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Food for thought

Thoughts During the Pandemic – a brief essay from LFM’s Jim Osterhaus

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Dr. Jim Osterhaus is Senior Executive Coach for Leighton Ford Ministries and has authored or co-authored 10 books on leadership

 

Like most of you, I’m basically sheltered in place with my wife at home, catching up on a good deal of reading, and trying to stay in contact with family and friends.

I just got off the phone with Wendy Der, who along with her husband Ivan, lead a ministry of evangelism in Mexico that extends around the world. As we free associated on what is happening, it occurred to me to put down some thoughts that might prove helpful to the mentoring community.

I have done some reading on the Black Death plague in the 14th Century that basically killed a third of Europe, and on the Swine Flu epidemic that swept the world during and shortly after World War I killing between 50 and 100 million people worldwide (more exact estimates are impossible because of faulty data from the developing world). I am struck by the fact that these pandemics triggered a paradigm shift throughout the world. This shift saw the fundamental altering of theories and methodologies by which society saw itself, ran its core institutions, conducted its business, and basically went about its daily living patterns.

Depending on the length and severity of Covid-19, the world may experience the same phenomenon within the next year or two.

David Brooks (columnist for The New York Times) has noted that differing from war crises that tend to drive people together to address a common threat, pandemics tend to drive people apart as they worry about contagion and compete for dwindling resources (e.g. The run on toilet paper). 

It seems to me that this new crisis presents us with two interrelated challenges. On the one hand, we must look inward to see how each of us individually is being affected. On the other hand, we must look to our communities, and in particular our kingdom communities, to see how this crisis is affecting them.

As Thomas Boswell, columnist for The Washington Post, said: “Perhaps what is most endangered now is neither our lives nor our jobs nor our savings – though all are in peril – but our internal lives.” He goes on to ask whether, after this pandemic has run its course and the isolation has ceased, will we keep intact all of our best qualities?

When so much of the external world shuts down, we find ourselves left with only ourselves. And for many of us, we have not taken much time to cultivate a rich inner life as a viable default position. That being the case, we find ourselves going ‘stir crazy’ unable to decide how to proceed.

It seems to me that this present situation presents to our kingdom communities a unique opportunity. Called to be salt and light, it now behooves us to begin strategizing how we can move into this very anxious externally focused world in authentic kingdom ways. And as Boswell so aptly states, it is our internal lives that now need to be the target of our strategies.

For the past year, I have been partially retired, retired enough if you will to understand what it’s like to have many of the normal distractions of an active employed life peeled away. And now all of us are finding ourselves in a very similar place, even if we’re 25 years old.

Within our mentoring community, it behooves each of us to begin, or to ramp up, or to continue our diligence in inner life development. A good place to start might be to turn to the experts. Richard Foster and James B. Smith have edited Devotional Classics, a compilation down through the centuries of some of the best in devotional literature. Leighton Ford (A Life of Listening and The Attentive Life) and Ken Shigematsu (Survival Guide for the Soul) have written very useful books along these lines. Added to these are the countless tomes that have been penned through the ages by St. John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, etc. etc. This will help us get our own houses in order.

As we continue to focus on our inner lives, we need to focus on our kingdom communities. It is these communities that will sustain us going forward in our journeys of faith.

It is obvious there are old ways of gathering together in worship, fellowship, teaching and prayer that are no longer possible, at least in short run. Churches like my own have shifted to online services. Small groups are zooming to maintain continuity.

But as I think about it, there are a myriad of stylized ways of doing community that are currently being altered or discarded, and arguably should be altered or discarded as we confront the fearful post-Christian world.

Crisis presents opportunity, and this pandemic is no exception. And as a kingdom community, I think it is important that we now bring our collective heads together to begin to explore what opportunities God is currently placing before us during this crisis.

I would like this to be the beginning of a conversation for all of us to reflect on the following two questions, and to share with one another what God is and has been telling us as the pandemic unfolds.

First, what are ways that we have existed in the past with ourselves and in our mentoring groups that are simply not possible currently? This question can also apply to all faith communities in which we are currently resident. I think it is critical to first begin to identify all of those behaviors that we have possibly held dear that no longer can be relied upon.

  • Intentional face-to-face connections with people important to us.
  • Partnered kingdom projects within the community.

Second, what adaptions have we made or could make to maintain our continuity within our mentoring community?

