Christians have often truncated the scope of Christian witness one way or the other, depending on the person or group with whom you are speaking. For example, sometimes witness is understood purely in terms of evangelism and missions. Other times, bearing witness for Christ is framed exclusively in terms of social action.
Instead, the church is at her best when she views and practices her witness as a both/and… not an either/or. It’s what George Grant called in his book by the same name, The Micah Mandate (a very, very important book in my life that did much to shape me).
Bearing a faithful witness for our King and his Kingdom involves introducing folks to our King and helping them come to know him in a meaningful, transforming, personal, and saving way. Yet it also involves representing our King in the midst of the lesser kingdoms of this world. He desires to rule and reign in every sphere of life and we must go out into the highways and byways to stand for… and even fight for… his mercy, justice, and peace, according to his way of doing things. Of course, all of this is to be done with great humility, and always in the context of loving our neighbors by serving them and sharing his truth with them.
At all times we are under his authority and are not at liberty to pursue our own agendas and preferences. This means we must dig into what his Word says. The Great Commandment, Great Commission, and Cultural Mandate all require loving, serving, and obeying our King for his glory and the good of our neighbors. This is our Christian witness. It’s what I’ve elsewhere referred to as Kingdom Discipleship.
May God help us clarify our focus and strengthen our faithfulness as we seek to bear witness to and for our King.
Grace and Truth,
Here's a little information about a great ministry at the church I serve...
There’s a strong connection in Scripture between picking up and carrying your cross and following Jesus. According to our Lord, there’s a direct link between that and being his disciple.
Luke 14:27 says, “And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me
cannot be my disciple.”
That’s a fairly absolute and unambiguous statement.
According to Luke 14:33, picking up your cross and following Jesus is the same as dying to self, dying to your own agenda, dying to your own lordship. Jesus says,
“In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.”
In John 12:25-26, Jesus says something similar.
“The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal
life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant will also be.”
I could keep going because this is a very common theme in the teaching of Jesus. And yet, as clear as this
theme is in Scripture, it doesn’t seem to be one of our Lord’s most embraced or most beloved teachings. Instead, the Church today (and perhaps throughout all generations) appears to run after…
Not a whole lot of dying to self and picking up crosses. This is no doubt why Bonhoeffer wrote the following oft-quoted words…
“Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ living and incarnate.”
Instead, both Jesus and Bonhoeffer call us to pursue “costly grace.”
“Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price, to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him. Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ.”
Following Jesus in this way is a call to…
And yet this isn’t the call of a cruel and legalistic taskmaster. It’s the call of One who loves us dearly and who is full of grace and truth. It’s the call of One whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light. It’s the call of One who does not ask us to follow him in our own strength, but through his Spirit. In fact, he promises to live his life through us.
In our Scripture Jesus tells us that the wise person will count the cost before following him. Dallas Willard agrees that there is indeed a cost to discipleship. But he points out that there is also a cost to “non-discipleship.”
To be sure, it will cost us to follow Christ. But it will cost us infinitely more not to.
Grace and Truth,
In the previous post, I mentioned a book by George Grant that radically changed how I think, minister, etc. It’s called The Micah Mandate. Once again, I highly recommend it! I would now like to share how God used an audio-taped message (also by George Grant) about an obscure man from the pages of history whom most folks have never heard of, to bless my life and ministry in ways I could not even have imagined as I put the tape into the tape-player of my car. Here’s what I wrote over a decade ago…
Earlier this year God poured his grace upon me as he placed in my hands an audiotaped lecture entitled, “Gerard Groote and the Brethren of the Common Life.” Providentially, this also was by George Grant. I can’t express how moved I was by what I heard in this message. In this lecture Grant basically revealed what a biblical worldview should look like in the “everydayness” of a Christian’s life and ministry. He accomplished this by sharing God’s work and power in and through the life of a man named Gerard Groote. Groote lived in the 14th century, and, as Grant says at the beginning of his address,
“It would be difficult to find a single page of modern history written about him. But it would be even more difficult to find a single page of modern history not affected by him.”
Below are the notes I took from Grant’s message on Groote. I’m sure much won’t translate to this format. But I believe the ideas taught and lived out by Groote and expounded by Grant are more than worth passing on and meditating upon.
Notes on Gerard Groote: Brethren of the Common Life
Based on a lecture by George Grant
1.) The Devotio Moderna , first of all, emphasized holiness for every Christian – not just for a few. Groote wanted common piety for common folk – this was the heart of his message.
Together, these distinctives: Holiness, Humility, Covenantal Community, Antithesis, and Catechizing – comprised what Groote called “Classical Christianity” or what we might call, “Biblical Orthodoxy.”
