures for following God. But what vision can we have of an infinite God? Our understanding is always limited but loaded with potential to know Him more deeply. And invited to do so.

The ministry of the Word is of utmost importance to the vitality of the church. Those who follow God’s lead to search out the word and to bring it to life for others (generally, pastors and teachers, including most missionaries) are often neglected spiritually, economically, and emotionally by the rest of the church. The pastorate is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. It is not often physically threatening but takes its toll in burn out, failing due to stress and temptation, and hopelessness wrought by a sense of futility as sheep wander off or neglect the calling of God’s voice.

For the rest of us, we should listening carefully and heed God’s call to support those ministering the Word (Romans 4:4), that they are worthy of their wage. Thank God that most in pastoral roles, seeing the desperation of the world around them and having their hearts broken for the lost as they seek to know God deeply, will pursue that ministry despite the costs to themselves.

If we do not pursue a knowledge of God, if we do not support then pay heed to those searching the Scriptures diligently to help us grow in that knowledge, if we do not each seek to find the prophetic vision . . . we will continue walking in the dark, wandering souls, risking death in a desert of our own making . . . and even ignorant that ours is the power to draw near to life.

I interject here the entire fourth chapter of the Epistle of James, just seventeen verses. How does it speak to our ignorance of God and our neglect of His ways? (emphasis mine).

1 What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members?

2 You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. And you are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. 

3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.

4 You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 

5 Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: “He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us”? 

6 But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 

7 Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 

8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 

9 Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning, and your joy to gloom.

10 Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you. 

11 Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother, or judges his brother, speaks against the law, and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law, but a judge of it.

12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor? 

13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow, we shall go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.”

14 Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. 

15 Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and also do this or that.” 

16 But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil.

17 Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do, and does not do it, to him it is sin.

Dear Lord Jesus – Shine Your Light into our darkness. Peel back the scales from our eyes that we might see as You see, that we might, having seen Your Light, be compelled to seek you all the more diligently, that Your Word would set aside every agenda and desire we have, replaced only with our desire to know and serve You in every aspect of our lives. Be merciful, Lord, to our ignorance but awaken in us a burning heart to love as you love, to sacrifice our lives as you so willingly sacrificed yours. Come, Lord Jesus, reign in us and through us that Your vision will lead the world back to Life. Amen.

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Are You on Mission?

One of the hardest things for many Christians to understand is that once we “give” our life to Christ (as if God did not already own us–Psalm 24:1), how do we know what steps to follow or His plan for us or how to discern God’s will?

In the West we have largely focused in recent history on personal salvation. We are saved individually. But the Bible is clear that we are also saved into a community and into a purpose. Both are lifelong commitments that serve God, serve others, and serve ourselves.

Humankind, male and female, were created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). As a reflection of the Trinitarian community of God, Adam was given a partner, called a helpmate (for the division of labor) and wife (for the perpetuation of the species). They had a new community in an ideal setting. Their provision was available and, by comparison to after the Fall, their work was not stressful or laborious.

The Fall, that is, Adam and Eve’s choice to disobey God, cast a pall over all of humanity and the rest of creation. Being put out of the Garden of Eden launched the largest project in the universe after creation: the mission of God. In theological parlance, that is known as the Latin missio Dei. It is what the rest of the story of the Bible is all about. Christopher Wright contends that God launched His mission with the choice of Abraham as the spiritual father through whom all nations would be blessed. But the coming of Christ, the seed of Abraham, was also the seed of Adam and Noah and every other generation that preceded him in his temporal lineage. The prophets also called Jesus the Son of David. The mission of God was in motion in the mind of God from before even creation and progressed according to His plan.

Wright has done the church and the world a great service in writing a book, simply titled The Mission of God. I promote it with the warning…it is comprehensive which means it is long, well over 500 pages. Fortunately Wright has a very readable style and the progression of the book is methodical in developing the thesis and what it means to us, as the church, as we pursue following Christ and ministering to the world.

The development of focus on personal salvation in the past century has undermined the church’s efforts in God’s grand scheme, His mission. That is not to say that personal salvation is not important. It is relevant as we each are given a new heart, a new disposition, and a new role in the world. Many of us (all of us?) are afflicted with a broad range of maladies, whether physical, economic, psychological, or emotional. Jesus Christ offers us the opportunity to overcome all that has been passed to us generationally or done to us by varying levels of our communities, whether those be impacts from dysfunction in our families, our local communities, our cultures, or the world at-large. He even grants us revitalization to overcome the inheritance of sin passed down, as like-kind progeny, all the way from Adam.