  • Zoom calls.
  • Internet community reach outs.

Let’s get our collective heads together, and take this opportunity to possibly explode our old paradigms and expand our thinking. Remember, necessity is the mother of invention. And quite possibly God has given us this opportunity to create new ways of furthering His kingdom.

 

Fears, hearts and clean hands

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My, how the world has changed in recent days! A month ago, Corona was a beer, hand-sanitiser was something that you only used when visiting hospitals and some of us probably thought that Covid-19 was a planet in Star Trek. Now, strong men are running to the end of the railway carriage at the sound of a sneeze and how you place a face mask is the new fashion issue. We hear discussions about how much pasta you need for two weeks’ isolation and the best Netflix series for a fortnight’s binge watch. Mediaeval theologians debated how many angels could stand on a pinhead; we discuss how many people can stand in a twenty-metre square room if everybody is expected to be a metre apart. We watch the news with an increasing expectation of prophecies from the Book of Revelation. It’s a time of serious health risks: I nearly put my back out last week turning a loo door handle with my elbow. There are ever more creative replacements for the handshake or the affectionate hug: personally, I make the sign of the cross. It works well unless I’m carrying a cup of coffee and my bag.

These are remarkable times indeed: whoever invented bacterial wipes must be rubbing their hands.

Now, you may consider the above paragraph insensitive or politically incorrect. If so, I apologise but it is written to make a point. Fear is out there and fear affects how we think and how we react. Out of fear, decent men and women are now unashamedly stealing medicinal handwash. Out of fear, people who would have considered themselves dignified citizens are grappling with each other for the supermarket’s last toilet roll. Out of fear, men and women are avoiding doing acts of kindness.

Fear distorts what we are, and what we are supposed to be. In the Bible we read the phrase ‘perfect love drives out fear’ (1 John 4:18) but the opposite is also true: ‘perfect fear drives out love’. It drives a lot of other things out as well. Much that is wise is said at the moment about the virtues of handwashing and I am happy to endorse that wisdom. Yet in thinking about fear and morality it’s interesting that the one celebrated biblical case of handwashing – that of Pontius Pilate at the trial of Jesus – involved a man failing to do what was obviously the right thing because he was in the grip of fear (Matthew 27:24). There’s a lesson there.

What is interesting about our current mood is that it is exposing the nature of our morality. Morality – what we think and do about right and wrong – can be either an internal or an external thing. It can be profound – something that comes up from deep convictions inside us – or superficial because it’s no more than the social conventions which we have adopted. Yet it’s times like this where the weakness of superficial morality is obvious. It is simply a veneer of behaviour: something so superficial that it disintegrates in the presence of fear. Only a morality that is deeply rooted down inside us, that is embedded in the heart, can survive the corrosion of fear. It is that profound morality that allows men and women in times such as these to show the courage, love, service and sacrifice that are needed.

To borrow a phrase from Psalm 24:3–4, ‘Who may ascend the mountain of the lord? Who may stand in his holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart.’ At a time like this, clean hands are vital but a pure heart even more so.

The Bible records that only hours before Jesus was arrested, he promised this to his disciples: ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid’ (John 14:27).

That’s the peace of a pure heart that is capable of resisting the pressure of fear. It’s the peace that allows us to be stable, solid and caring whatever fears there may be. It’s the peace we need now. May you and I be granted it.

What a Day That Will Be

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As I was working out at the YMCA of Greater Charlotte​ last Monday, I watched on television as The Kansas City Chiefs​ arrived home to a hero’s welcome after winning the Super Bowl.

The first one off the plane carried the Lombardi Trophy.  And then one after the other, each player walking down to the crowd waiting to receive them with tremendous applause . . . back home, the victors!

Then I thought of the LORD’s servants in many parts of the world who in their unknown, unpublicized ways have had their own “wins” for the LORD . . . and what it will be like when they arrive in His glorious presence and are able to come before Him and hold out the symbols of those small triumphs and say, “LORD, we did this for You, by Your strength, and we give these triumphs back to You.”

What a day that will be!

 

-Leighton Ford, February 2020

The Light of Christ

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I heard a fascinating discussion about darkness in a broadcast shortly before Christmas.

One participant raised a question that keeps coming back to me. “We should ask whether it is the dark of the tomb, or the dark of the womb?”

For those of us in the northern hemisphere, Christmas comes at the darkest time of the year. And Christmas 2019 seemed to be a dark time for many, with political conflict and for many personally a time of illness and loss.