“Lay foundations that will endure in the hearts of your children. For there are only two things that are eternal in all of the created order: the children under your care, and the Word of God.”
Grant’s Prayer at the end of the message…
O Father; Almighty Father, I confess to you that I am often diverted by pleasant alternatives. I am often tantalized by that which will bring success, effectiveness, suasion in the here and now. I pray that you would give me eyes to look beyond the horizon of just this moment. Enable me to invest for all eternity. Enable us to have a distinctive vision of discipleship – like that of Gerard Groote before us. Enable us to quest for holiness, humility, covenantal community, antithesis, catechizing – classical Christianity – in the hearts of our children – first and foremost.
Lord God, I pray that we will produce not just successful businessmen, or men and women effective in their vocations. We yearn for REFORMATION. Change the world, O God! And use us in the process.
We pray this in Jesus name. Amen and amen.
Here’s a short little introduction I just found on Groote that’s worth reading.
The United Methodist Church, via our denominational standard, addresses the issue of the sufficiency of Scripture. Our 2008 Book of Discipline reminds us that Scripture is “necessary for salvation” and is “the true rule and guide for faith and practice.”
I’m assuming that the "practice" referenced is the practice of our faith (the practice of living in this world and preparing for the next… as Christians)… which we believe should be in accordance with Scripture’s direction, rules, laws, commands, examples, teachings, principles, etc. That covers a great deal of ground.
United Methodists believe that what John Wesley called scriptural holiness relates to both our inward walk with Christ but also our outward relationships, life, and witness in this world. Our Doctrinal statements, General Rules and Social Principles cover a lot of ground... an enormous variety of topics such as economics, environment, bioethics, justice, marriage, parenting, politics, poverty… and yes, our precious Lord Jesus Christ and the salvation that comes through him. In all these spheres and more, Scripture is our “true rule and guide for faith and practice.”
Our 2008 Disciplines says this about scriptural holiness…
We insist that personal salvation always involves Christian mission and service to the world. By joining heart and hand, we assert that personal religion, evangelical witness, and Christian social action are reciprocal and mutually reinforcing.
Scriptural holiness entails more than personal piety; love of God is always linked with love of neighbor, a passion for justice and renewal in the life of the world.
This is what I mean by the sufficiency of Scripture for every sphere of life. This is what I take our Discipline to mean when it reminds us that Scripture is “necessary for salvation” and is “the true rule and guide for faith and practice.”
So, while the Bible doesn’t, for example, teach me how to change the oil in my car, it still directs and guides me to do even something as mundane (and as important) as that to God’s glory. It teaches me to be a good steward of what God has provided.
The Apostle Paul teaches us…
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
That’s profitable for a bunch of stuff. Am I only using a rhetorical device to suggest that Paul might be referring to Scripture’s sufficiency for every sphere of life? Bishop Mack Stokes addressed this by writing…
Immediately following the “General Rules,” Wesley wrote, ‘These are the General Rules of our society; all which are taught of God to observe, even in his written Word, which is the only rule, and the sufficient rule, both of our faith and practice.’ (The Bible in the Wesleyan Heritage, p. 21)
That’s all I mean by Scripture being sufficient for every sphere of life.
My understanding of Scripture’s sufficiency is not the same as saying that the Bible is a science textbook, a political constitution, or a manual for how to change my car’s oil. But it does have something (and something important) to say about those areas and far more.
Wayne Grudem, (who is not United Methodist) shares this definition for the sufficiency of Scripture which I believe is helpful. He writes,
The sufficiency of Scripture means that Scripture contained all the words of God he intended his people to have at each stage of redemptive history, and that it now contains all the words of God we need for salvation, for trusting him perfectly, and for obeying him perfectly. (Systematic Theology, p. 127)
We want to submit to our Lord in every sphere of life and are guided in that pursuit in and through God’s Word. It is sufficient for such a pursuit.
Once again, I appreciate the opportunity to clarify what I meant in my two posts on Scripture’s authority.
Grace and Truth,
The following was written just a little over five years ago.
My Great Aunt Lucy died last week. She was my paternal grandfather’s sister. I didn’t know her very well, but like so many others, knew lots about her. Utterly indefatigable and incredibly focused was she in serving others, especially the least, last, and lost.
After a lifetime of working in various fields of education, and making innumerable contributions to civic life, she responded to God’s call in her life to ministry in the local church. (I believe she was in her 70s when she began Duke Divinity’s course of study.)
Her obituary lists accomplishment after accomplishment. The Florence newspaper even had a tribute on the front page of the morning paper to honor her. My father told me one of the pastors who spoke at her funeral related to the congregation that Aunt Lucy wasn’t concerned about impressing folks but rather, impacting them. She did that and then some.
