A Lincoln-like Response to Rebels

These are trying times for those of us who hold to biblical values and believe God’s truth is needed for human flourishing. We are increasingly reminded that we live in a culture that is in rebellion against God and His ways.

So how should we respond to those who oppose what Scripture presents as God’s will? How should we react to the video of Dr. Deborah Nucatola, Planned Parenthood’s Senior Director of Medical Services, talking nonchalantly over lunch about harvesting and selling organs from aborted babies? How should we respond to advocates of gay marriage celebrating the recent US Supreme court decision to redefine marriage? Or when Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner receives the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage and a standing ovation at the ESPYs?

Here’s a biblical exhortation and a historical example that can help us.

Biblical Exhortation: Titus 3:1-6.

Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone. At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and the renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour.

Historical example: Abraham Lincoln

This summer Linda and I have both read Team of Rivals,
Doris Goodwin’s fascinatingTReam of Rivals book on Abraham Lincoln. It’s not only one of the most riveting biographies we’ve ever read, it’s a gives a powerful example of how to respond with wisdom and grace towards those who oppose you.

As Lincoln began his presidency, Northern and Southern states were deeply divided over the issue of slavery. Abolitionists spoke fiery denunciations of slaveholders. Many Southern leaders were equally strident in their defense of slavery.

Shortly after Lincoln was elected, several Southern states seceded.  Lincoln was regularly pilloried as a tyrant for his views on slavery and his insistence on keeping the Union intact.

Lincoln head shotBut throughout the turbulent years of his presidency, Lincoln never wavered in his beliefs. He held firm to his resolve to preserve the Union. He continued to see slavery as evil. “If slavery is not wrong,” Lincoln said, “nothing is wrong.” He issued the Emancipation Proclamation and lobbied hard to pass 13th amendment that abolished slavery throughout the United States.

While he was steadfast and immovable in his convictions, Lincoln’s response to those in rebellion was magnanimous and gracious. He rejected the rhetoric of Northerners who branded Southerners as enemies. Goodwin writes, “Unlike the majority of antislavery orators, who denounced the South and castigated slave owners as corrupt and un-Christian, Lincoln pointed denied fundamental differences between Northerners and Southerners. He argued that ‘they are just what we would be in their situation’” (167).

Lincoln embodied a biblical blend of conviction and compassion. He would not change his objectives but was kind to his opponents. Even when others were vicious towards him, he was gracious towards them.

What about us?

So how do we respond to those who are in rebellion against God’s Word and ways? Both the truth of Titus 3 and the example of Abraham Lincoln would call us to be unapologetically firm in our stand for truth and unexpectedly kind in our response to people.

We must speak up for the rights of the unborn and the Creator’s definition of marriage. We should seek to stir up the remnants of conscience in the hearts of those who are created in God’s image but resistant to His will. We should exercise our rights as citizens and use the democratic process to elect leaders who share our convictions.

At the same time, we must be gracious and kind in what we say to and about those who oppose us. We must not resort to slander when we receive slander. We must not hate on those who are haters.

How will we be able to respond like this? Titus 3:5 gives the answer: the gospel.   The gospel message reminds us we were once rebels towards God, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. The gospel teaches us that our salvation is based solely on God’s mercy, not our merit. The gospel promises the gift of the Holy Spirit will be poured out on all who trust in Christ. Through the empowering of God’s Spirit, we can find strength to take the high road (or walk the narrow way) as we engage a rebellious culture.malice

Through the empowering work of the Spirit, we can live out the words Abraham Lincoln said in his Second Inaugural address: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds.”

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Charlottetown, Dallas, Louisville, Lancaster, New York, Cambridge

We’ve not written much these past few months as we’ve been on the road this summer. From the East Coast to the Deep South—and a number of stops along the way. Here’s a few snapshots from our travels.

