Summer Reading for Those Who Love Classic Books and Missions

Jun 18, 2014 | Thabiti Anyabwile

Sometimes you have that rare opportunity to combine loves and passions that don’t normally intersect. It’s the cookies-n-cream of life. Pure genius doubled and multiplied.

When I attended the Clarus Conference in New Mexico this year, two of my loves collided: books and missions. I’m not here talking about good books on missions, though that’s always worthwhile. I’m talking about rare and classic books sold in support of missions to the unreached peoples of the world.

That’s Scattering Seed Ministries. From their website:

This is a ministry that auctions edifying and doctrinally sound Christian vintage books with a two fold mission. Our first aim is to send profits to other ministries and missionaries that spread the gospel to the unreached areas of the world. We desire that God’s name be great among the nations (Malachi 1:11) so that from every nation, tribe, and tongue, people will stand before the throne and before the Lamb and cry out with a loud voice saying, “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb” (Revelation 7:10). We believe that God will use this ministry to play a part in the work that He is already doing to this end. We invite you to be a part of this work by praying for the nations and or buying good vintage works for your edification. Join us to work together to disperse the beautiful message of the gospel to the unreached for God’s glory. 

If you love books and you relish the idea that your next book purchase could help reach the nations, check out Scattering Seeds. Your cookies could meet your cream!

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Spoken Word Monday: Omri’s “Wonderful Complexity”

Jun 16, 2014 | Thabiti Anyabwile

Jonathan Edwards once wrote about the “admirable conjunction of diverse excellencies” that exist in Christ. I’ve always loved that phrase. It so well captures how Christ holds together in reconciled perfection many things that we difficult to hold together. This spoken word piece from Omri meditates on our Lord’s “Wonderful Complexity.”

It’s complex, but it’s beautiful.

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The “Sacrament” of Suffering

Jun 10, 2014 | Thabiti Anyabwile

I’m a word and sacrament kind of guy. I believe there are two ordinances or sacraments of the church: the Lord’s Supper and Baptism. And in those two divinely instituted dramas, we find ourselves brought face-to-face with our sin and face-to-face with the sacrifice of Christ to atone for our sins. The church meeting gets transformed into an amphitheater in which the entire drama of redemption gets replayed for our souls. As we participate by faith, we receive afresh the nourishment of the Lord’s body and blood and appropriate again the grace of God. The sacraments set before us our desperate need along with God’s divine provision in Christ.

Though not a sacrament of the church, our suffering has the same effect. At least that’s how Jesus sees suffering.

Consider the episode recorded for us in Luke 13:1-5.

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.

Two tragedies are featured in this exchange: a brutal murder perpetrated against the people by its leader and crashing tower that killed eighteen. In one action, Pilate profaned everything holy–life and worship. In one crashing tower, everything assumed to be safe and stable proved fatal to the unsuspecting.

The crowd seems to think there’s a connection between tragic suffering and personal sin.  Job’s friends held the same theology. People today often think this way–especially religious people. But our Lord says this is not the case. Sin brought suffering into the world. But not all suffering is a matter of someone being worse sinners than others.

The Lord Jesus helps us see something about ourselves and about our need in the light of tragedy. Tragedy becomes an opportunity to assume–not that the sufferer was a worse sinner–but that we are all alike sinners. We are all alike in danger of perishing in our sin, in a moment, when least expected, tragically. Life is so frail no sinner may presume he or she has time. This is what we need to recognize about ourselves.

But we also need to see a truth about God when tragedy strikes. God means the tragedy to beckon the sinner back home. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, God shouts through megaphone in our pain. He shouts, “Come back.” In the words of Jesus, “Repent.” Tragedy and suffering become–like the Lord’s Supper–an interruption to our spiritual sleep and an invitation to come back to God. To seek Him while He may be found. To lay hold of His kindness and love in welcoming with open arms those who had been going their own way. Some invitations come gilded in gold; others come laced with pain.

