SEND U blog

Reflections and resources for lifelong learning for missionaries

Fruit of the Spirit
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Exploring Spiritual Formation: Fruit – Part 1

This is the first of two posts that explore the growth of fruit in the life of a believer. Part 1 presents the biblical subject of fruit and highlights the fruit of the Spirit. Next month, in Part 2, the post will present three necessary components for bearing the fruit of the Spirit. It will also touch on fruit and disciple making, and fruit and cross-cultural considerations.

Fake Fruit

I love candy. As a child, when gifted with a few coins, I would head off to “The Little Store” and purchase something sweet. Favorites included strawberry licorice, orange slices, and grape popsicles.1Those who know me best will be wondering why chocolate isn’t on this list. Yes, I ate a fair share of chocolate in my youth, and still do (perhaps more than a fair share). However, the cacao bean is a vegetable, and we’re talking about fruit here—and the items listed above are still some of my favorites! We didn’t have much fresh fruit in our home when I was young, and it wasn’t until adulthood that I learned to appreciate the superior taste found in the real thing. Now, when I bite into a fresh, sweet strawberry, I wonder why I so often settle for the fake goodness of candy.

There are other forms of fake fruit, like the realistic looking pieces available for use in advertising, restaurant displays, or decorating one’s home (I have some in a bowl on a table in my living room).2Just for fun, here is a link to an online store that sells fake fruit for display purposes. It’s amazing how realistic some of it looks: Display Fake Foods And here is an article on the history of a museum in Turin, Italy that highlights fake fruit: Fake Fruit History However, though it may be beautiful, and though there are good uses for it, no one wants to eat fake fruit. Not only does it taste terrible, but it has no nutritional value.

Did Jesus and Paul avoid conflict?
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Do Jesus and Paul avoid conflict?

In a previous blog post, I suggested that sometimes Christians need to argue. In fact, I believe healthy teams must have productive and passionate debate about important issues. We will lose much if avoid engaging in them. But I also noted that Christian unity is very important to Jesus, and in fact is taught throughout the New Testament. So does our commitment to keeping the unity of the Spirit (Eph 4:3) restrain us in participating in these types of arguments? Let’s look at both Jesus and Paul and their posture toward arguments.

Jesus does not avoid arguments

Throughout Jesus’ ministry, we often find him in debate with the religious leaders of the day (e.g. Mk 8:11, 12:28). Generally, these debates were initiated by the Pharisees as they sought to trip up this young, popular teacher who was threatening their power base. But Jesus does not steer clear of controversial subjects or refuse to answer their provocative questions.

Nevertheless, when he overhears his disciples arguing about who was the greatest (Mk 9:33-34, Luk 9:46), he puts a stop to it. These were not productive debates, and reflected a completely wrong idea of what leadership entailed.

Jesus joins an argument

But I would have thought that after the dramatic events of the cross and the resurrection, Jesus would be done with the rough-and-tumble of debate and argument. Somehow I imagined that in his resurrected glory, he would not want to have anything to do with them. Then I read Luke 24. I see that in Luke, Jesus’ first resurrection appearance is to join an argument between two disciples.

young pastor being ordained
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Follow-up: Understanding Authentic Christian Ministry

As we saw in an earlier post, the Corinthians needed to learn to keep culture in perspective. This was especially true in their understanding of leadership and Christian ministry. The leadership values of the culture were exploited by Paul’s opponents, causing some in Corinth to question Paul’s credentials. George Guthrie observes,

In short, in the apostle’s seeming humility (even humiliation 12:21), his taking on the role of a servant, his rejection of patronage and the concomitant rejection of financial gain, and his refusal to advance his status by use of rhetorical skills, he stood in violation of key leadership values and principles embedded in the Corinthian culture. The apostle, on the other hand, presents to the Corinthians an alternative; a theocentric and biblical vision of authentic leadership. 1George H. Guthrie, 2 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, 2015, p17.

While not all cultural leadership values will conflict with authentic Christian ministry, they will need to be compatible with the message of Christ crucified. We, like Paul, need to model and teach authentic Christian ministry so that the leadership of the churches we plant reflects the cross in their ministry. I observe seven key characteristics of authentic Christian ministry in 2 Corinthians.

suffering
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Follow-up: Understanding Suffering

Paul’s follow-up with the church in Corinth is the most extensive in the New Testament. It includes four letters (1 & 2 Corinthians and two we don’t have – a “previous letter” 1 Corinthians 5:9-11 and a “severe letter” 2 Corinthians 2:3,4), a visit by Timothy, two visits by Titus, and two visits by Paul over a five year period. 1Murray Harris, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians NIGTC, 2005, 101-105. In previous posts on 1 Corinthians, I have noted the need to keep the cross central and the need to keep culture in perspective. Moving on to 2 Corinthians, we see Paul defending his apostolic ministry. His suffering and lack of polish in speaking had caused his opponents to look down on him. Therefore as Paul defends himself, he provides us with an understanding of Christian suffering and gives a model of authentic gospel ministry. This post focuses on the understanding of suffering. Then a future post will address his model of authentic gospel ministry.

Very relevant to vocational ministers

Paul Barnett comments on the relevance of 2 Corinthians for us,

Thus the greater part of his teaching about ministry stand as a model and an inspiration to subsequent generations of missionaries and pastors. His comments about ministry – that at its heart lie endurance and patience, sacrifice and service, love of the churches, fidelity to the gospel, sincerity before God, and, above all, a rejection of triumphalism with its accompanying pride – remain throughout the aeon to shape and direct the lives of the Lord’s servants. Paul’s ministry as sufferer and servant is precisely modeled on that of Jesus, and finds its legitimacy in the face of detraction and opposition for just that reason, as also must ours, if that is our calling. Thus 2 Corinthians may be bracketed with the Pastoral Letters in its applicability to the work of those whose vocation it is to serve God as his ministers. 2Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians NICNT, 1997,50.

