Resolved for 2007: Get the Wisdom from Above, Part 2

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Having explored the “meekness of wisdom” in James 3:13 and drawn out the possible reasons wisdom should lead to meekness (Part 1), with James we now contrast the wisdom from below with the wisdom from above.
wisdom_part2.jpgJames singles out meekness as the chief external virtue that shows forth wisdom, and he immediately contrasts this godly meekness with self-seeking factionalism. “But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory [boast] not, and lie not against the truth” (3:14, KJV). In other words, if on the inside you have self-seeking instead of wisdom, your modus operandi is going to include a lot of boasting, politicking, muscling, wheeling and dealing, and whatever it takes. This boastful bullheadedness is a tell-tale sign of bitter envy and strife. C’mon, says James. Who are you kidding? Don’t lie against the truth. Anyone who is boasting in his so-called “wisdom” only betrays the fact that he has no true wisdom. Mental acumen is not the same thing as wisdom; in the hands of a self-seeker, mental acumen is a dangerous, deceptive faculty. If you want to be taken seriously as a wise man, be meek. The alternative is ugly.

James’s Greek places the “not” at the beginning of verse 15—not is this the wisdom that comes from above. It’s as if James wants it to be perfectly clear that this factionalism and self-seeking is not what he is urging upon his readership. This “wisdom” is actually “earthly, unspiritual, demonic” (ESV), yet another biblical reference to that trio of enemies: the world, the flesh, and the devil. Earthly. Pseudo-wisdom is characterized by a this-worldly affection and a this-worldly perspective. Unspiritual. There is nothing spiritual in its self-servingness. Demonic. Ultimately, people who pursue this kind of “wisdom” aid the devil’s cause. Christians too are at risk because with despicable subtlety, the devil can take zeal for the faith once delivered and pervert it into a personal vendetta.

The saint John Newton once warned of this danger in a letter to a friend about to engage in controversy. As Newton considered the upcoming controversy’s potential effects on his friend, he remarked,
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The Testimony of Casey Foster

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Note: This year at SI, we’d like to feature stories of life change. If you are aware of a story that is current and shows the power of Christ in the life, please email it to jasonjanz@sharperiron.org. The stories should be 1,500 to 2,000 words long and should include a photo. Also, we’d like to have a pastor’s recommendation sent along with the testimony. We trust these stories will be a blessing to you and will help us all to be reminded why we are here.

When you feel as though you have no right to live, or nothing to live for, you begin to act on the belief that nothing around you has that right either. There was a time in my life when I had no feeling, not even for myself. I was constantly creating and destroying life.

I had no understanding of how to live, and God refused to let me die. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to hear an angel speak, to feel my heart pierced, and to see my life forever changed.
I grew up in northwest Wyoming in a very small town surrounded by social prominence. My family owned a café, a toy store, one of the local drug stores, and the only flower shop in town. I fell in love with God at the age of six when I saw a picture of Noah and the Ark in a Bible at one of my dad’s stores. It was later given to me as a Christmas gift and remains a constant reminder of my first love—that image of Noah’s, his white beard, the rainbow, and the dove.

Unfortunately, events in my life soon pushed that love far from conscious thought. I overheard my dad threaten a stranger who visited my mother once too often. She soon deserted our life for this stranger and took us kids along for a journey that marks the beginning of my descent into depravity.

By the age of 10, I had been abandoned, lied to, molested, and abused. I learned to freeze my response and withhold my thoughts from pain. I began to function as a lifeless puppet.

In Ezekial 16:47, the Scriptures of God say, “You not only walked in their ways and copied their detestable practices, but in all your ways you soon became more depraved than they.”
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Church Planting and Ice Cream

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In The Nick of Time
Note: This article is the first of a three-part exchange between Jeff Straub and Kevin Bauder.

by Jeff Straub

I have to admit, I like ice cream—chocolate, moose tracks, peaches and cream—you name it, and I like it. Baskin-Robbins, Cold Stone Creamery, Ben & Jerry’s. You get the picture.

I really like chocolate. The more chocolate, the better. One store in Canada had a Chocolate Decadent. It was good!

But this article is not really about ice cream, much as I might like it to be. It is about church planting. Why talk about ice cream in an article on church planting? The two topics do have something in common: variety. Lots and lots of variety.

The efforts of some church planters are little more than a preference for variety. Churches are planted, not because an area needs to be evangelized but because a particular variety of church does not exist in a given locale. This raises a question. Is variety a suitable motive for church planting?

Let me use Atlanta, Georgia, as an example. I choose Atlanta because I am from Georgia. I graduated from high school in Georgia, married there, and have lived and worked there periodically during the last 35 years. I know something about Atlanta.

