Donald Richmond: “In too much fullness is some want…” –Sir John Suckling in Chapters into Verse Over the past number of years I have repeatedly heard Roman Catholics emphasize the “fullness of [Roman] faith.” Within the grossly misguided context of evangelizing other Christians, this emphasis asserts that Roman fullness has something a bit more to […]
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Johnathan Michael Jones:
Selfishness has crept its way into the church over the years and has become detrimental to the point that Western culture has adopted a false gospel: a gospel that makes humankind the center and the point rather than God. I remember a conversation with a friend years ago in which I suggested that God is primarily about his own glory. My friend responded by saying that makes God sound as if he is stuck on himself. My response was, “He is! Who else would he stuck on? You, me, or someone lesser?” God is the point of the gospel; the gospel is not even about humankind at all but solely about God’s glory. Even the story of redemption among his people points to his own glory and pleasure.
Our selfishness is manifested in many ways. A common prayer among many believers, for example, is for God to glorify himself by working through us, i.e. we desire him to work through us more than we desire him to work so that he is glorified. What if he decided to answer our prayer in that regard but to do so through someone else other than us? John Piper has written a book entitled God Is the Gospel. The truth is that we should desire God to work despite us rather than through us. Consider the story of Joseph. Fourteen chapters of Genesis are devoted to this story. It is a story with which many are familiar and a story that teaches valuable lessons; yet, it has become a story that effectively promotes therapeutic moralistic deism in which we gain insights from the text and believe that if we make the right decisions living a decent life, we will be blessed as Joseph was. What is fascinating about the story of Joseph, however, is that while Joseph takes up the most space and is the main character, he is not the point, for that role belongs to Judah. In fact, the reason God placed Joseph in a place of authority through his trials and circumstances was to eventually preserve the life of Judah who likely would have died without the help of his brother. Though Judah is not mentioned as often as Joseph, it was through his line that the Messiah would come. The role for Judah, although seemingly small, was the most important role. For many of us, we would not be okay with that. We pray for God to move but desire him to move so that we receive at least a little recognition. We spend our time ministering and claiming a desire solely for God’s glory as a mask that hides our selfishness.
It is vital that we realize God is the point of the gospel, not us. When we realize how God-centered the gospel is and when our perspective changes, other things in our lives also change. I would like to suggest four aspects that change in our lives when our perspective on the gospel changes.
Our Prayers Change
First, when our perspective on the point of the gospel changes, our prayers subsequently change. We stop treating God as a genie in a bottle and asking for what we want (in our selfishness). We stop praying on the foundation of what we want and begin to pray based on what God desires. Furthermore, our prayers are not even founded upon our good or the good of humanity but rightly the pleasures of God. It is likely, when we consider how we pray, that we realize our prayers are usually selfish, i.e. we pray based on our good more than God’s pleasure and delight; yet, when our delight is rooted in God’s delight, our prayers are subsequently affected. No longer do we pray for God to use us but rather to use us or anyone he chooses. If you want God to use you, ask yourself why. Is it so that he receives glory and pleasure or so that you might be seen, albeit for the supposed glory of Christ. There is surely a fine line between a desire for God to use us and a desire for people to see God using us. When our perspective on the gospel shifts to a solely God-centered and God-exalting gospel, our prayers change.
Our Joy Changes
Our joy also changes, for we find our joy in God’s joy. Even in matchless persecution, sickness, suffering, and even depression, we live with a hope and joy like none other because it is not rooted in circumstances. Often, we can claim the joy of Christ when situations are at least okay. It is difficult to realize God’s joy, however, when circumstances are dire. By joy, I do not intend to imply happiness but rather a supreme satisfaction and delight in God. Joy does not mean freedom from difficulty including sickness, financial trouble, loss of job, legal troubles, or even depression. If joy in Christ meant that life would be absent of these, many Christians over the centuries have been cheated. Joy in Christ does not mean freedom from trials but freedom despite them. Without a proper gospel perspective, circumstances will rule; we will not know the joy of the Lord; and we will continue to see the gospel through the grid of ourselves, thus asking questions like, “God, if you love me, then why did you do this?” Questions such as this are indicative of the wrong perspective on the gospel. God is the point of the gospel, not humanity.