So it was when Jesus was born – the world in darkness pining.

Yet John could write of the Word becoming flesh . . . “the light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot put it out.”

In Christ, the dark is not a dead end. Not the dark of the tomb. It is the dark of the womb – the dark of a baby in the dimness of mother’s womb waiting for the light of new life!

As Jesus described childbirth, a women has pain “because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish, because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world. So you have pain now, but I will see you again” (John 16:21-22).

So darkness does not have the last word! The light of Christ does!

 

-Leighton Ford, February 2020

 

The Politics of Jesus

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The Christmas season this year comes in the middle of a political season.  I very rarely comment on politics, but sometimes the Scripture I read seems to be so pertinent in offering a Christ-centered perspective on politics that I just have to pick it up.

So it was this morning when my daily devotional readings were two passages about the humility of Jesus our Lord.

Luke 2:4-7 is about Jesus being born in the most humble of circumstances, coming to a peasant family and a simple young woman, born not in a palace but in a manger.

Philippians 2:5-7 tells us that this same Jesus came as a servant, humbling himself even to death on a cross.

There is very little humility I have sensed so far among the various candidates.  There’s a lot more bragging of who is the best and brightest, and a lot of cutting down or even almost demonizing of the others.

Just politics?

Yes, but not the politics of Jesus.

We have all fallen short of the glory of God, and so I’m hoping and praying for someone who will show a modicum of genuine humility, of being willing to admit their own limitations (!!) and at least to listen to others.

Not Saved

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The summer is over

the harvest is past

and we are not saved

        Jeremiah

I wake this early August morning

thinking it is time to ready

and order our work for the coming fall

I wake this morning also to news

of bloody carnage.

a tale of two dazed cities

and one bewildered country

first the settlers killed the Indians

and the Indians killed the settlers

now the nationalists kill the browns

and before long the browns

may kill the whites

when will it end?

what difference will

our puny efforts make

to stop the horror

the bloody bullets?

the only way

is a way of peace,

to end the hateful

unnamed civil war

 

The summer is over.

The harvest is past

Why are we not saved?

 

I wrote the above, then listened on my phone to the app Pray-As-You-Go

The scripture for this morning is the story of Jesus praying in the hills while the disciples are almost swamped by a violent storm on the lake, of Jesus appearing, and Peter asking to come to him on the troubled water.

How Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the waves and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the rough and heavy winds he became frightened, and beginning to sink cried out, “Lord save me!”

Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him saying to him, “You have little faith. Why did you doubt?” And held him until he was safe and the storm ceased.

Then the other disciples worshiped him saying, “Truly, you are the son of God.”

It was truly a word for today. Reminding me that, although the “prince of the power of the air” invades troubled young minds through the internet, he has no authority over the destiny of those who follow the Prince of Peace.

 

 

Redeeming Time

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I have been thinking a lot about the apostle Paul’s phrase  this last week or two. What do you think of when you hear the phrase “redeem the time”?
I think perhaps in our American culture, what first comes to mind is “Get busy. Don’t waste time.”
But my friend Lonnie Allison asked a group of us,  “What do you think is the number one value of American Christian leaders?”
He answered his own question .”Frenzied busyness” Why?  “Because,” he said, “when we get together in conferences, that’s what we talk about all the time, how busy we are. So if that’s what we talk about all the time, that must be a number one value.”
I hate to think it’s so, but he has a point.  So perhaps the way we redeem time first is to stop, be quiet, listen and, as Paul admonishes, know what the will of the Lord is and then start doing it.

Sent Back or Drawn On?

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It’s rarely that I comment on politics, especially of the partisan kind.  But sometimes the Scripture I read seems to be so pertinent in offering another way to view an event – a Christ-centered perspective – that I just have to pick it up.
That’s what happened this morning when I read these words from Paul, about another way of viewing things than a human point of view. In this case another view of a recent event very much in the news.

This morning, I listened to these words read from Saint Paul.

“For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died …  From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way.” (2 Corinthians 5:14, 16).

As I listened, I thought back to tthe rally here in North Carolina some days ago, where the president spoke, and the crowd roared repeatedly about a woman politician, “Send her back, send her back.”

I wondered, if I were there, would the love of Christ urge me on? Would I listen to the words of the president from a human and political point of view? Would I hear the crowds shouting from a human, political point of view?