Any casual viewing of television news programs or online sources would suggest that God is always shouting in tragedy, “Come home.” Consider a sampling:

  • The Malaysian airline
  • The shootings at Univ. of California—Santa Barbara and Seattle Pacific University.
  • The elementary school shooting at Newtown, Ct.
  • The mine explosion in Turkey
  • The migrant boat that capsized and killed 27 in the Mediterranean.
  • The tragedy of the South Korean ferry.
  • The 62 African migrants killed in Yemen when a boat sank
  • The kidnapped girls in Nigeria
  • The wars in Sudan

We receive news of such tragedies everyday. But do we have ears to hear?

If we do, then suffering becomes a “sacrament.” It becomes an invitation to sinners to remember their sin and to turn to the only God who forgives through faith in Jesus Christ. And when the sinner turns to God in tragedy, God demonstrates in yet another way the truth of Romans 8:28.

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Spoken Word Monday: “Thank God for Evolution” by Micah Bournes

Jun 09, 2014 | Thabiti Anyabwile

I  never thought I’d hear a Christian say, “Thank God for evolution.” But Micah Bournes puts insights and twists into the sentence. Check it out:

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Are Christians Prone to Over-Compensate for Cultural “Losses”?

Jun 04, 2014 | Thabiti Anyabwile

Is the state of the culture a report card for the church?

I think I first heard Kevin DeYoung and John Piper ask and answer that question. They both concluded “no.” I think I agree with them. There is no direct relationship between the effectiveness of the church and the broader unbelieving culture.

Yet, it seems most Christians tend to assume a relationship. If the church was doing _____ then the culture wouldn’t ______. Because the church is weak in _____ the society is experiencing ______.

Many Christians too readily draw these kinds of conclusions. I think it’s well-intended. What Christian doesn’t want to see the church have a lasting positive impact on their society?

But I’m concerned that this thinking, especially among preachers and pastors, might be contributing to some unhealthiness in the church. I don’t know if I’m right about this, so you all chime in with your perspective. But it seems to me that some well-meaning leaders who use the state of “the culture” as a report card for the church sometimes end up hurting the church.

The church hurt comes from an overcompensation. My wife has chronic shoulder pain. It probably got started when our children were young and needed rear-facing car seats. She would very often stretch and contort her shoulder to reach and adjust a pacifier or pick up some toy that fell in the back seat. Pretty soon she had sharp pains in her shoulder. Being an excellent doctor but not a very good patient, she refused to go to the doctor and instead compensated by using her opposite shoulder and arm. You can guess what happened next. She developed pain in the “good” shoulder, too. She overcompensated and further hurt herself.

I think something like that happens with our response to some broader cultural “failures” or “threats.” It’s like turning the hot water up too high because the shower doesn’t warm quickly enough.

Let me try a couple examples.

Some leaders see gender roles–and the very idea of gender itself–suffering at the hands of a secular culture bent on redefining gender relationships. They seem to think that an egalitarian impulse in society is a very bad development. Thus far, I’d have a great deal in common with them. But some of my brethren become militant complementarians. Gender roles become an almost cardinal doctrine with them–not in theory but in practice. So they preach against egalitarianism relentlessly. They counsel young men and women toward “complementarian” practices that could hardly be justified with scripture. Those who fail to toe the line get their toes stepped on. They end up creating a culture that stifles, controls and alienates. Healthy relationships become more difficult to form. Social awkwardness increases among young adults trying to figure out how to “date” or “court” according to “biblical rules” they’ve never encountered in their two-years-out-of-the-world lives. The zeal of the leadership for a good thing, dialed up in response to the culture’s downgrade, ends up harming a segment of the church.

Or consider the current debates regarding same-sex issues. The church is perceived as “losing” on that issue and a good number of leaders are exercised about it. I’m not making light of their concerns and I share much of it. But when well-meaning leaders fall prey to the subtle temptation to make state legislation granting same-sex marriage rights a report card on the church, strange things can happen. Like the pastor who ceases his ministry of regular exposition to do a series on homosexuality. The series isn’t so much an exposition of key texts or a sensitive approach to discipleship in this area, but a jeremiad against “the culture” and a desperate ringing of the church bell to alert everyone to the impending doom. Public policy figures prominently in the sermons and in after church discussions. The pastor gets exercised. The church gets politicized. People get ostracized–and not just those who may be addressing same-sex desires in the course of their Christian discipleship.

