Understanding Mission Funding

Theology should be practical. It should never be a purely intellectual exercise. Instead the things you believe should always find an expression in behavior. Whatever settles into your mind, will in some manner, also leak out your toes and fingertips. Doctrine hasn’t completed its purpose until it changes your work and walk.

One of the areas on my mind right now is how we fund missions. When I say it like that, it probably draws to mind the missionary offerings we take at this time of year. Whether your church has a missionary society or a board or whatever, Christmas is a great time to raise funds for missions. I love the Lottie Moon offering, which is my denomination’s major funding event for International Missions.

But special offerings have a serious weakness. After the Christmas offering is done missionaries need to continue their work from January to November, not just in December. So there needs to be a means of funding missions the rest of the year too. The need is year round, so the giving also needs to be year round. For my church this means giving a percentage of the churches income to missions.

But don’t forget that the work of the local church is also a part of the mission. The tithes of the church members pay for the work of the pastoral staff, and a whole lot more. The buildings, grounds, teaching programs, potlucks, and fellowship groups all are part of that mission carried out by the local church on the local level.

Yet I don’t think any of these are the most important way that missions are operate and are funded. Spreading the gospel is the heart of our purpose, and its best fulfillment is in the witness of individuals who personally sacrifice to tell others. In today’s world witness is very seldom a chance encounter but instead is developed through a personal relationship. The wise Christian will intentionally build bridges with their neighbors and acquaintances in order to earn the right to tell them about Jesus.

Every believer in the church should see themselves as a part of the purpose. They learn about it, they develop a pattern of giving to it, but also they begin doing it, and this where the mission really takes shape. A Christian man volunteers in a local school. A Christian woman takes neighbors out for coffee on a regular basis. A believing senior pays for his bushes to be trimmed, but also pays for the widow next door to have her bushes trimmed. All of these things are done intentionally in order to one day have the opportunity to share the gospel.

This is how it becomes a reality that every believer is a missionary. The most important and effective work of our mission is done by a believer reaching whomever happens to be right next to them, whether that person lives in rural America, the Bible belt, a great urban center, or anywhere else along the way to the ends of the earth.

 

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Syrian Refugees

One of the political footballs right now is the question of what to do with Syrian Refugees. Some people say we should absolutely not allow them into the United States. Others say that attitude is Islamophobic and Americans should always embrace immigration. The one side points out that some of the terrorists in Paris had come in as Syrian refugees, and possibly the same thing would happen here. The other side believes our vetting process will catch any possible trouble makers.

Both sides of this discussion have invoked a rhetoric of extremes. For example, many have questioned why we would spend resources on these individuals while we have so many problems of our own that are inadequately addressed. One such example has been the cry to not house a single Syrian refugee until every homeless veteran has been sheltered. Although this is an apples to oranges comparison it is a set of priorities I would agree with. Still the reality of government is they do not have the luxury of working on one thing at a time, finishing up higher priorities before working on lower priorities would never work. Government inherently attacks some problems that will never be completely solved.

Those in favor of bringing in refugees also have their rhetoric of extremes. The worst of these, at least in my mind, was hearing Hillary Clinton say “Islam has nothing to do with terrorism.” I couldn’t believe she said those words. History argues strongly against her on that point, as does the Koran.

But that is what happens in politics today. No one listens to reasonable discussion, yet they care deeply about the topics so they resort to shouts, extreme statements, and Facebook memes. This lack of real investigative reporting, genuine information, and open discussion is what is really destroying America.

It will probably surprise most people who know me that I am in favor of bringing in carefully vetted families of Syrian refugees with young children. Yes, I really would limit it to husbands and wives with young children. Unfortunately, I do not believe either that our government will adequately background check these immigrants or that they will limit it to families as I have described. For these two reasons I would stand opposed, but if we would follow these two limitations then I can see several benefits of taking part.

In no particular order here are my reasons. The Syrian refugee crisis is the largest since World War 2, according to the news. Assuming this is not some of the persuasive misinformation put out by the media, it only makes sense that the world leader, the United States, would lead in alleviating the crisis. Also remember that leaving families in the situation tends to raise up new radicals. Islam is inherently violent towards non-Moslems, and in a place of warfare and oppression young men tend to grow up angry. Finally I note that in the United States these individuals will have the most likelihood of understanding the greater rule of law. I am assuming we will not be so foolish as to grant them pockets of sharia law. When exposed to a better way, most people will recognize it and accept it. In fact, I believe more Moslems than ever before are converting to genuine Christianity. This by itself is a powerful reason to allow the ones who are not already hard core opposed to come here, where they will be in contact with Christians and a society shaped by a culture very different than their homeland.