Charlottetown.   Just two hours after graduation ended, we headed out with the ChoirHeritage Singers for an East Coast tour. We joined the choir as they sang in Ottawa, Montreal, across PEI and into Nova Scotia. Both Linda and I were impressed with the ministry mindset and musical skills of the students on the tour. The music program at Heritage is training musicians to serve well in churches.

Dallas. At the end of June, I flew to Dallas Seminary
to be a guest teacher for two dozen IMG_0769pastoral leaders from countries around the world. The training sessions were hosted by Dr. Ramesh Richard, one of my former profs and a good friend. It was a delight to meet these young pastors and hear the challenges they face in courageously serving Christ in their home countries.

Louisville. In early July we drove to Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky so Linda could Southern Seminary
take courses in their Doctor of Education program. She had three classes over a ten-day period (with 24 assigned books to read!). The training she’s receiving is proving helpful for her ministry of teaching at Heritage and leading a training program for women (for information on the next upcoming class in the Heritage Centre for Women in Ministry click here).

Lancaster. In early August we spent several days in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. We IMG_1640attended the Global Leadership Summit and did some advance planning for an upcoming wedding rehearsal dinner. Our oldest son, Ryan, is getting married in Lancaster in October. We enjoyed a lovely dinner (and campfire!) with Jenny (Ryan’s fiancée) and her family.

New York City. From Lancaster, we drove to
New York to see our other son, Michael,IMG_1638 Elena (his fiancée) and her parents. Once again we were in wedding planning mode as Michael and Elena plan to get married in early January. The whole group of us (our family, Jenny’s family and Elena’s family) were able to see the Blue Jays shut out the Yankees at Yankee stadium (happy for us; sad for most of our future relatives!).

Cambridge. It’s great to travel, but as Dorothy famously said, “There’s no place like home.” We returned a bit road weary but grateful for God’s mercies all along the way.

Now we are gearing up for the beginning of another journey—the start of a new school year at Heritage. We’d ask you to pray that God would guide and provide as we seek to train men and women to serve Christ here in Canada…and in cities and countries around the world.

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When the Saints

“And when the saints go marching in, I want to be one of them.” (Sara Groves)

This week, we’ve marched behind a long line of saints. I, Linda, was part of a church history course at Heritage: Great Women of the Faith: A Survey of Church History.

Last summer we listened to Dr. Michael Haykin teach at Muskoka Bible Centre from his upcoming book: Nine Women, Their Words and Their God. Dr. Haykin, who teaches at Southern and Heritage seminaries, was willing to present this as an academic course hereGreat Women of the Faith class.

The course was filled with remarkable women who serve in ministries at local churches or in a parachurch organization focused on evangelism.

On Monday morning we began the march of saints with Eve, Sarah, Ruth, Esther, Mary, and the woman who anointed Jesus with alabaster. Dr. Haykin then taught on women in the Greco-Roman world of the early church (Romans 16), followed by Perpetua, Macrina, Lady Jane Grey (1537-1554), Anne Dutton (1700’s), Anne Steele and her hymns, (1778), Sarah Edwards, Esther Edwards Burr, and Ann Judson. On Friday, we began with Frances Havergal (Take My life and Let it Be) and women in missions: Lottie Moon (1840-1912), Amy Carmichael (1867-1951), Rosalind Goforth (from Toronto), and Esther Ahn Sook (from Korea, see her book: If I Perish).

We took time in particular to remember Elisabeth Elliot who passed Through Gates of Spendor on Monday (1926-June 15, 2015). Many organizations such as the Gospel Coalition and even the New York Times are remembering her remarkable life.

Are there women today attempting great things for God? Joy Smith, who is currently serving as a Canadian Member of Parliament, has successfully passed two bills to curtail sex trafficking, and Katie Davis (born 1989), is living in Uganda, having founded Amazina Ministries and living in her home with 14 adopted girls.

The Bible reminds us: “Remember those who led you, who spoke the Word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” Hebrews 13:7-8.