Exploring Spiritual Formation: Empathy

Jesus and the Disciples

Perhaps you will find this odd, but, one of my favorite stories about Jesus is found in Matthew 15, where, responding to Peters’ request for an explanation of a parable, Jesus says: “Are you still so dull?”1Matthew 15:1-16. The parallel passage is in Mark 7:1-18, where Mark makes it clear Peter asked on behalf of all the disciples. The parallel passage also contains the same Greek word (asunetoi) translated as “dull” in the New International Version (NIV). It makes me laugh every time I read it.

There are more passages that describe the disciples’ cluelessness—including two in which Jesus again confronts the disciples about their lack of understanding.2For example, Matthew 16:5-12; Mark 4:1-20, 6:45-52, 9:30-32; Luke 18:31-34; John 12:12-16, 16:17-18, 20:1-9 And there are other people who also don’t understand Jesus at times, including Jesus’ parents, Nicodemus, and the crowd.3See Luke 2:41-50; John 3:1-10, John 8:12-30, 10:1-21 But none of those passages use the Greek word translated in the New International Version as “dull.”4While other translations are more generous and translate the Greek word asunetoi as “without understanding” (e.g., KJV and ESV), the connotation of the English word “dull” is certainly within the semantic range of asunetoi. Of this passage, Calvin says: “As the disciples betray excessive ignorance, Christ justly reproves and upbraids them for being still void of understanding, and yet does not fail to act as their teacher,” Calvin, John, “Matthew XV,” in Harmony of the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Vol 1, Calvin’s Commentaries, Volume XVI (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, Reprinted 2003) 259. See also Louw, Johannes P. and Eugene A. Nida, et. al., Editors, “asunetos” in Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains, Second Edition (New York: United Bible Societies, 1989), 386, 32:49, where Louw and Nida include the following in their assessment of “asunetos”: “pertaining to a lack of capacity for insight and understanding.…from a lack of the proper use of mental capacity.” See also Carson, D. A., “Matthew,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 8, General Editor: Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984), 351. See also “asunetos” in Bauer, Walter, William F. Arndt, F. Wilbur Gingrich, and Frederick W. Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1979) 118c. See also “asunetos” in An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon Founded Upon The Seventh Edition of Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 127a.

Avoiding conflict

Should Christians ever argue?

In my online class on leadership, I ask my students whether they prefer “fight” or “flight” when it comes to conflict. By far, the majority tend to avoid conflict. We feel uncomfortable with passionate arguments on mission teams. But can conflict and disagreement on mission teams ever be productive? Could it even be necessary?

For many years, I have been intrigued by Patrick Lencioni’s claim that one of the five dysfunctions of a team is a fear of conflict.1The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. See diagram of the 5 dysfunctions on the SEND U wiki. Recently, I listened to a podcast by Pat Lencioni and his Table Group on “The Upside of Conflict.” He made the startling statement that very few companies that he has worked with have even close to enough conflict. This view seems to radically differ from the prevailing view that Christians and Christian organizations should avoid conflict at all costs! Often our organizational cultures seem to discourage any open expression of disagreement. We do not want to undermine our unity in Christ.

Which hills to die on

Theological Triage: Which theological issues are worth fighting for?

The term “Theological Triage” was introduced in 2005 by Albert Mohler1A Call for Theological Triage and Christian Maturity. Finding the Right Hills to Die On: The Case for Theological Triage (The Gospel Coalition) by [Gavin Ortlund, D. A. Carson]It is a “system of prioritization”2Gavin Ortland, Finding the Right Hills to Die On: the Case for Theological Triage, 2020 . Since I have spent most of my life in theological education, on one side of the desk or the other, this is an important issue for me. Distinguishing the relative importance of theological issues has been a very practical task in navigating relationships with others in ministry. Furthermore, the metaphor of triage resonates from the time I spent serving as a volunteer EMT for many years. So, when the Gospel Coalition published Finding the Right Hills to Die On: the Case for Theological Triage by Gavin Ortland earlier this year, I added it to my reading list. Though the book does not directly address missiological issues, its relevance to cross-cultural workers is underscored by the cross-cultural examples mentioned by D. A. Carson in the preface.3Ortland, 11-14.

Four categories

In the Introduction, Ortland spells out the categories of his fourfold ranking for theological triage:

  • First-rank doctrines are essential to the gospel itself.
  • Second-rank doctrines are urgent for the health and practice of the church such that they frequently cause Christians to separate at the level of local church, denomination, and/or ministry.
  • Third-rank doctrines are important to Christian theology, but not enough to justify separation or division among Christians.
  • Fourth-rank doctrines are unimportant to our gospel witness and ministry collaboration. 4Ortland, 19.

Why Theological Triage?

The book is divided into two parts: 1. Why Theological Triage? (chapters 1-3) and 2. Theological Triage At Work (chapters 4-6). The first two chapters address the danger of doctrinal sectarianism and doctrinal minimalism respectively. We tend to two extremes: every issue is a hill to die on or nothing is worth fighting for. He urges us to find our identity in the gospel, not our theological positions, hence the need for theological triage. 5Ortland, 42. Second-rank and third-rank doctrines preserve, picture, protect, and pertain to the gospel.6Ortland, 57.

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