So what am I driving at in all of this? Just a simple question: Are we (Christian leaders) sometimes over-reacting to current cultural issues in ways that actually hurt our churches?

The reality is most pastors have very little influence beyond their local congregations. That’s as it should be in many respects. But this means that the first and perhaps only place that a pastor’s cultural angst gets worked out is in their local congregation. Fear about the culture’s “report card” morphs into “discipleship” pressure inside the body of Christ. Often that pressure is out of keeping with the balance of things in the scripture and more in keeping with the focus of our favorite news outlets.

So, how to avoid this problem? Here are five suggestions:

1. Before you teach that topical series on that pressing social issue, pray and talk about it with the rest of your leadership team. Are they as worked up about it as you? Do they share your concern for the issue’s impact on your particular congregation? Is the issue an issue in your church? Are you agreed on how the issue should be addressed?

2. Wait a while. If it really is a cultural issue that the church is “losing,” that means your actions this week or next week won’t be of much consequence. So take your time. Watch the developments. Don’t just watch the news; watch your congregation, too. Listen to what your members talk about when they idly talk, or what they’re asking questions about when they come to you.

3. Read and talk with other pastors. Spend some time doing some homework. Let us not be uninformed but really thoughtful.

4. With your elders, think through your church’s message. What does the Bible say? Don’t stop with this or that pet passage; seek the whole counsel of God. What do you want the people to learn from the scripture? How should that truth be applied to their lives in their particular setting? If there’s an action to take, what should it be? And is there a way to identify people who may be easily offended so that you can talk through these things with them in more intimate settings? Can you seek them out to help you with your perspective and balance?

5. Do a whole lot of praying. From beginning to end, pray. You’re about to bring a contentious “outside” issue “inside” the church. To some extent, you’re about to let the world set the agenda for your church. Before you do that, pray real hard.

So what do you think? Are we sometimes in danger of over-compensating for cultural “defeats” and hurting the sheep?

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Spoken Word Monday: “I Got Water in My Gospel” by Alan Adorno

Jun 02, 2014 | Thabiti Anyabwile

This one was made for our day and age!

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Spoken Word Monday: “What Will You Say?” by Clayton Jennings

May 20, 2014 | Thabiti Anyabwile

This is my introduction to Clayton Jennings. A great meditation on coming of age, lessons from moms, not wasting life and real significance. Check this one out:

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Are We Christians Good Neighbors?

May 15, 2014 | Thabiti Anyabwile

Mrs. Bea was my mother’s best friend. The two of them used to laugh together as if they were the only two in the universe. They spent a lot of their free time together, which was easy since they lived half a block apart.

Mr. Fred was Mrs. Bea’s husband. Everybody in the neighborhood called him “neighbor” because he greeted everyone with the same question: “How’s my neighbor?” He was the kind of man who would interrogate strangers who happened on your property and didn’t look as if they belonged. He would repair a door or mow a yard without being asked. He was a neighbor.

I played with Bea and Fred’s five children. We did everything from ride our bikes together to play basketball or stickball in the neighborhood park to chase one another in frenetic games of tag or hide-n-seek. We children were neighbors, too.

I thought about Bea and Fred last week as I prepared to preach Luke 10:25-37, the parable of the so-called “good Samaritan.” I prefer to call it the parable of the godly neighbor since Jesus tells the story to a religious man who asked in a self-justifying moment, “who is my neighbor?” Here’s the parable:

25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, ”You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

I read this and six things stood out to me:

1. To be a neighbor requires risk (v. 30). The Jericho road was 17 miles long, descended over 3,000 feet, featured many twists and turns with caves along the way. It was perfect for robbers and it was a dangerous pass. Any good neighbor will have to take some risks, like stopping on a dangerous road to help the hurting.

2. Simply being religious and theologically orthodox will not make you a neighbor (vv. 31-32). The priest and the Levite are religious leaders in Israel. They’re holy men. They believe all the right things and worship in all the right ways ceremonially. But they are not neighbors to this hurting man. It’s possible to be deeply religious in one sense and treacherously unloving.