If the Lord wills, Joy Smith, M.P. will be part of our next course: Women who Impact the World: Local, National and Global Evangelism. The course is scheduled for September 24-25 and November 13-14. For more information on how you can take part in this upcoming course, please contact lreed@heritage-theo.edu or click here.

And if you’d like to sing along with Sara and the saints, click here.

 

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“Don’t You Know How Busy and Important I am?”

On a recent visit to Ottawa, my daughter showed me a video that made me both laugh and wince. It’s a song by a British singer, Tom Rosenthal, called “Don’t you know how busy and important I am?”

Busyness and importance often go together in our world. In fact, being busy makes us feel important. It gives us a sense that we are making progress, moving ahead, going somewhere in life. But sadly, that’s not necessarily true—just think of a hamster on a wheel.

Back in my seminary days I read an article by Eugene Peterson with the provocative title, The Unbusy Pastor. Peterson makes the case that busyness is often a sign of laziness. He writes,

It was a favourite theme of C. S. Lewis that only lazy people work hard. By lazily abdicating the essential work of deciding and directing, establishing values and setting goals, other people do it for us; then we find ourselves frantically, at the last minute, trying to satisfy a half dozen different demands on our time, none of which is essential to our vocation, to stave off the disaster of disappointing someone.

So as I watch Tom Rosenthal’s song, I’m asking God to help me reject the barrenness of busyness and resist the illusion of importance. By His grace, may we all live at a liveable pace, prioritize His agenda and fulfill His calling on our lives.

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How God Leads Those in Ministry (Part 4 of 4)

In the last three posts, I’ve sought to make a case from in the book of Acts that God guides conclusionpeople by His Spirit in three primary ways: spiritual wisdom, providential provision and direct intervention. In this final post, I want to offer some implications and applications for those of us engaged in ministry today.

While I believe there are unique, unrepeatable features in the book of Acts (for example, the presence of the original apostles and the epic coming of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost), I’m convinced the book of Acts is meant to both inspire and instruct us as we serve the Lord Jesus in our day. The mission of bringing the gospel to the ends of the earth is still a work in progress. Since the book of Acts ends in a way that implies the story is unfinished (28:31), you could say we are living out the “longer ending” of the book’s storyline.

To wrap things up, I want to set forth four lessons about God’s guidance that I’m seeking to keep in mind and would encourage you to take to heart.

  1. Spiritual wisdom is a genuine aspect of the Spirit’s guidance even though it doesn’t normally look or feel overtly supernatural. In fact, I see spiritual wisdom as the “default” way spiritual leaders make ministry decisions. Since spiritual wisdom is primarily developed through soaking up Scripture (Psalm 1), all of us engaged in ministry must prioritize regular Scripture study and prayer. Having our hearts and minds saturated with Scripture enables us to wisely evaluate situations, think clearly about best options and make decisions in line with God’s ways and will.
  1. Spiritual wisdom should not be understood in completely individualistic terms. Throughout Acts we see an emphasis on leaders seeking consultation and confirmation from other godly people. For example, Paul’s decision to take Timothy onto his missionary team was due, at least in part, to the fact that “the brothers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him” (16:2). When Paul received the “Macedonian vision,” his team confirmed this vision as indicating God’s direction for their mission (16:10). At times we do see Paul making decisions on his own (20:22; 21:12-14); however, he regularly worked as a team player not a lone ranger. The lesson: it’s wise to involve godly people in important ministry decisions. None of us are as spiritually wise as all of us together.
  1. God can use providential provisions and/or direct intervention to clarify, confirm or arrowschange the decisions we make through the use of spiritual wisdom. When we experience a convergence of spiritual wisdom, providential provision (“open” or “closed” doors) and direct intervention (internal promptings, internal peace or the lack of it), we gain greater confidence that we are headed in the right direction.
  1. As we are submissive to His will, God will intervene to get us where He wants us to be for His greater purposes. Paul thought it wise to go to Bithynia and Mysia (16:6-7). Evidently, God wanted him in Macedonia. As a result, Paul and company were “kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia” (16:6). God overruled and redirected Paul and He’s more than capable of doing that for us as well. This takes pressure off us to figure everything out and lets us walk humbly and confidently with God in life and ministry.
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How God Leads Those in Ministry (Part 3 of 4)

In the last few posts, I’ve been reflecting on what I’m learning from the book of Acts about how God guides those engaged in ministry. My interest in this subject is theological but not theoretical; I need God’s guidance as I serve Christ and want to have a biblical expectation on how He provides direction.