Our Reason for Evangelism Changes
When our perspective on the gospel changes, our reason for evangelism also changes. Prior to my shift in perspective years ago, I believed that I was to preach the gospel so that the lost are saved; this, however, is only a half truth. The gospel is not about people but about God. When our perspective on the gospel changes, we preach out of an abundant joy in the Lord; our overflowing satisfaction in Christ then causes us to declare who he is because we have tasted and seen that he is good (Ps 34:8). Evangelism, thus, becomes about declaring God, not convincing people to trust him. When people see as we have seen, they then trust him. It is not our job to save people. We have no power to do so. It is our job to know God and to make him known. Why does God save people? For his glory. Why did Christ die? For God’s glory. Why do we preach the gospel? For God’s glory, not the salvation of humanity; people’s salvation is a biproduct of declaring God. When we realize that God is the point of the gospel, our selfishness fades away and we declare God because we want people to know who he is, not just receive salvation from hell.
Our Desire for God to Work through Us Changes to a Desire for Him to Work However He Wishes
In our metamorphosis from selfishness to God-centered selflessness, we certainly desire God to work but to work however he wishes and through whomever he wishes. We have the privilege, in the body of Christ, of being used by God. Nevertheless, our desire should not be for God to use us but for him to work in any way he sees fit whether through us or through someone else and whether through our church or another church. As a minister, I openly confess that this is difficult, for I want God to use me in that to which he has called me. A proper gospel perspective, nonetheless, should cause me to seek God’s work and simply do that to which he has called me irrespective of how or even whether he uses me. He has called me so I must go and do as he commands regardless of the outcome. What if his call was as clear as this: “Go and preach, but there will be no visible outcome. You will be tortured; and no one will come to know me, but go.” What would be your response? I dare say that would be difficult for most people. Is not the call of God enough? Should we not go, and should we not preach on the sole basis that he has called? While we should desire God to work, we should not try to dictate how he works. We should seek his glory and simply obey.
Jesus Is Not Only at the Center but Everywhere
It is not uncommon to hear Christians speak of God in terms of capacity in their lives, i.e. he is a number on a priority list, or he is the center of what occurs in their lives. Jesus, however, should not be number one on a priority list; he should be the entire priority list, the first and foremost person and being in every aspect of life. He should not simply be at the center of life but rather everywhere in life: the center, the inside, the outside, the edges, everything. The gospel, the metanarrative of the Bible, and even the message we are to proclaim is not centered around humanity or even the salvation of humanity but around and about triune God himself. Salvation is a God-honoring, God-exalting, and God-glorifying result of the gospel; yet, God himself is the point of the gospel. When we realize this truth, our perspective changes; when our perspective changes, our lives change.
 This is not meant to imply that the Joseph accounts are not real.
Question: How is it that we embrace children professing their faith in Jesus the one who died for them and yet they are not usually included in services where they sing of Christ crucified…or help crush palms into ashes… or where they assist Good Friday in taking away the altar décor and drape the cross in black? Is it that we as adults want to “protect” them from the cruelty that was the crucifixion, or are we preventing the children from participating as a part of the body of Christ and using them for our own enjoyment?
Throughout history, children have been regarded in various ways from warmly to warily. David Lancy, in his book The Anthropology of Childhood: Cherubs, Chattel, Changelings lists three: the cherub who is overly romanticized and can do no wrong, the “children should be seen and not heard” chattel idea of children as completely unworthy in the presence of adults, and the suspicious idea of children and teens as so mercurial and unpredictable that they cannot be trusted. I would add one more way I have seen children and teens treated within the church: as cheerleaders. We bring them out only at times of the year that are joyful like Advent, Christmas, Palm Sunday, and Easter so that we can smile and applaud them. We do not necessarily applaud each time an adult reads scripture or sings as if it is a performance and not a participation in God’s message of the day….
Want to read the rest of Connie’s wonderful work? Please click the “Read More” link below.
Dr. Connie C. Bull:
A blessing is a circle of light drawn around a person to protect, heal, and strengthen. –John O’Donohue, Irish poet & priest (1956-2008)
Will you offer the blessing? We hear this phrase often at mealtime, even perhaps daily. If we pause to consider, though, we realize that blessing is not only connected to meals. Throughout the Bible, blessing is connected to belonging. Our common speech patterns, however, do not imply belonging when we are quick to say “Bless his heart” or “Lord, bless her” when speaking of a personality flaw in someone. Instead, we are covertly lying to hide the disdain we feel under the surface. Thus, we have twisted the biblical meanings what it is to bless; blessings are to be prayers for deliverance and a “made-new worldview” as we bless in Jesus’ name, our Deliverer.
The Old Testament uses nine different meanings of the term “bless” including greeting/leavetaking in peace, prevailing power over enemies, wisdom, prosperity, benediction, transfer of power, respect, praise, and thanksgiving. In the New Testament, Christ embodies these, and blesses into belonging both young and old in His ministry. Jesus’ last earthly act was blessing (Luke 24:51)—a ministry for more than church staff, but rather for all Christ’s followers to continue.