Or, as Paul said, would I hear both, think of both in view off the love of Christ for them, and for me?

And would I be praying, remembering Jesus dying on the cross for me and for them, “Don’t send us back. Draw us on to you.”

 

On this Saturday Morning …

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On this Saturday morning, I’m still mulling over what Saint Paul wrote about “redeeming time”. My friend Eric got me thinking earlier this week whether time is broken and how God is redeeming time.

Here are some various translations of Paul’s words.

NIV Making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish , but understand what the Lord’s will is.

Philips. Make the best use of your time, despite all of the difficulties of these days. Don’t be vague, but firmly grasp what you now to be the will of God.

The Message. Make the most of every chance you get. There are desperate times.  Don’t live carelessly, unthinkingly. Make sure you understand what the Master wants.

Good News. Make good use of every opportunity you get because these are bad days. Don’t be fools, then, but try to find out what the Lord wants you to do.

…..

All intriguing.  But what does it mean to me on a quiet Saturday morning to redeem the time?

Leighton

An Apology to the Christian 99%, from the 1%

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From Christianity Today

But will they listen?”

I sat across the table from a friend, Bill Pollard, who had a hopeful but slightly doubtful look on his face. I had just shared with him the Lausanne Movement’s vision to convene more than 700 Christian workplace leaders from more than 100 nations.

Bill loved the vision: to mobilize Christians in the workplace as God’s instruments to bring kingdom impact in every sphere of society. However, he wondered whether some church leaders would have questions about the effectiveness of this type of ministry through so-called “lay” leaders.

His questioning reflects a long history of Christian ministry being viewed as the restricted responsibility of “professionals” such as pastors and missionaries. People like Bill have challenged that notion, showing instead that the mantle of ministry belongs on the shoulders of every Christian.

Bill served as CEO of ServiceMaster, which, during his leadership, was recognized by Fortune magazine as the No. 1 service company among the Fortune 500 and was noted by the Financial Times as one of the most respected companies in the world. For Bill, work at ServiceMaster was about service to the Master. As he would often say, “No company has eternal value. Only the Church does. Only people do.” Bill shared with me stories of people as far as Tokyo, Japan, whose lives were impacted by the gospel love he and others in his company shared.

We need more people like Bill, and for that to happen, there needs to be a change in the way we view ministry and work—a return to the way it was meant to be. From my vantage point as a full-time ministry leader within a global evangelical movement, I’d like to offer an apology to everyone reading this who is not in professional ministry, as well as four things I’ve learned about faith and work:

1) You don’t exist to support our ministry; we exist to support yours.

I want to speak to you as someone who is a member of the 1%. The 1% of those in the church who are ministers and missionaries. The 1% of those who are in professional ministry.

And I want to repent.

I want to repent, on behalf of the 1%, for viewing the 99% of the church not in professional ministry as existing to support our ministry.

The reality for many missionaries and ministers like myself is that we are indeed supported financially by the 99%. For this, we are tremendously grateful; missionaries and ministers can’t do their ministry without the biblical generosity of the 99%. But their ministry of giving is not their ultimate value nor their exclusive ministry. And I confess that I too easily forget that the 99% cannot do their ministry without our support as well. To forget that couldn’t be more wrong.

Ephesians 4:11–13 says that God “gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (ESV).

God gave us, the 1%, to equip the saints for the work of ministry. The 1% exists to support the ministry of the 99%.

To paraphrase Martin Luther: “We are not all called to be pastors, but we are all called to be priests.”

One of the most remarkable fruits of the Reformation is the reclamation of the biblical doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. We all have direct, personal access to God. We need no priestly mediator but Christ.

But we have fallen into a different type of sacerdotalism: this time not in salvation, believing that it needs to be mediated through a priest, but in ministry, believing that ministry happens exclusively by those in vocational ministry to those who are not, rather than from all to all.

What God has universalized, we have professionalized once again. Is evangelism solely the work of evangelists? Is discipleship solely the work of pastors? Is missions solely the work of missionaries?

The 1%—pastors, evangelists, missionaries, and others—may have primary occupational responsibility for evangelism, discipleship, and missions; but it is not their responsibility solely. In fact, their primary responsibility is to train, commission, and support the evangelism, discipleship, and global mission work of the 99%.

If ministry and mission are relegated only to the realm of ministers and missionaries, we’re in trouble.

2) The Great Commission can’t be fulfilled without you.

The 1% of those who are in professional ministry will never reach the world with the gospel. The 1% cannot make disciples of all nations. Why?

First of all, the 1% numerically are not enough. There’s only 1 missionary for every 150,000 Japanese. There’s only 1 missionary for every 500,000 Muslims. Do you know how long it takes to share the gospel with 500,000 people? Now you can understand why missionaries are often so tired!

So an important part of how the gospel is going to go to the whole world is the sending out of more missionaries.

Now I know that some very wonderful, well-meaning Christians—even pastors—have sometimes said, “We’re all missionaries.” Part of me smiles when I hear that. Another part of me weeps.

Because if we buy into the notion that we are all missionaries, and that we can simply stay where we are and share the gospel with those non-Christians that we know, the 3 billion people in the world who don’t personally know a single Christian will be counted among those who will perish.

But we need more than just more missionaries.

Global mission partnerships mobilizing the 1% and the 99% to go to peoples and places with little or no gospel witness or community are the strategic need of our day. It is the only way the Great Commission will be fulfilled. The whole church must collaborate. We must co-labor.

That is the challenge and opportunity globally. A challenge in the spread of the gospel locally is this: If we rely upon pastors and those in professional Christian ministry to share the gospel, it will never touch many people’s lives and many spheres of society. The only way that people in your company, in your school, in your neighborhood, on your sports team, in your restaurant, in your theater troupe, are going to be touched by the gospel … is through you.

The Lausanne Movement has a vision for “Kingdom Impact in Every Sphere of Society.” That can only happen through those whom God has placed in those spheres of society. And that’s not your pastor.

Every Christian, including the 99% who are not in professional Christian ministry, has a ministry.

3) You may not be a minister or a missionary, but you have a ministry.

God has gifted you with spiritual gifts to fulfill that ministry, and you’ve been given the Holy Spirit to empower it. As 1 Corinthians 12 says, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (ESV).

I think we can say that for Luther, it was not merely, “I no longer need a priest,” but also, “I can now minister to any and all. And in fact, I should.”

Now it’s up to you to discover your ministry. What ministry will the Holy Spirit do through you?

Bill shared with me an amazing story about having the opportunity to speak, as a Christian, at a Shinto funeral of a very influential Japanese businessman in Tokyo surrounded by hundreds who had never heard the gospel before. This was only possible because of years of relational investment and faithfulness in business excellence.

Some are missionaries, but all are called to be salt and light and to pray for the nations.

Some are pastors, but all are to shepherd people who are under our care.

Some are deacons, but we are all to serve.

Some are elders, but we are all to provide leadership in various contexts.

Some are preachers, but we are all to preach the gospel—to ourselves and to others.

It takes the whole church to make disciples of all nations. And the Holy Spirit longs to minister through you.

4) We have given lip service to your ministry, but we’re going to do more.

When I say we, I include the Lausanne Movement.

Since our founding in 1974 by Billy Graham and John Stott, Lausanne has said some important words on this critical issue. For example, a team of global scholars at the 3rd Lausanne Congress crafted the Cape Town Commitment, which states:

“We need intensive efforts to train all God’s people in whole-life discipleship, which means to live, think, work, and speak from a biblical worldview and with missional effectiveness in every place or circumstance of daily life and work.”

But we could have done more—and we’re going to do more.

This month, the Lausanne Global Workplace Forum (GWF) will bring together 750 global influencers from more than 120 nations in Manila, Philippines. Please pray that this diverse group might contribute to breakthrough insights and mobilization for mission in and through the workplace, at all levels, in all sectors, and in all regions of the world. This includes not just white-collar or business professionals, but those from blue-collar and even “no-collar” workplaces.

Both the 1% and the 99% will be at GWF. It will be an opportunity for the 1% to repent and also firmly recommit ourselves to our calling to equip the saints for the work of ministry.

And for those of you who are a part of the 99%: rise up! Rise up and take hold of your identity as a disciple and your calling to be a disciple-maker. Rise up and take responsibility for the discipleship of your family, friends, and neighbors. Rise up and see the nations thirsting for gospel waters and the billions who don’t know even a single Christian.

If you believe that 1 Peter 2:9 is addressed to you as God’s chosen—“a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light”—won’t you rise up and take up your calling?

Michael Oh is Global Executive Director and CEO of the Lausanne Movement.