So far I’ve written about two ways God is seen to guide His people in the book of Acts: providential provision and direct intervention. Today I want to consider a third way–spiritual wisdom.

Spiritual Wisdom

wisdom black and whiteSpiritual wisdom was one of the basic requirements for those selected as leaders in the early church. When the Jerusalem church needed people to oversee the ministry to widows, the apostles said, “Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom” (6:7). One of the seven men selected—Stephen—was an outstanding preacher; even those who opposed him “could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke”(6:10).

The combination of being full of the Spirit and full of wisdom enabled leaders like Stephen to move through life with spiritual wisdom. When faced with a variety of ministry decisions (Where should we go next? Who should we add to our team? How should we respond to antagonistic city officials?), they sought to make choices that were spiritually wise.

I’d put the vast majority of decisions made by individuals in the book of Acts into the “spiritual wisdom” category. For example, in Acts 16 we read that Paul and Silas went to the cities of Derbe and Lystra. There is no mention in the passage that they were “told” by the Spirit to go to these towns. Evidently, they used their best wisdom to set their itinerary. After arriving in Lystra, Paul met Timothy and “wanted to take him along on the journey” (16:3). Again, there is no textual indication that the Spirit told him to do so.

There are numerous other examples of this kind of decision-making in chapter 16. Paul and his team chose to make Philippi a stop on their travels through Macedonia (16:12). On the Sabbath, they walked to a river on the outskirts of town because they “expected to find a place of prayer” (16:13). When Lydia invited the team to stay at her home, they agreed to do so (“she persuaded us”—16:15). After being released from the Philippian jail, they opted to stay put until city officials came with an apology (16:37). Once out of jail, they decided to revisit the believers at Lydia’s house before leaving town (16:40).

In all these decisions (and scores of others in the book of Acts), Christian ministers made decisions without any mention of being guided by providential provisions or direct intervention.

So are we to understand these decisions as made without God’s help or guidance? Were all these decisions purely human choices, no different than those made by people with no faith in Christ? I don’t think so. In fact, I would argue these decisions were routinely made with what we are calling spiritual wisdom.  The Holy Spirit worked with and through the wisdom believers possessed to direct them, even when there is no mention of the Spirit’s overt guidance.

got wisdom

At this point you may be thinking, “Well, I certainly need more of this spiritual wisdom. How do I get it?”

The short answer is that spiritual wisdom comes from God. This is why Paul regularly asked God to give it to the Christians he loved.  Notice the repeated emphasis on wisdom, insight and understanding in Paul’s prayers.

“I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better” (Ephesians 1:17)

“And this is my prayer:  that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ” (Philippians 1:9).

“We have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (Colossians 1:9).

You still may be wondering how God actually imparts spiritual wisdom to believers. My wisdom bibleanswer is that the main way is through His Word. Spiritual wisdom comes through God’s revelation not simply through human calculation. And knowing God’s revelation requires knowing His Word. By close and constant attention to Scripture we learn to know God’s character and ways. Our minds are gradually transformed so we can better discern His will (Romans 12:1-2). God’s truth becomes foundational for our outlook on life and we learn to see reality from His point of view. This allows us to grow spiritually wise and enables us to make better decisions.

I’d encourage you to think about the implications of all this for your life and ministry. In the next (and final) post in this series, I’ll present some ministry implications of these theological observations.