What a blessing that I’m able to point to my Aunt Lucy as a beautiful example of God pouring out his grace in and through the life of an individual. Much like the woman working the yeast in the dough, she pursued her task until the yeast permeated all of it. This is how the Kingdom of God works in our world. What an incredible illustration Aunt Lucy was of Kingdom Discipleship.
Grace and Truth,
Intensive Discipleship. That’s how I once heard counseling… at least “biblical or Christian counseling”… described. The idea is that every now and then folks in the church have particular struggles they wrestle with… or various temptations, sin, forms of brokenness, etc. These are pastoral care issues that require more focused attention than what can usually be received in a typical “group Bible study.” Sometimes the person may need to be referred to someone in the medical or mental health world. However, often these folks can receive much blessing and help from other Christians, including their pastors. That’s where the following websites and ministries come in.
Such counseling is for those times in which there's a need for one-on-one biblical guidance, or, intensive discipleship. The thinking behind this is that very often these issues are spiritual in nature. God’s Word is sufficient to diagnose what’s going on in that person’s life as well as to offer the solution to the problem at hand. Hey, it worked for 1,800 years or so before Freud came on the scene. Believe it or not, the Church actually cared for such needs. That’s why pastors were quite often referred to as physicians or shepherds of souls (and that title wasn’t reserved for only salvation issues). (I refer you to Richard Baxter’s Christian Directory.)
The list below is made up of ministries that are doing a great job, not only of actually “doing” such counseling ministry, but also equipping, encouraging, and educating folks in the Church to do the same.
My rule of thumb regarding why I choose the websites I do is this: “Online usefulness.” In other words, there are many ministries that are doing great things for Christ, but their websites may not be that helpful. With my Top Ten lists I’m trying to share the websites that will be the most useful to you – via articles, newsletters, blogs, video, audio and podcasting, training events, curricula, books, etc.
Here’s my list. As usual, these are in no particular order (except for the first two… which I visit all the time)
Grace and Truth,
1.) CCEF – Christian Counseling & Education Foundation – These guys have been around a long time and are getting better with age. They are keeping their website fresh and relevant and the content is second to none. Great stuff here.
2.) Rick Thomas.net – Rick Thomas is one of the most prolific guys I know. And, full disclosure, he got me up and running with my wordpress blogging a number of years ago. However, I sought him out only because of the great job he was doing with his counseling ministry online. More resources here than you’ll even know what to do with. Rick has also shifted to developing leaders so that they can better serve those under their care. Great site! Great ministry!
3.) American Association of Christian Counselors – Their strength is in their training programs, conferences, and their magazine, “Christian Counseling Today.” They are working on becoming more user-friendly, but for now, you may have to “work” a little to find what you’re looking for. But your effort will be well worth it.
4.) Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (formerly NANC) – They are primarily an equipping ministry, though their online usefulness is growing. I have been a part of their training programs and they are excellent.
5.) Faith Biblical Counseling – These folks have an incredible church counseling ministry. And their website is getting exponentially better and better. They have an awesome webstore where you can get great books and audio/video resources to help you learn more about how to counsel or particular issues Christians face. Great stuff.
6.) Association of Biblical Counselors – Great website with a growing list of resources – blogging, articles, audio, video, etc. You can also become a member and get access to some resources that are very helpful in counseling or teaching.
7.) Brad Hambrick is very helpful on subjects related to counseling. Brad does a great job of keeping it up to date.
8.) Institute for Biblical Counseling and Discipleship (IBCD) – This is another example of a ministry that has been around for years doing great things for the Kingdom. But now their website is improving quickly and become a great resource center. Love it.
9.) Peacemaker Ministries – Ken Sande and company are great on the topics of peacemaking, reconciliation, etc., for couples, families, churches, etc. They have a wide ranging ministry that you really ought to check out.
10.) Biblical Counseling Center – I already loved these folks. But even since I last stopped by their site they have “super-improved” their website. Fantastic! Lots of great resources. Easy to get around and find what you’re looking for. You need to check them out.
*** Since I first put together this list several years ago, I have grown in deep appreciation for the Biblical Counseling Coalition – Wonderful resource, great articles, well worth your time.
*** Another great ministry that has come into being since I first put this list together is Jay Adams’ new ministry – The Institute for Nouthetic Studies.
I’m certain there must be new such websites springing up all the time. If you know of any that ought to make it to this list, please don’t hesitate to let me know. I’m sure this list will grow from a Top Ten to a Top Twenty in no time at all.