I have visited in and preached at many of the fundamental Baptist churches in the metro area. In days gone by, I have even preached in some of Atlanta’s Southern Baptist churches. My extended family attends Baptist churches across the metro, and I have visited many of them over the years. I am discussing Atlanta because I know Atlanta.

Not long ago I read a reasonably good plea for church planting that suggested that the USA and Canada comprise the third largest mission field in the world.

Huh?

The third largest mission field—in the world? As a professor of missions and a former North American church planter, as one interested in the training of men for ministry, and as one who desires to see the work of the Lord expanded, I was a bit puzzled by this comment. The article, apparently following George Barna data, argued that the sheer size of North America and the large number of unchurched people de facto made it the third largest mission field in the world.

Now, consider Atlanta. Atlanta is a prominent city in North America. Shouldn’t this make Atlanta a mission field?
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Resolved for 2007: Get the Wisdom from Above, Part 1

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Who among the SharperIron readership is wise and understanding? By his good conduct, let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.
wisdom_part1.jpgThe question I put to you now is the question that James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, put to his readership (“the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad”) some several centuries ago (James 3:13, paraphrased). Wisdom still cries in the streets, offering to us simpletons an opportunity to learn her ways.

Who among the SharperIron readership is wise and understanding? Before you answer, beware! James already warned his readership in 3:1, “Be not many masters [teachers].” Why? “We shall receive the greater condemnation” (KJV). To set oneself up as a teacher is to make a claim of authority, to make a claim of wisdom, and to raise the bar for oneself. The role of teacher generally involves a lot of speaking, and speaking is perilous territory. “When words are many, transgression is not lacking” (Prov. 10:19, ESV). It is so confoundedly easy to say something silly, erroneous, spiteful, equivocal, tactless, uncharitable, or vulgar. Go ahead: tame your tongue. Tame Leviathan for practice.

Consequently, after such stern warnings to would-be teachers and warnings about the tongue in general, when James asks, “Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you?” (KJV), no one should be terribly eager to pop up his hand. And for those who dare, James further challenges, “Let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.”

Let him show. How very typically James-ian. Do you have faith? Then show it with works! Do you have wisdom? Then show it in your daily walk! Commentator Derek Kidner introduces his commentary on Proverbs, “There are details of character small enough to escape the mesh of the law and the broadsides of the prophets, and yet decisive in personal dealings. Proverbs moves in this realm.”[1] The Greek word for the KJV’s “conversation” (ESV, “conduct”) connotes moving about. Kidner’s observation is apt: we encounter many issues in our daily moving about that require a wise application of biblical principle, but they are not covered by any chapter and verse. Wisdom is for the moment-by-moment of the Christian’s walk. Moreover, it’s something demonstrable.
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A Wholly, Holy Motivation

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Extrinsic motivators are continually at work in our lives, shaping our choices and lending direction. These motivators, both those made by man and those designed by God, represent an important ingredient that adds order and structure to our lives. They serve purpose that cannot and should not be denied. Effective employers, teachers, and parents all understand how to wisely and properly use external motivation in order to move others toward established goals.
Discussions centering on the proper use of external motivators continually draw a wide range of viewpoints and opinions, for the responses these motivators draw are as diverse as the individuals represented. The same motivator that stirs one person to action has the ability to frustrate another. For example, we have all witnessed our share of energetic debates over institutional rules that generate more heat than light. These debates continually remind me of how much time we can waste seeking to find common ground when it is not possible or even necessary to be found. Apart from the mandates of God’s Word and from those whom the Lord has placed at the decision tables, is it necessary for us to find agreement with an institution’s code of student conduct before we embrace any biblical admonishment to withhold negative judgment and criticism?

I am not against hearty discussions that are driven by the Word; for although I am concerned about wasting time with fruitless debate, I am just as concerned about substantive topics of needful examination that too quickly become derailed. A discussion about the difference between a Holy Spirit-driven intrinsic motivator that yields heart transformation and a man-driven extrinsic motivator that yields outward conformity is of grave importance; however, it can be a frustrating train of thought to keep on track without it deteriorating into an irrelevant debate about the existence of rules, with one side offering a militant defense for their preservation and the other cheering on their removal. This article carries with it a probability of this kind of derailment, the same probability that was carried by a previous article I wrote calling for a measure of thoughtful examination of our system of rewards. Although there was no call for the abolishment of rewards, the subsequent discussion evolved into a defense for their existence. Read more about A Wholly, Holy Motivation

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Marketing Gimmick or Means of Grace?