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How God Leads Those in Ministry (Part 2 of 4)

Decisions. Decisions. Decisions.decisions man

One of the most frequent (and sometimes, fatiguing) aspects of leadership is making decisions. Priority decisions (Which initiative should come first?). Personnel decisions (Who should we ask to oversee this initiative?). Procedure decisions (What is the best way to get this initiative accomplished?).

Where Scripture speaks, decision-making is simplified. However, when it comes to the specifics of many decisions, we often don’t find a verse that tells us specifically what to do.

So how does God lead and direct us as we seek to serve Him and do His will? That’s the question I’m wrestling with in this short series of posts. I’m basing my thoughts on the captivating case studies of the Spirit’s leading recorded in the book of Acts (the book I’m studying this year in my morning readings).

My overarching answer to the question of how God guides His servants as they engage in ministry can be summed up this way: God guides His people by His Spirit in three primary ways: providential provision, direct intervention and spiritual wisdom.

In my previous post, I highlighted one of these ways: providential provision. God can guide by divinely orchestrating circumstances. We might call this the “open door” approach to guidance–God guides by sovereignly opening a door of opportunity.

But right away we hit a snag. Providential provision, by itself, is not always sufficient to give clear direction. That’s because circumstances are not self-interpreting. The events of our lives do not come with sticky-notes attached that explain how God wants us to view them. For example, three times in the book of Acts God sovereignly opens prison doors for His servants.  We’d naturally assume that God was opening doors for his people to go free. Not so fast!  While Peter did walked through the open doors into freedom (5:19; 12:8), Paul and Silas didn’t (16:27-28). They evidently didn’t see the open prison doors as a sign that God was guiding them to escape.

All this leads me to conclude that providential provisions are not the sole or sufficient way God guides his people. And that brings us to a second way God directs His servants: direct intervention.

Direct Intervention

By direct intervention I’m referring to those times when God reveals His will in a customized, compelling and clearly supernatural way.

An example of direct intervention is Paul’s “Macedonian vision.” Luke records that, during one of their nights in Troas, “Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us’” (16:9). This isn’t the only vision God used to guide His servants in the book of Acts. Peter had a vision that prepared him to visit Cornelius (10:9-13). Paul had three visions that kept him going in desperate times (18:9; 23:11; 27:23).

led by spiritIn addition to visions, the Spirit told Philip to approach the Ethiopian’s chariot (8:29). The Spirit told Peter to go with the Gentiles to Cornelius’ home (10:19). The Spirit told the church leaders in Antioch to send out Barnabas and Saul as missionaries (13:1-3). The Spirit told believers in Tyre that Paul was headed for danger in Jerusalem (21:4). We’re not told exactly how the Spirit communicated with Philip, Peter or the Christians in Tyre; however, it’s clear they knew they were hearing from God.

All of this raises an important question for us: Can we still expect the Spirit to “tell” us what to do in life and ministry situations? Does God still give “visions” to guide believers today?

While Christians will differ in their answers to these questions, two observations from Acts point me towards an answer. First, the Spirit communicated to a wide range of believers: apostles (Peter), church leaders (Philip and the Antioch leaders) and “ordinary” believers (Christians in Tyre). In other words, this kind of guidance wasn’t reserved for the apostles.   This leads me to conclude that direct intervention is still available to us today.

Second, in the book of Acts, guidance through direct intervention is real but rare. Only a relatively few times do we read about the Spirit “telling” believers what to do or giving them visions.  Most decisions are made without any explicit mention of the Spirit’s “telling” or “showing” believers what to do.

In my personal experience, I would say that direct intervention to provide guidance has IMG_0572been both real and rare. (I’ve written about one of the memorable times when I sensed the Spirit giving direct guidance in a article called Cancer, the Cross and a Call).

Most of the decisions I’ve made in life and ministry have been made without any supernatural pyrotechnics. And that leads to the third (and most common) way we see God guiding His servants in the book of Acts: spiritual wisdom. I’ll discuss that in the next post.

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