3. A neighbor isn’t necessarily someone like you (v. 32). Common ethnicity is no predictor of neighborliness. If the robbed man were an Israelite, then being fellow Jews did not make the priest and the Levite his neighbor. They passed by. It is the despised, outcast Samaritan (John 4:9) that proves to be the true neighbor. It’s someone thought to be “unclean” and “cut off” that emerges as the truly loving. I recently heard Ed Copeland say, “Not all your skin folk are your kin folk, and not all your kin folk are your skin folk.” I think the parable demonstrates that–neighbors are not determined by ethnicity. In fact, these two men were strangers to one another. Yet that Samaritan crosses the xenophobic gulf to care for the stranger in his midst. Jesus expands the definition of neighbor well beyond family, friends, co-workers, ethnicity and those who live in physical proximity to us.

4. A neighbor is someone who sees your need and responds with compassion (vv. 33-34). That’s the difference between the Samaritan and the priest and Levite. They all see the man on the road naked and half-dead. But the Samaritan has compassion. He allows himself to feel for the man and acts out of that concern. A neighbor doesn’t turn his eyes away or cross the road when he sees someone in need. Neighbors render practical and sacrificial assistance in time of need.

5. The most natural and effective mercy ministry in a community is a good neighbor (v. 36). I’m all for organized mercy ministries. In fact, some problems in a community are so widespread or intense that they require an organized response. But the deeper, longer-lasting, truly transforming “mercy ministry” comes in the form of good neighbors. Saturate a block, a community, a city with neighbors like the Samaritan and you’ll transform that community slowly, deeply, and effectively.

6. Love and Law demand every Christian be a merciful neighbor to anyone in need in our presence (v. 37). Jesus’ discussion with this expert in the Mosaic Law summarizes all the Law and prophets with two commands: Love God and love neighbor. Love God with all yourself and love neighbor like yourself. The final command from Jesus, “go and do likewise” (v. 37), binds us to this duty of being Samaritan-like neighbors. It also binds our conscience with guilt so that we any attempt to justify ourselves apart from Christ miserably fails, like the lawyer’s. We’re thrown onto the  back of Christ for justification with God. But then having been freed from the Law for justification, we find ourselves drawn to the Law in sanctification and Christian witness. Having been loved, we now turn to love (1 John 3:16-18; 4:20).

What does all of this mean?

Very simply: Christians ought to be good neighbors with an expansive definition of neighbor.

The reason there are fewer and fewer true neighborhoods is because there are fewer and fewer true neighbors. Even though more and more people live atop one another and we aggregate the need in cities, we don’t often love like this Samaritan. In fact, the Samaritan is so striking to us because we so seldom see such sacrifice for others or make such sacrifice for others. But we Christians ought to be the best neighbors of all.

My last memory of Bea and Fred came when I was about seven years old. I was standing in the back door of my childhood home, looking lazily through the glass onto our block. I saw Freddy and his siblings running down the street from their apartment half a block away. They were loud, shouting something back and forth to one another. It looked like a frenetic game of tag. Then I saw Bea run from the house. She rounded the corner and looked to be headed to our house. Last of all I saw “neighbor,” Mr. Fred, round the corner. In moments that slowed to a dream I saw Mr. Fred aim his shotgun at Mrs. Bea and shoot her in the back. She stumbled to a house just before ours, the home of a third friend, and died on those steps.

I was seven when I witnessed a neighbor kill his neighbor wife and our neighborhood with her.

I don’t know why these things have come to mind so powerfully of late. Perhaps its the anticipation of moving next door to a lot of children and families who have seen the same thing–sometimes repeatedly–in their “neighborhood.” I think it’s a freshly awakened desire to be a merciful neighbor in a context where mercy is sometimes in such short supply. What would our cities and communities be if we could saturate every block with Christians who showed the sacrificial compassion of this Samaritan, who showed to others the same love they have received in Christ? I dream of Mrs. Bea and then I dream of southeast DC. I dream of neighbors and neighborhoods transformed by Christ.

