This month: 189 - Freedom in Christ
Exploring the Heart of Restoration

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Archives for July, 2021

A great number of ministers are closet introverts. Part of the reason for that is that becoming a minister requires much work that introverts enjoy doing (the ministry of study) while the actual work of ministry requires things extroverts enjoy doing. I am painting with a very broad brush and speaking very generally here.

This can create a problem – train ministers in the introvert world to send them out to do practical ministry in the extrovert world.

One of the challenges for the introvert minister is developing meaningful connections in the church. There is a belief among some ministers that people in the congregation should be held at arm’s length, to not let people get to close so that you don’t compromise your message. I don’t think that view has biblical or practical merit. Instead, I believe the person best able to speak into the life of the church and teach biblically is someone who has a deep knowledge of the congregation (formed through deep relationships) and what is going on in the lives of those the preacher preaches to week in and week out. Only then does the preacher have the tools to study and make local application in their ministry.

The extrovert minister may struggle to find the time to study and prepare (not always but this happens) and the introvert minister will have to pull themselves away from the books and the Logos Bible software in order to spend more time with people.

It can be hard to kick against the goads of our inclinations and drives. I am not saying we should be someone we aren’t but I am saying part of the responsibility of ministry is making needed shifts for the advancement of the kingdom. Advancing the kingdom is not done in isolation. Jesus didn’t even do that and we certainly aren’t better than him!

It is also important to not neglect the gifts we are given. Again, play to your strengths. If you strength is study and teaching, don’t neglect that. Just make sure you are making some effort to find balance so that your ministry can be healthy. Remember the first thing in creation that wasn’t good? For man to be alone – don’t let your personality lead to isolation in ministry. It is a dangerous place to be.

If your minister is an introvert, take initiative and invite them to lunch. So many people think their minister won’t have time for them but by and large most ministers would enjoy the opportunity to have some individual time with a member who reached out.

Prior to a few theology classes I honestly believed that the word exegesis was a nickname for Jesus. This is a bit like hearing a song lyric one way and then later in life seeing that lyric in print form and realizing you butchered the lyric in your head for far too long. I came to discover that the word exegesis actually means the process of careful, analytical study of biblical passages undertaken in order to produce useful interpretations of those passages.

Fast forward to a course I took at Bakke Graduate University where we began to apply the process of exegesis not just to our bibles, but to our communities where our theology is actually lived out in real life. In his book, A Theology as big as the City, author Ray Bakke attempts the intimidating task of surveying the whole of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation looking for insight into how God views the nature and mission of the church as the world becomes more urbanized. Bakke suggests that the social implications of global urbanization present significant missiological and ecclesiastical challenges. The thesis of the book is that the challenge of urbanization is primarily theological. Bakke says, “The frontier of world mission is no longer geographically distant; it’s culturally distant but geographically next door… Yesterday, cities were in the nations; today all the nations are in our cities.”

So, what would happen if we began to carefully study our communities for the sake of discovering God’s existing work in those communities? What would happen if we were able to produce useful interpretations of our community and then became participants in what God is already at work doing?  What if we were to exegete our community? 

While there are no doubt multiple approaches to this interpretive task, I will offer the four approaches I have found most helpful in my personal context of Birmingham, Alabama. In good preacher-like fashion all the approaches begin with the same letter, the letter “I”… but just remember, there’s no “I” in exegete!  

Inspirational – The inspirational approach is the initial step into the community. God often uses prayer walks around the community to inspire His people to open their hearts to what He is already doing in a particular setting. This approach is creating a posture in which the Holy Spirit is able to lead and guide. God’s people are reminded of merely being custodians of God’s resurrection power in the midst of the world. The primary action item of the inspirational approach is to quiet one’s heart and listen to God’s Spirit.