But a great deal of our personal healing comes from the realization that we are not alone. The sufferings we experience, the temptations we face, and the conditions of our lives are not uncommon. That is why Hebrews 3:13 instructs us to encourage one another daily lest we fall back into old patterns of ungodly belief and behavior. I have been burdened with my own set of issues. Many of those have been addressed and healed in Bible study, prayer, and personal discipline. Most of them have been worked out through a series of relationships with other Christians who have consoled me, encouraged me, exhorted me, even scolded me along the way.

But the greatest problem I have faced is getting over myself. This life, my “calling,” gifts and talents . . . none of them are about me per se. God has created me and invited me to join Him as a son, a title I continue to aspire to through continuing the pursuit to know God and live in obedience. Hebrews is clear that I am becoming a son of God. It is a lifelong process that, like the coming of God’s Kingdom is already-but-not-yet, sealed in eternity but playing out in temporal reality.

As I continue that pursuit and God continues to woo me toward Him, I become increasingly aware of His movement on a much grander scale than anything particularized to me or my life. God is in mission and we are invited to join in that movement. My particular role appears to have something to do with understanding what God is doing and why in the marketplace and in global culture in general.

God is moving simultaneously on many fronts. Several years ago Bill Bright and some others formulated the Seven Mountains of Culture–family, church, business, arts and entertainment, government, education, and media–and launched efforts to reclaim them all for the glory of God, a torch now valiantly carried forward by Os Hillman and the Marketplace Leaders Ministries (www.reclaim7mountains.com)

God’s mission is all-encompassing, turning all of human society back toward Himself and His original plan for humankind. In the research for my book, Eden’s Bridge: The Marketplace in Creation and Mission, I reached the conclusion that all these “mountains,” except family and church, fall under the umbrella of the marketplace, where we exchange value with society beyond the household walls (natural family) or the fellowship of the church (spiritual family). Whether it is the exchange of ideas and information (education and media), opportunities for self-expression (arts and entertainment), or matters of law (government), all these contribute to establishing (for good or ill)  the order and well-being of society as relational interactions. Historically these activities were largely carried out in common (shared) public spaces such as the town square, or at the city gates or the threshing floor. All these, in my mind, fall under the marketplace umbrella because they are inextricably linked in the economic formation of society.

Borrowing from Bright, Hillman, et al, I created the chart below for my own thought development. I was able to see their priority statuses of each institution given what they provide each of us. I modified the original listing, changing “church” to “ideology” because, as we encounter the world as it is, it is obvious that there are many other religions or philosophic systems that inform morality and ethics.

The three “mountains” that I classify as Central Institutions are those that were created in the natural order of the Garden of Eden–family (Adam and Eve in procreative relationship), worship (walking with God in obedience), and business (mutually beneficial exchange for communal provision).*  But all seven institutions are on God’s radar in His mission of the redemption of all creation. Christian workers in all these arenas play a part in carrying that mission forward.

The challenge for the church today is to inform marketplace Christians as to their roles and responsibilities as vital to God’s mission and to release them from the false bifurcation of secular vocation and sacred calling. How does your vocation and how you do your job carry forward that movement? How do your work and work ethic reflect and glorify God? What can you do to “redeem” your industry, your workplace, your position to bring God’s Spirit, in power and truth, to bear in all the relationships touching your career?

It is a challenging question and one not easily answered but one that must be raised: when you go to work, or to the market, or to take in entertainment, or pursue education, or vote . . . are you on mission?

* For a fuller explanation of the role of the marketplace or business in Eden, see Eden’s Bridge: The Marketplace in Creation and Mission (c) David B. Doty, 2011, or the related blog post “The Vital Role of Marketplace Theology.”

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The Conundrum of Christian Faith in the West

John Wesley was concerned that Christian faith undermines itself due to the increasing wealth of adherents. As Christ-followers gave up costly vices and began to live more frugally, their wealth increased. Unfortunately, that brought new temptations of costly clothing, richer dwellings, frivolous entertainment, and so on.

This is very much the conundrum facing many Christians in the West today. By global standards, many of us are wealthy. Even within our own context, many have increasingly expensive homes, automobiles, furnishings, and sumptuous meals. We have more than met our needs. We live in abundance and buy into a false gospel that says we deserve it.

God chose Israel, not because they were better than anyone else, but as an isolated nation through whom He could make a name for Himself. God had been and continues to work outside Israel (and now the church), often blessing the righteous to advance His agenda of transforming the world.

But wealth may be one of the greatest traps we can fall in to. We work hard, we plan and are prudent with our resources, we live well . . . and see it all as somehow something we deserve. But we thank God for blessing us for our diligence and call our part “being faithful.” But our faithfulness tends to stop at our front door.