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5 Strategies for Ministry in a Cretan Context, 5: Do Good Works

May 14, 2014 | Thabiti Anyabwile

In today’s Christianity, commanding people to “do good works” sounds rather weird to most and even dangerous to others. We’re allergic to anything with the word “works” in it. We’re living in an increasingly antinomian age, or at least an increasingly anti-imperative age. We don’t like being told what to do and we’re pretty sure anyone who tries must be “a legalist.”

We wouldn’t know how to handle a letter from the Apostle Paul. We also wouldn’t know how to lead the church in a Cretan context.

For Paul writes:

Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.  The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.  …And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful. (Titus 3:1-8, 14)

As the quote above illustrates, Paul was no legalist. Verses 4-7 are about as beautiful a statement of the grace and mercy of God in salvation as you will find. It’s Trinitarian, regenerating, works-free, justification by grace through faith gospel. Today’s church loves this message–and rightly so! Anything else is another gospel that needs to be rejected along with its teachers.

But we’re rather blind to what sandwiches these gospel indicates. Paul begins and ends this section with strong exhortations to Titus to command and teach the Cretan believers to do good works (vv. 1, 14). In verse 8, the apostle makes it clear that Titus must “insist” on the gospel’s truths “so that” believers would “devote themselves to good works.”  Any accurate understanding of the Good News should lead to devotion to good works. That’s why Titus gives reminders to be “submissive,” “obedient,” and “ready for every good work.”

Here’s a question we must ask ourselves: Are we able to say to Christians with urgency and soberness, without flinching and a thousand qualification, “Do good works”? Can we in our ministries “remind,” “insist,” teach and command good works from the saints?

If not, we will find it difficult to minister in a Cretan context. Why?

First, because good words are necessary for “helping cases of urgent need” and making the church fruitful (v. 14). Every “Crete” is full of urgent needs. The fruitfulness of the church in such situations is bound up with works that address such needs. Remember the story of “the good Samaritan” (Luke 10:25-37). Religious Levites and priests crossed to the opposite side of the street rather than help a man robbed and left “half-dead.” The Samaritan saw the man and had compassion on him. The neighbor in the parable was the one who served the urgent need of an anonymous stranger. A saved man must be a merciful man, one who does good works. If you minister in Crete, needs will abound. The Bible calls us to a sacrificial love and attitude that seeks to do good works in the face of at least some of them.

Second, if we don’t commit ourselves to good works in a Cretan context we simply diminish the witness of the church. The priest and the Levite in the parable of the good Samaritan were known religious folks. They would have been noticeable to all by their dress, conversation and the like as “religious people.” Yet they were not compassionate, merciful or loving. They sailed through the carnage of their day dedicated to religious duties and unconcerned about the obvious brokenness around them. When Jesus asked the question, “Which of these three was a neighbor?” no one is thinking the religious people. The parable is a sharp condemnation of that false religion which forgets the widows, the orphans, and the like. It’s a story that reveals the weak witness of religiously proud people. We don’t want to be the priest or the Levite. We want to be the outcast, despised Samaritan who actually does good work that brings praise to God. We want to let our good works shine so men may praise our Father in heaven.

Cretan contexts need the church to dedicate itself to good works. They need it urgently. They feel the urgency. It’s to the church’s shame if we don’t.

Previous Posts in the Series:

1: Appoint Godly Leaders
2: Rebuke the People to Make Them Sound in Faith
3: Teach the People How to Live
4. Live between Grace and Glory

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Spoken Word Monday: “Life in Color” by Danielle Bennett

May 12, 2014 | Thabiti Anyabwile

So, my man, Propaganda, turned me on to the poetry of Ms. Danielle Bennett (@missdbennett). I figured he was in part trying to rep the west coast a little bit, but I also figured he wouldn’t suggest anyone that was pretending. I finally got around to hearing Ms. Bennett and immediately appreciated her gift with words. There are spoken word artists who are more forceful or more intense. But this piece left me thinking there’s no artist more “colorful.” This is a perfect poem for a “blue Monday.” I hope it adds the color of happiness to your life!

Life In Color – Spoken Word by Danielle Bennett from Mosaic LA on Vimeo.

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