A Philosophy of Gratitude

I believe Christians should be grateful. They should live a life shaped by gratitude, among other attributes appropriate to Christianity.

This gratitude begins with salvation. The person who recognizes what Christ did for them on the cross will overflow with appreciation when they turn from their sin and turn to Jesus in order to receive the great gift of grace made available by His suffering. Nothing I am aware of matches the glad exuberance of a new believer.

If a person has never had this experience of overflowing thankfulness, it may well be they never had a genuine encounter with Christ. You see it’s possible to believe in all the right things and still not be a Christian. Redemption begins with a sinner becoming aware of the magnitude of his sin and the price paid for our sin by the Lord. This is followed by a conscious decision by the convert to accept the gift of salvation, which naturally is followed by a huge relief of the pressure felt by having been aware of the ugliness of his own sin. Salvation is not in the knowledge of the facts, but in the experience of making a personal commitment and receiving forgiveness.

But as I mentioned earlier that starting point produces a wonderful gratitude in the believer’s heart. What comes as a surprise to many is that this sense of having been blessed, will not last forever. Even though the gift of salvation is eternal, the human heart will not retain the same gratitude for this salvation that it had when the experience first occurred. After the passing of time our thankfulness becomes more of a mental exercise, knowing we should be grateful, than an overwhelming, overflowing rush of emotion.

Nevertheless, I still believe my first assertion. Christians should be grateful. As we walk and grow with Christ the ongoing experience of living as a believer should bring us back to the point of overflowing gratitude again and again. In other words, the proper living of the Christian life will bring you to thanksgiving, not just because of its miraculous gift at the start, but also because of the ongoing experience with a miraculous God in your day to day walk.

Therefore, as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, overflowing with gratitude. Colossians 2:6-7 (NASB)

Church Government

One of the ways that different churches show the most diversity is in church government. A congregation has to have some form of leadership and decision making, so avoiding the concept altogether is not a viable option. However, it is not possible to draw from Scripture one singular concept of how to structure a church, and groups have used varying principles leading them to diverse structures.

Today let me discuss church government beginning with the different principles. Discussion of actual structure and the Biblical foundations for the principles will be saved for another time unless it is mentioned to clarify the principle.

Headship is the idea that everyone should be under the leadership of Christ as the head of the church. This is most commonly expressed by putting everyone under the authority of someone else and very commonly this puts the group into a hierarchical structure, Bishops over pastors over deacons. In some cases, the structure has a single leader on earth with highest authority and responsibility to speak for God, God over the pope over the cardinals over the bishops and so on. Other churches also believe in the headship of Christ even if they do not have a hierarchy in their structure.

Giftedness and calling is the idea that God chooses the workers in individual churches. He equips them to do certain tasks and chooses where He wants them in the structure. When it comes to pastors and missionaries, many have used the word calling, but it is basically used the same way as giftedness is for all other believer’s placement in service to the church. Notice that giftedness is more about functionality than authority.

Elders are people with a certain level of proven wisdom and leadership in the church who are then given a decision making responsibility. Elders and elder boards may or may not be accountable to the remainder of the congregation depending on the structure of the individual church. These individuals may be selected by the congregation or be recruited by the other elders.

Theo-Democracy is the idea that God can speak through the vote of the members. In this model every believer is given credit for being led by God, but also given leeway to be mistaken. The principle is that the majority of people will be on track the majority of the time. God directs the church then as its head, but the means by which He speaks is through the vote of the members. For this reason the highest earthly authority in these groups is the agreement of the congregation. The congregation will find it necessary to appoint groups to take on specific tasks so that decision making is not tied down with the minutia of daily operation.

When it comes to any one church or denomination they will generally operate with more than one of these principles. Their resulting structure may not look like the structure of the next group down the road, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that either is right or wrong on the issue of church government. At least in my opinion, church government is one of the areas where we should not believe there is only one right way to do things.

Immutable God

I believe that God is relational. But the details of God being in relationship with humanity can be confusing. For example we think of God as being perfectly consistent. We even have a fancy theological word for this, immutability. Unfortunately relationships are never perfectly consistent, absolute consistency is far from perfect, and for that matter immutability doesn’t mean what many of us think it means.

We tend to picture God’s immutability as a strict set of rules down the order of, “if we do this, He’ll do that.” Or to put that another way, we want to formulate God. For too many people their entire spirituality is a series of observations about God and His past choices, assuming He will make the same choice every time a similar situation arises.

A boy steals a candy bar. His mom catches him, and punishes him. The child then believes that God will punish every thief. (When we do this, God will do that.) Being able to formulate God’s choices like this is only useful if you are looking for ways to manipulate or control Him.