 Claus Westermann, Blessing in the Bible and the Life of the Church, trans. Keith Crim (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1978), 19.
Want to read the rest of Connie’s wonderful work? Please click the “Read More” link below.
Audio Resource: His long and distinguished career as a military chaplain helped prepare Brett Travis for a further call to church planting. In this conversation with Dr. Chris Alford, Brett describes a lifetime of service to his country and to the Lord. How did a country kid from the midwest end up being a proponent of Ancient-Future Faith called to pastoral ministry? Join us!
Audio Content: Dr. Gary Rushing was the guest on this episode of Ancient-Future Faith. He talked with Host Chris Alford about a life of ministry and how he is using biblical, ancient-future principles in his capacity as a worship pastor in the Methodist Church. Gary has served in a variety of denominations and now has the unique challenge of working in a “high seasonal” church in Florida where the numbers fluctuate by a thousand depending on the time of the year. What a challenge! And what a wonderful pastor he is…. Join us!
Audio Resource: Dr. Dianne Collard was the guest on this edition of Ancient-Future Faith radio. Dianne is a member of the Ancient-Future Faith Network, an author, a sought-after speaker on issues related to the arts and the church, and a great blessing to the many artists she mentors and encourages. Join us for a conversation about her latest goings-on (which include a documentary film and a new arts organization in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Tracy Balzer (right) was the guest for this edition of Ancient-Future Faith radio. She is the director of Christian Formation at John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. She is the author of Thin Places (Leafwood 2007), A Listening Life (Pinyon, 2011), and Permission to Ponder: Contemplative Wisdom for the Spiritually Distracted (Leafwood, 2015). She holds a Master of Ministry degree, is a certified spiritual director and advocate of Celtic spirituality, and is an oblate at the beautiful Subiaco Abbey, also in Arkansas. Tracy regularly leads pilgrimages and study trips to the British Isles, having a special interest and affection for the Isle of Iona, Scotland.
Long-time AFFN member and contributor Rev. Dr. Donald P. Richmond has written a remarkable set of devotionals for the Advent Season. May it be a great blessing and source of inspiration to you during these days of listening and waiting.
Thank you, Don, for your ongoing (and precious) contributions to our Network.
Here’s the introduction to the series, and then find the link to the .pdf file for the entire set just below:
Then Shall They See: Meditations for Advent
Archbishop Thomas Cranmer’s Collect for the Second Sunday in Advent, as found in the 1549 Book of Common Prayer, encourages us to “read…mark… learn…and inwardly digest” holy Scripture. The purpose of these four admonitions, according to the Collect, is to empower the reader to embrace and emulate Christ’s teaching. Reading and reflecting upon Holy Writ, with an honest and open heart, helps us to do this. These simple meditations seek to honor the Collect’s concern.
As in the past, with my other seasonal reflections, there is a process that I encourage you to follow. First, and foremost, read and reflect upon the Lesson of the day. Do not rush the Reading. Do not try to interpret the Reading. Sit before the Reading and let it speak to you. Instead of interpreting it, let the text interpret you.
As well, read and reflect upon the brief commentary that I have written. Engage with what I have suggested by asking questions. Is this how you read the text? Do you interpret this biblical passage in the same way? What are the readings, found in both the biblical text and my commentary, communicating to you? What is God asking you to do, based upon the Scripture provided?
Finally, and importantly, pray the prayer. The prayer, Come Thou, long-expected Jesus, is written in red throughout the meditations and was originally composed as a hymn by Charles Wesley. Although I reference the same prayer each day, if done with devotion it will work its way into our hearts.
May the Christ-Child, Son of God and Son of Mary, incarnate himself ever more richly in our hearts and our lives.
Enjoy the entire set of Advent devotionals by clicking here.
Audio Content: Dr. Rick Asche, a recent graduate of the Institute for Worship Studies and a long-time pastor, was the guest on this edition of “Ancient-Future Faith,” a radio program sponsored by Epiclesis: An Ancient-Future Faith Community. Rick has served in youth and men’s ministry, as well as a lead pastor, and more recently in junior high ministry in Lincoln, California. He recently accepted a calling to join the pastoral team at Epiclesis as Pastor of Intergenerational Discipleship. In this episode of the radio program, Rick talks generational ministry and its biblical mandates.
Click on the play button in the audio player below to hear the conversation with Rick Asche: