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Responsible Freedom

Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. (1 Peter 2:16)

It’s the great paradox of Christian freedom that those who are most free, choose to live as obedient slaves of God. Understanding this is critical to a rich and expanding faith.

We are truly free. We have been released from spiritual ignorance and darkness. All our sins forgiven. All debts to God cancelled. Our future in Christ’s kingdom assured. We have received the Holy Spirt as a sign and seal of that freedom.

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Dealing with Shame

The witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man name Saul. . . . And as they were stoning Stephen. . . Saul approved of his execution. (Acts 8:1)

It’s hard to imagine anything more vicious. As a hail of rocks, thrown in hate, smashed life from Stephen’s body, the young man Saul stood by giving his approval. 

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Faith at the Door of the Fiery Furnace

Furious with rage, Nebuchadnzzar said, “If you do not worship the image I have made, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?” Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. (Daniel 3:13-16)

Picture three men about to be thrown into a furnace. Fire roars in their ears and waves of superheated air flow toward them. Pain!

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Break Free from Your “List”

Just as Death and Destruction are never satisfied, so human
desire is never satisfied. Proverbs 27:20

As a boy, I had a painful longing for a certain baseball glove. When my father gave it to me, I was ecstatic, but a week later I discovered that I wanted a new bat. After that is was a certain pocket knife. And then more. It seemed that taking one thing off the list inevitably meant one more thing—usually several more—were added.

Sometimes shorter, most often longer, the list of things I wanted was never empty. Sixty years later what I want has changed, but my list still is not empty. You have a list too, and it’s not empty. It never will be.

“Human desire is never satisfied,” the Scripture says. Why? The answer may surprise you.

Our desires and longings were never meant to be fully satisfied by things or relationships or anything else within the circle of this earth. We are incomplete. We long for more and always will, because only the joys of heaven will fully and finally satisfy our deepest needs.

Really? Are we inescapably chained to unsatisfied longings that will forever gnaw at us? No!

Full satisfaction of our desires awaits arrival in our forever home. It is a promise for the future and hope for today, but we do not have to trapped in our desires.  “Rejoice always,” the Apostle Paul writes, “gives thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess. 5:16-18).

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The Priority of Love

Is there anything a grave marker can teach us about love?

The answer is “a lot.” Take a look at the stone below that stands over the grave of Cameron Townsend, the founder of Wycliffe Bible Translators.

 

Cam’s final message to his followers includes two exhortations. First, “By love serve one another.” Second, “Finish the task.” Notice that serving one another by love comes first and the task second. The order is deliberate, instructive, and biblically accurate. The great task of Bible translation is carried out by the community of believers who love one another.

There is always a temptation to put practical results first, to make “getting the job done” the first priority and then to fit in love for one another when there is time or opportunity. The problem with this approach is that loving one another gets squeezed out in the rush to catch the next flight, to get to the next appointment, to take the next phone call, to answer the next email, and–well–very simply to do “the next thing.”

Commitment to fulfilling the Great Commission can turn into this kind of high-pressured race. Let potential followers who want to gather together for fellowship go elsewhere. We “signed up” to do evangelism and the Great Commission not to love one another. This can even turn into a suspicion of taking time to love one another as if loving one another could become the enemy of the Great Commission.

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What Does It Mean to Be a Disciple?

What does it mean to truly follow Jesus? To be one of His disciples?

Jesus Himself gave us the answer to this question in Luke 14:33.

“. . . those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.”

He affirmed this same truth in another way in Mark 8:34-35.

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
for whoever wants to save their live will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.”

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Courage to Oppose Toxic Leaders

He shared in their humanity so that he might free those who were held in slavery by their fear of death. Hebrews 2:14-15

“How does the resurrection of Jesus transform your understanding and practice of leadership?” If someone asked you this question could you answer it clearly?

If this most pivotal event at the core of our faith doesn’t have an impact on how we lead then surely something is wrong. Isn’t it?

Toxic Leaders and the Fear of Death

As I thought about this point, I recalled a fascinating analysis of toxic leadership provided by Jean Lipman-Blumen in her book on toxic leadership. As with other poisonous things, these leaders come in varying degrees of toxicity.

Petty Tyrants. Some are mildly poisonous—one might say “not altogether bad”—and are found in small domains, offices, churches and ministries. They set unreasonable goals, promote excessive internal competiton, and create cultures of blame.

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Let’s Be Easter People!

“Never abandon yourselves to despair, for we are the
Easter people and hallelujah is our song.”

It can be interesting to think about what a religious historian one hundred years from now might write about our own time. What would the perspective of history say about the trends of today? What follows is a small attempt to capture a bit of that future history. It has not yet been written, but perhaps someday it could be. So use your imagination when you read what follows.

An excerpt from John Arthur Hargerston, History of the North American Church in the Early 21st Century (Nashville: Century 22 Publishing, 2134), s.v. “Easter People.”

The Easter People. “Easter People” has been used to describe one of three influential orientations common among evangelicals in the early 21st century. The other two are “Power People” and “Fortress People.”

Power People. The “Power People” movement developed among evangelicals who were determined to oppose erosion of what they believed was a cultural consensus from the 19th century that incorporated Christian moral principles. Power People understood themselves as an embattled minority fighting to preserve decency, family values, and godly government. They worked to mobilize public outrage, lobby politicians, and pass new laws. Many took on roles as political activists and power brokers. The Power People movement ultimately failed as the surrounding culture counter-moblized, bringing to bear on the issues greater social leverage than the Christian minority could muster. A secondary factor in the movement’s failure was that growing numbers of evangelicals became disillusioned with political battles as a strategy for carrying out the mission of the church. Over time the Power People communities withered as members departed to merge either into the secular culture where power-oriented strategies were more accepted or into one of the other main evangelical movements of the time. (more…)

Are You in a “Difficult Place”

Do you serve in a “difficult place” for ministry? A place where the work is hard and progress slow?

“This is a difficult place, Pastor,” someone says, “People do not respond easily here.”  The conversation that follows is about a list of things that make this place “difficult,” a “hard place” for the work of the gospel.

It’s true. There are hard places, but not always for the reasons we have in mind. Jesus went to some hard places, and he explained the problem to his disciples.

Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent.  “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.”  (Matthew 11:20-21)

In the very place where he had done “most of his mighty works” he had been rejected. Definitely a difficult place!

How about Damascus, where the Apostle Paul had to escape from the city in a basket lowered over the wall? Or how about Jerusalem, where Herod had James put to death by the sword? Difficult place, Jerusalem . . . in those days.

Where, then, are the “easy places?”

Where are the places where people are rushing toward salvation in such great volume that the workers there are overwhelmed. Occasionally we hear of such times and places of the Spirit’s working, but these is not most places and not most times. And most of God’s servants spend a lot of their time in the “difficult places.”

Opportunity in Difficult Places?

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Guy Saffold

I’ve observed leaders for many years, always asking the question, “What should a person do to lead in more Christian ways?” It’s often not an easy question to answer in the midst of the day-to-day events that whirl around a leader. Here I explore some of the dilemmas and answers. I also post some devotional thoughts about the application of biblical teaching.