In 2015, I mapped out a five-mile circle around our community and began walking and praying. Immediately, I discovered the details one begins to notice when one slows down the pace to a walk rather than the pace of a moving vehicle. I began my journey in our church parking lot. As I made my way out of the parking lot I began praying the words of one of my favorite songs, God of this City. I asked God to show me the greater things that were still to be done in this city. I walked past the community’s US Army Reserve Center and thanked God for our service men and women. I asked God how the church could better serve those who serve us. I walked past several businesses that inhabit space along the road our church building is on and prayed that God would bless those businesses with wisdom only found in Him. I walked past a local park and asked God to watch over the children in our community. A few minutes later I came upon an extended stay hotel. I prayed that God would open up doors for ministry there. I walked through a residential neighborhood and prayed that God would raise up workers in the harvest to share His love with families and individuals who called this place home. Ultimately, I prayed for God’s shalom, His holistic peace and presence, to indwell the city.

Incarnational – The incarnational approach assumes a presence in the community as one reflects on the example of Jesus putting on skin and dwelling among the people of God. As one lives in the community, the emphasis is on presence, observation, and conversation. The goal of this approach is to dialogue with various people from within the community in order to get a comprehensive picture of the community from a street level. Street level conversations are often unplanned yet intentional in nature. After two miles or more of walking, I decided to stop for some nourishment at the neighborhood Waffle House. I prayed that God would allow me to have a meaningful conversation with someone inside. I met Traci, a middle-aged woman serving as my waitress. Traci grew up in Birmingham, and after living in Missouri as well as Mississippi she had made her way back to Birmingham. She was working and going to school. We talked a little about her story, and then I asked her what she thought about our community. She had to think a minute, but expressed that our community was a “good place to live.” I asked her what she thought the one thing that people in our community needed.  Her response was one word, manners. As a waitress, she described seeing the good, the bad, and the ugly in people. Traci was one of the happiest and friendliest persons I have ever met.

I continued walking as I prayed about my encounter with Traci. How do you teach manners in a community? What do manners look like in the kingdom of God? My thoughts were directed to the fruit of God’s Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). I asked God to teach me to walk in the Spirit. I wrestled with my propensity to live by the desires of the flesh, and how often the first things to go when I live as such are my manners. 

The next piece of property I noticed was an apartment complex close to the local elementary school. I prayed for the residents of these apartments and particularly the children that lived there. I walked in front of a local motel, an alleged prominent location of sex-trafficking encounters in the community. I prayed that God would redeem the brokenness in the neighborhood and eradicate the evil in our community through the transforming work of Jesus Christ. I walked a total of five miles around the city that day. I was amazed at how God can reveal so much through submitting oneself to the incarnational presence Jesus modeled throughout his ministry.  

Intentional. –The intentional approach is by far the most objective of the approaches. This approach gathers factual information such as community statistics and history. Interviews are also a key component of this approach and allow one to glean information, statistics and history from the community.

In his book, Well Connected, Phill Butler says, “All effective strategic partnerships are driven by an energizing, challenging vision and effective partnerships are a process, not an event.  Moreover, durable partnerships have achievable objectives.” With this in mind, I decided to seek out “people of peace” within the community as Jesus describes in Luke 10. I wanted to better understand the felt needs of the community so our church could engage more fully with the real needs not just the perceived needs. I interviewed various representatives from organizations within the community to better understand each organization’s mission and prayerfully consider how our missions may align.

A secondary component of the intentional approach is researching your community. City data, census information and demographics are readily accessible with just a few clicks.

Involved – Lastly, the involved approach calls participants to get engaged in the community and its entities in an active, participatory way. The involved approach begins to move people to that place of participation within the community. As God begins to reveal felt needs within the community, one begins to involve themselves by utilizing community assets to meet those needs as well as catalyzing others to do the same.

The involved approach is where the rubber meets the road and looks different in different contexts. Appreciative inquiry (AI), the process of discovering what people do well, is a great tool to utilize to determine how to best catalyze involvement within the community. How can we equip those we serve to engage the community? What are the onramps to involvement in your context? 

What might the exegesis of our community teach us about the Jesus who longs to transform that very community?

I want to be clear up front that the issue I am discussing isn’t directed toward any specific people or congregations but are more general observations over a long period of time.

The Restoration Movement often feels like a movement that isn’t moving. By moving I don’t mean radical anti-biblical changes. I mean movement in clear biblical instruction that would lead to health, vitality and growth in congregations. I believe this lack of movement is a direct result of the conclusions reached through the way we read the Bible that we need to reconsider.

Let’s start with what is often called the Fivefold ministry of Ephesians 4,

11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”

Eph 4:11-16

In attempting to restore New Testament Christianity a large number of Churches of Christ would narrow this down from a Fivefold ministry to a Threefold ministry – excluding apostles and prophets. Apostles would get excluded because they died and when one reads the New Testament looking for authority to approve practice, there wouldn’t be any reason to think the apostolic role is still warranted much less authorized. Prophets are excluded because, the thought goes, the gift of prophesy ended a generation after the apostles because that gift was only (so they say) given by the apostles laying on of hands so when the apostles died so did the ability to give those gifts (never mind people in Acts did receive the gifts directly from the Spirit like in Acts 10).

What happens when the Fivefold ministry becomes a Threefold ministry? There are two parts to the answer:

1 – Look at what Paul said the five parts were designed to do when the church has all five:

  • Equip the church serve others
  • Build up the church
  • Bring unity to God’s people
  • Increase our knowledge
  • Grow us to maturity
  • Keep us from heresy

What happens as a result of dropping apostles and prophets is – We have little equipping. I believe the church spends a lot of time building itself up, lots of fellowship, lots of encouraging. Unity is lacking. Knowledge is increasing. Maturity is lacking in many instances because we have equated maturity with lots of knowledge but maturity is more than that (more on that another day). We have been serious about keeping away from heresy.

However, we haven’t embraced the full range of what God wants for His church as seen in the list above because we reject the mechanisms God put into place to ensure these things happen. What is more, those who have gifts from God go unused because we don’t see much need for those gifts or those gifts are seen to challenge (rather than balance) the gifts we think do remain (see below on pastors and apostles/prophets).

2 – Look at what each role is designed to accomplish and consider what you are left with if you remove two and keep three. The results I just outlined at the end of #1 above make sense when you consider the roles that were kept and the roles that were not. When you lose your apostles, you lose your visionaries. You lose your church planters and lead equippers.

When you lose your prophets you lose the ability to have any authoritative way to critique the way things are. You are left with pastors who are tasked with shepherding the flock – making sure everyone is okay. Making sure everyone is okay needs the balance of apostles and prophets or else no one goes anywhere. Apostles and prophets need the balance of pastors to make sure everyone gets where God is taking them.

You are also left with teachers – those who will build the knowledge of the congregation but, again, without the checks and balances of apostles and prophets it is easy to get stagnant. Unapplied knowledge goes unchallenged and people become biblically obese.

Last, you are left with evangelists – the evangelists evangelized on Sunday to those who are already saved. Some did more and some produced fruit, let’s be fair. So much of the focus of the church became internal in the loss of the apostle (those sent out on mission) and the prophet (those given direction from God to critique the system).

We need to ask ourselves whether or not we were correct in tossing apostles and prophets. Keep in mind in the New testament there are over 20 named apostles. The apostolic role was not only for the 12. Are there people today who have the apostolic leaning? I believe there are and they go severely underutilized unless they want to go to a foreign country. Are there people in our midst who are in tune with the Lord on a very personal level that it would be important to hear their input?

If your answer is no to both of those items, that they aren’t warranted today, then it is important to figure out how to not grow stagnant within the convictions and interpretations you already possess – to be faithful to the scriptures that tell us to go out, to make disciples of the nations, etc even if you don’t think the roles exist. Maybe you are in the middle – open to these roles still having a place but not sure how it looks or works out. That’s good – pray that God would make that clear and that those who possess the abilities would be empowered to use their gifts. Or maybe you are already out ahead of the curve and bought into the Fivefold ministry in some form or fashion today. I would love to hear how that has been played out in your church and life.

I believe our lack of leadership is rooted in our lack of embracing all the gifts God gives the church and the source of those gifts – the Holy Spirit. If you no longer believe God gifts and sends people in the power of the Spirit to embody all God has for the church, the church has and will continue to suffer a leadership vacuum that won’t end well. If all you keep are the gifts that are internally focused (and even evangelists have turned inward thinking the invitation is evangelism) then the church will fail to thrive. But if we re-embrace the idea that God has gifted people among us to be sent on mission in our own neighborhoods and communities…and that God has gifted some with the ability to see things closer to how God sees them and give a healthy critique of what is happening in the church – then we can get back to seeing all of the purposes of all five gifts fulfilled. If not, the church will run on in an unaccountable, directionless, mission-less course where elders deacon, where evangelists teach the saved, and where teachers cover the same topics relentlessly for decades because that is how they were modeled what good biblical teaching looks like.