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Within broad Evangelicalism today, words like community and small group are fired around with unprecedented frequency. For instance, Rick Warren and company are now following up their “40 Days of Purpose” program with “40 Days of Community.” On the website introducing the program, groups1.gifWarren says, “You cannot be what God made you to be, you cannot do what God created you to do … without other people… . We were made for each other, God made us for a family. Small groups provide such a family” (link here). In response to this statement, churches have often taken one of two approaches. The first is to embrace all things small groups carte blanche. They see concept of community as the deliverer of the church, the key to giving the church the impact in the world God intended it to have. Unfortunately, in many of these scenarios, community is not defined theologically; therefore, soon the small group degenerates into nothing more than a pop-psychology session. Far too often, in this type of environment, the use of Scripture is replaced with statements prefaced with “Oprah said …” or “I read in People magazine …” Sadly, this brand of counsel does little to biblically solve the problems of the sobbing couple sitting on the love seat.

The second typical reaction to these “Christian buzzwords” (and probably much more common to those among this website’s readership) is to heartily reject the notion of small groups altogether. In an attempt to decry anything remotely tainted with the smell of the church growth pundits (often a noble pursuit, in my opinion), some have sought to make small groups another victim to be notched on their spiritual gun. But should this be the case? Is this taking guilt by association a bit too far? Or is this method, not the particular application of it, something those in the seeker-sensitive camp have gotten right?

How should Christians, particularly those serving in leadership positions, think about small groups? Are they just a passing fad that should be avoided? Or are they a helpful methodology based on Scriptural principles?
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Clarification to Joel Tetreau's "Line in the Sand"

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Singleton at deskI consider myself a good friend of Joel Tetreau’s. He’s only five years my junior, and we graduated from the same high school and college. In 1997, when I was the Associate Pastor of Tri-City Baptist Church, Joel and I spent many hours in private discussion concerning the church Dr. Singleton and I had just planted, Southeast Valley Baptist Church. I also spent many hours on private email with Joel, encouraging him to come and take this church that is about 10 miles from where I pastor at Tri-City Baptist. Joel’s three sons are in our Christian school, and I see him and chat with him on a regular basis. Additionally, Joel’s father, Dr. Jerry Tetreau, has his signature on three of my five diplomas, and he currently serves as President of International Baptist College, a ministry of Tri-City Baptist Church. Although I have neither the time nor the desire to involve myself in a “blogging war,” I do think that I, as Dr. Singleton’s immediate successor, have a responsibility to correct any potential misunderstandings of Joel’s article as it relates to our ministry and Dr. Singleton’s legacy. (LEFT: Dr. Singleton and his wife, Mary)
Joel and I have discussed his articles that he placed on SI (Parts 1, 2, and 3). After clearing away all the other issues—like multiple-elder rule, KJV-onlyism, pants on women, rock music in church, dictatorial pastors, etc.—it seems that the bottom-line issue for Joel is that Type A fundamentalists don’t think men like MacArthur and Dever are fundamentalists, Type B fundamentalists do, and Type C fundamentalists are MacArthur and Dever. Michael Riley noted this on his blog, and Joel agreed during his give-and-take with Dave Doran on Chris Anderson’s blog.
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Do You Have the Power of God?

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In The Nick of Time“Do you have the power of God?” The Great Man bellowed this question in a mock-Texas accent. With popping veins and a hoarse voice, he bawled out a second time, “I said, do you have the POWER of GOD!?” Clearly, he thought that the impressionable youngsters to whom he was speaking did not have that power. He went on to tell them what a bunch of failures most of them would likely become (not at all like him). God’s power, after all, was something reserved for the few. It came only to the spiritual equivalents of Abraham Lincoln and Douglas MacArthur. It had come to him, and he regaled his audience with tales of the revivals that he had wrought. Now he led a school, the whole purpose of which was to prepare the few; other students would be treated as so much chaff before the wind. Then he dropped his voice to something between a sob and a whisper for his closing question. “Do you have the power of God?”

Whether screamed or sobbed, the question seemed imposing as it dropped from the Great Man’s mouth. It was the kind of question that could send vulnerable adolescents to their dormitory basement to weep and yowl in the hope that God would maybe—just maybe—pour out His power upon them. Oh, to have the power of God!

Who among us would have the effrontery actually to claim to have God’s power? For anyone but the Great Man, would not such a claim smack of arrogance, perhaps even of megalomania?

No, it would not. In fact, knowing whether one has the power of God is rather a straightforward matter. You can know whether you have the power of God by answering a few simple questions.

First, do you have the gospel? On the authority of Holy Scripture, the gospel is “the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth” (Rom. 1:16). If you have heard and believed the gospel, then you have received the power of God. It is yours to use any time you wish. You can unleash the gospel on anyone, any time, anywhere. The preaching of the cross seems like foolishness to the lost, but those who are saved know that it is the power of God (1 Cor. 1:18). When you proclaim the gospel, you are unloosing a message that invariably changes things. You have the power of God.
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