The average giving in churches in the United States is something around three per cent. Imagine the good that churches could do in their own communities and around the world if we simply adhered to the ten percent tithe. That does not touch the potential if we were to give sacrificially (the hallmark of God’s love in His work on the Cross).

Part of the problem in the past has been ignorance. We were not aware of global conditions, of regional wars, large-scale disasters, and abject poverty that continue to plague whole nations. But now, via electronic communications, God is laying the world at our doorstep and challenges us anew, albeit in suffering silence, to ask ourselves, “Am I my brothers keeper?”

Acts 2:44–45 speaks of the church having “all things in common” and “sharing as anyone had need.” Right now, even in our context there are thousands of Christians without jobs. How often, and to what depth, are the members of their churches aware or addressing the needs of those families? Unemployment has dipped to about 8.5% recently. That means 91.5% are employed. Even if we double the official rate, taking into account those who are no longer able to draw unemployment, 83% are still employed. Can four help take care of the one?

If we expand globally, our conviction should deepen. Our standard of living is still that to which much of the world can only dream to achieve. There are orphans in Indian and African facilities who remain unsponsored, often for as little as $25.00 or $30.00 a month to provide clothing, housing, education, and healthcare. There are millions unemployed who might be helped to build their local economies if even a small portion of Western portfolios were re-directed into small business, micro-venture funds (some even paying an annual return, albeit lower than optimizing a blue chip mix).

The church is faced with perhaps the greatest opportunity in history to be a witness to the glory of God. If we can strategize how to move capital into the communities of greatest need (both foreign and domestic) while also creating mechanisms designed to improve the odds of success (especially skills training and access to pertinent information), all boats can rise.

If the church will truly reach out to minister to the economic needs of its own, the world will see what Jesus said about them “knowing we are His followers by our love for one another” (John 13:35). James was absolutely right when he said that it is not enough to say “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” if we do not make accommodation for actually meeting their needs.

Will we take all this into consideration as admonition from God to step up and begin to be the followers and church we claim to be, or will we remain complacent, underfunding ministries and outreach to those in real need while we wallow in our comfort zones?

This essay will likely anger some, saying that I have resorted to manipulation and guilt. I would argue that I have only resorted to the directives of justice and righteousness of the Bible we claim to uphold and the leading of the God we claim to worship. This journey has been difficult for me. I have historically worked very hard to provide well for myself. God, in His wisdom, has chosen this season to re-direct my thinking.

I have chosen recently to focus on two passages from Scripture that speak to our needs and wants.

Psalm 37:4 – “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart,” and Matthew 6:33 – “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things (our necessities) will be added to you.”

Many will read these verses and delight in God’s promises to not only meet our needs but to give us the desires of our hearts. The real focus is to re-orient ourselves to the opening phrases, “delight yourself in the Lord” and “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.”

If we have any wonder why our possessions cause us so much worry and demand so much time and money to care for; if we wonder why the church in the United States is struggling to fulfill its mandate to lead social and political change; if we wonder . . .

The answer is most likely that we have focused first on our needs and desires rather than seeking to glorify God, willingly living in humility and with an attitude of servitude toward God and others.

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On Priorities

I have been a long time fan of the Humane Society, having adopted several pets from shelters throughout my adult life. But I have hit a bit of a snag, not with the Humane Society per se, I do believe in the work they do. The snag comes in how a particular recent event demonstrates the social and economic imbalance of the world in which we live.

The Atlanta Humane Society opened its new Mansell Campus recently in the Roswell / Alpharetta area. It is housed in a car dealership building, valued at $6 million, that was donated. An additional $2 million was spent renovating the space. The overall price tag of $8 million is where I hit the snag.

I serve on the board of Life Light Ministries (lifelightinc.com), an indigenous Christian mission in Aurangabad, India. They house eighty orphans, operate two Christian schools, and conduct a multitude of outreach ministries including the support of nine pastors and church plants. Last year, Life Light’s entire budget was $100,000.

If $8 million can be spent on rescuing and adopting out cats and dogs, how much more could have been accomplished through ministries like Life Light? If $8 million were placed in an endowment for Life Light, it would easily produce $350,000 to $400,000 annually and cover all the operating, capital, and growth needs of the ministry…forever.

I am trying to raise funds to travel to India to help Life Light with organizational and staff development. They also have about 30 children right now in need of $35 / month support. I have established a campaign at http://www.indiegogo.com/Indigenous-Indian-Mission-Assistance to raise the immediate travel funds. Would you prayerfully consider supporting Life Light Ministries?

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