The truth is that relationships disallow this kind of formulation. People who are in a relationship have to deal not only with variations in their own preferences and choices but also with these variations in the other person. God has a right to respond to the same situation in different ways at different times and with different people, just like we do.

God is immutable in that His character in unchanging, in that His purposes never waver and in that He remains absolutely sovereign. But these facts don’t change the reality that he might react one way the first three times you do something and then choose another reaction on the fourth. God may choose to draw a person to salvation with a heavy hand, or choose another person for some highly significant role in the kingdom, while clearly not doing the same for all people.

This is not inconsistency in God, it is just God expressing His sovereignty. He knew exactly what He would do in every case before history began, that is an expression of His immutability. This is not God being unfair, it is God being God.

Convenient Mystery

A person should consider us in this way: as servants of Christ and managers of God’s mysteries. 1 Corinthians 4:1 (HCSB)

This passage refers to mysteries. I agree that there are going to be things about God that are over our heads. Things too wonderful for the human mind to comprehend. These things we rather easily dismiss as God’s mysteries.

A long while back I was listening to a person present a theological viewpoint, which I happened to disagree with. He proceeded to try and force me to spiritually say uncle and admit he was smarter than I, by showing me verse after verse that he said backed up his point of view. I don’t know if they did or didn’t since he wouldn’t slow down enough to let me think about each. People who are sure they are right and intelligent apparently don’t need to slow down to think.

When he finally come up for air I put a verse in front of him, just one, which I took the time to explain. This verse didn’t back up my perspective so much as it contradicted his. I asked him to reconcile his belief with this verse. He replied the gospel will always contain some things that are mysteries to us.

That was when it occurred to me, we tend to define ourselves by what we believe. We use terms like evangelical, Christological, Biblical, fundamental, and reformed to categorize and characterize what we think. But you might sometimes learn as much if we could define what we are satisfied leaving as mysteries.

Perhaps not always, but at least sometimes what we choose to call mysteries are those things we simply don’t want to deal with. Perhaps they interfere with our favorite doctrinal stands. Perhaps they scare us in their implications. Or perhaps they make us feel stupid.

I conjecture that one day in eternity, when we have had millions of years to figure out the truth, theology will all fit together in one coherent and cohesive system. There may still be mysteries, but if there are it will be because those ideas elude us by being more than our minds can hold. Those mysteries will not be hiding places where we huddle up to protect ourselves, emotionally and spiritually, from unwanted truth.

Did you notice the verse quoted above is spoken in the context that Paul and his co-workers were managers of revealing God’s mysteries? They were teachers of truth, not protectors hiding truth safely away somewhere.

Cactus Wren

Cactus Wren

This is a cactus wren, the state bird in Arizona. This bird knows how to exist in the desert. It doesn’t need any freestanding water to survive, being able to get all the moisture it needs from its food. It also has learned to take good advantage of the prickly nature of cactus.

Perhaps the most menacing of the cacti is the jumping cholla, a plant that will have sections break off and lodge itself in unwary passersby. These sections then will work their way deeper into the victim as they attempt to get free, unless they know exactly how to remove them. Cactus wren will commonly nest in these plants though, skillfully building down in the middle of the cacti’s natural defenses.

This does not stop all possible predators, but attempting to raid a nest is unlikely to succeed because not only is the location highly defensible, but the birds are known to aggressively defend their homes. When a predator attempts to access it, the birds will knock them off balance amid the deadly spines.

One story of such an event is on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website. They mention a Yuma antelope squirrel that was knocked into the spines and then to the ground. The cactus wren is able to successfully defend its nest because of the combination of a defensible position and aggressive defensive behavior.

Believers should take note of this combination.

The first step to success is to find a defensible position. The easiest way for a Christian to remain in a defensible position is to carefully and closely align yourself with God. Being in agreement with Biblical morality and strong in your personal relationship with God through Christ will allow you to miss the attacks that come from being unprepared and practicing immorality. Much of the warfare believers face is because they are living morally compromised and spiritually distant.

The second step is to know when and how to fight back for the remaining attacks. This can be tricky because our warfare is not like the battles of this world, so our defensive behavior needs to be different. Very often it is a Spirit led word of witness for the Lord. There may be times when the appropriate defense is to simply to explain a misunderstanding, socially or theologically. Increasingly in our world, the defensive component includes political involvement such as voting, campaigning, and political action campaigns. In all cases, our defense includes speaking out, not rudely, but gently and truthfully.

Consider Ephesians 6:11-13 (HCSB)

Put on the full armor of God so that you can stand against the tactics of the Devil. For our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens. This is why you must take up the full armor of God, so that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having prepared everything, to take your stand.