I hope this doesn’t sound harsh. I don’t mean to be harsh. I do mean to be direct. This requires a lot of prayer!

Jesus came in the flesh to “dwell among us.” God in the flesh is relational.

Jesus was amazing at connecting with people. He always took interest in those around him. He noticed details about them and was curious about them. He asked them questions and I can only imagine that people around Jesus could feel a sense that he thought they mattered.

Pharisees mattered.
Tax collectors mattered.
People caught in adultery mattered.
Samaritans mattered.

If we take a page out of Jesus’ book – people will matter to us as well. We will take a genuine interest in those around us. Get to know them…ask them questions…give them a sense that they truly do matter to you.

When Jesus left the earth and went back to the Father he left us here in his absence. He gave us the Holy Spirit to help us. And now we get to “dwell among” the people we encounter on a regular basis and impact them with the good news about Jesus.

When we encounter people, do we see them as a project or for what we can get out of them? Or do we see them as Jesus saw them – as people made in the image of God and loved?

So the next time you are around someone knew, ask yourself what Jesus would say about them if he met them?

Take notice of them…look for things about them that can give you an inroad into conversation that might just bring them closer to the one who cares the most – Jesus! Then dive in and see what happens. You will find most people enjoy conversations with those who take a genuine interest in them and most people can spot a fake a mile away.

This month, in view of the theme of “Relationships,” I have chosen poems that exemplify four of the koine Greek words that depict the idea of love in the New Testament: eros, agape and philia and storge.  C. S. Lewis described these in his book The Four Loves (which, by the way, exists also in audio form as one of the few examples of his recorded voice.)

Philia, Brotherly Love

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders us and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
~ Hebrews 12:1

The Race

Like two children
In a three-legged race
We are bound together
As we run
The wind around us
Doesn’t matter
The shouting of the crowd
Doesn’t matter
We are consumed by
The rhythm of our striding,
By what lies ahead
All that really matters now
Is that we keep step
With each other

Paul recognized the importance of unity—not just at the level of the Body, but also harmony between individuals. He taught that the way to achieve that harmony was not through compromise with one another, but by compliance to God’s way of doing things. In Galatians he told us, “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (5:25). We will keep step with each other to the exact degree that we keep step with God.

Storge: Parental Love

    I write to you, dear children, because you know the Father. I write to you, fathers,
   because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men,
   because you are strong, and the word of God lives in you, and you have overcome the evil one.

~ 1 John 2:14

Unborn Children

This writhing inside me entreats in silence,
Groping for words through lips that have never spoken.
Child of few yesterdays and all tomorrows:
Through the muffled stillness of the waters,
Only the echo of my blood rushes through
Hollowing chambers to you.

(“Eye hath not seen nor ear heard. . .”
And yet, I know you.
Why can you not speak as I speak?
Will your love ever match mine?
Will the light of birth open
Your unused eyes to my yearning?)

I, too, move restlessly through terrestrial waters
As conscious of self as a child
Struggling against a mercantile world.  Above, a
Father waits for me
Reaching through beating waves of sound
And senselessness;
Patiently waiting for me to
See as I have been seen, to
Know as I have been known;
Wanting me to
Push my way out of this dark world-womb
Into His light.

How He waits for us to come to our senses, to truly embrace our reborn status, to see as we are seen, to know as we are known!

Eros: Sexual or Romantic Love

 Sustain me with raisins;
    refresh me with apples,
    for I am sick with love.
His left hand is under my head,
    and his right hand embraces me!

~ Song of Solomon 2: 5-6

The Truth

It is not flesh, nor beauty
Nor strength nor flashes of any sort.

And now it is not, can not be
Hope or possibilities or potentials,
For their time has passed.

It is not flesh nor beauty
Nor weaknesses nor thunders.

And, that it is not now,
And, that it has endured:
It never was those things.
And only now can that
Unmistakably be seen.

It is a hook in a heart
And a hook in a heart

And ligatures between them
Where pain is only relieved
When one rests
Against the other.

In an almost paradoxical way, eros love which is so bound up in the body’s needs and sensations finds its fullness, fruition, and perfection when it endures for years, for decades, even past the time of the body’s call and finds its home in agape love.

Agape: In the Best Interests of Others

Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children.  For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then “‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” and to the hills, “Cover us!”’ For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

~ Luke 23:28-31

They are singing, all around me,
Blithely of
A cross that is old and rugged.
I am speechless, songless,
Stunned by a thought I can hardly bear:
What if the wood were new,
And His blood mingled with
The sap of that tree
Which itself was alive the day before,
Each one dying
For the other

The interconnection of Christ with the world He’d created should never be taken lightly. He told us that no sparrow, no flower of the field (and by extension, no created thing) is beyond His notice. His sacrifice for us didn’t cost only Him—the earthquakes at His death, the anguish of the Roman soldier who watched, the despair of the disciples—all mourned for Him. And even though we know He’s risen, we must mourn as well for the sin that put Him on that cross.

Dr. Latayne C. Scott is the recipient of Pepperdine University’s Distinguished Christian Service Award for “Creative Christian Writing,” and is Trinity Southwest University’s Author in Residence. Her newest book is Talking with Teens about Sexuality: Critical Conversations about Social Media, Gender Identity, Same-Sex Attraction, Pornography, Purity, Dating, Etc. with Dr. Beth Robinson (Bethany Books.) The author of over two dozen published books, including Passion, Power, Proxy, Release (TSU Press) in which three of these poems appear, she lives and writes in New Mexico. She maintains two websites: Latayne.com and Representationalresearch.com.

I am an introvert…relationships can be challenging at times but I am growing! Maybe you are in the same boat or maybe relationships come quickly and easily for you. It isn’t that relationships aren’t important to introverts, we just go about things a bit more slowly (and in some cases deeply).

One thing we know for sure is that God is all about people. God is relational. Even in his own being – the godhead is by its very nature relational: Father, Son and Holy Spirit – three in one.

If we are going to follow God’s example, desire and design we will also recognize and embrace the importance of people and how we relate to others (relationships).

Let us spend some time this month talking about how we connect to others: Christians and non-Christians alike in ways that draw us all closer in relationship to our heavenly Father!

Welcome to July!

I am a raging introvert. I also want to love people well. Those two things are not incompatible but the combination comes with challenges. That makes evangelism a bit difficult. IT is easy to have reservations about starting conversations that I don’t already have an idea how they might turn out on some level.

It occurred to me a while back that the most loving thing I can do is bring people to faith in Jesus. And this is helping me overcome reservations in interacting with people in an evangelistic sense.

There are lots of things we can do to express love – acts of kindness and service, giving of our time and money to people in need, etc and all of that can be done without paying attention to the greater need – the need for people to find Jesus and the implications of what happens if they do (the blessings) and if they don’t (judgment, separation from God, punishment, etc). Many of us do nice things but we need to take that next step and do the most loving thing.

God is love.

God sent Jesus and Jesus showed us what love looks like.

God’s love, modeled in Christ, comes into our lives and we share that love with others. Sharing the good news is loving. I believe it is the most loving thing a person can do.

John 15:13 says that there is no greater love than to lay down our lives for a friend. That can be taken in a literal sense – to die for someone but that isn’t the only way to look at it. Laying down my life can also be an attitude I have of how I view my life in deference to you – that your needs come first and if your greatest need is Christ and what is getting in the way of me telling you that is my uncomfortability then I am really not living out the greatest kind of love because of my unwillingness to set aside things that are blocking you from having abundant life.

We can look at the inverse – if you believe people need Jesus to be saved then to withhold that from them would be an unloving thing to do. Maybe the not sharing is apathy or ignorance but at some point it becomes about faithfulness and love can drive us to that faithfulness.

Let us be loving people and let that love drive us to many things and many ways of serving AND let us make sure that it doesn’t stop at just being nice…but that we are intentional about talking to people about Jesus. If you don’t know how then let’s talk about learning how. God is love and God will help us love others well. God will help us when we reach out to people to draw them closer to Jesus because God is always doing what is most loving and we need to as well.