Wednesday, April 20, 2022

A Few Lessons from the Life of Timothy

A Few Lessons from the Life of Timothy

By Timothy Gunnells

We are first introduced to Timothy in Acts 16:1-5: “Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. And a disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek, and he was well spoken of by the brethren who were in Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted this man to go with him; and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those parts, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. Now while they were passing through the cities, they were delivering the decrees which had been decided upon by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem, for them to observe. So the churches were being strengthened in the faith, and were increasing in number daily.”

Notice that Timothy was already a disciple, as was his mother. His family background is significant to his usefulness to Paul (and to Christ) in that his father was Greek (a Gentile) and his mother was Jewish. Timothy knew the Scriptures because his mother, Eunice, and his grandmother, Lois, taught them to him (2 Timothy 1:5). So, Timothy was not only a disciple of Christ, but he had been reared by devout women. At the same time, his father was a Greek who evidently did not believe. This unique mixture of Judaism, Christianity, and Greek culture made Timothy an ideal missionary to the Gentiles.

Timothy is mentioned 26 times in the New Testament (Acts and several of Paul’s letters). Two of Paul’s letters bear his name and are written to him with both personal admonitions and instructions for setting things in order in the churches where Timothy served. The book of Acts makes it clear that he accompanied Paul in his travels but that Paul often trusted him to go on his own to certain locations. In fact, in Acts 17, Silas and Timothy stay in Berea while Paul goes on to Athens where they will later come to him.

In several of Paul’s letters, he invokes Timothy’s name in the greeting as one who also sends his greeting and agrees with Paul’s writings. This seems to imply that Timothy was not only well thought of in his native Lystra, but that all the churches to which he travelled with Paul also held him in very high regard.

Paul wrote this to Timothy in 1 Timothy 1:18-19: “This command I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you fight the good fight, keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith.” Notice three things: 1) Paul addresses him as a “son” and gives him admonitions as a father would; 2) Paul said there were prophecies about Timothy and his faithfulness; and 3) He warns Timothy not to reject faith in Christ.

What are some lessons that we can take away from Timothy’s life?

First, our personal background can often make us more useful in certain circumstances. Timothy's family of origin gave him a unique perspective in working with churches made up of Jews and Gentiles. When I have an understanding of the culture and of history of the people I am teaching then I am more able to speak truth to them more clearly.

Second, devout women of faith carry considerable influence over a child’s spiritual development. My mother, grandmother, and many Sunday school teachers instilled a love of the Lord in me.

Third, a more mature mentor can strengthen us and give us clear direction in serving the Lord. My own father and another older minister mentored me and helped me to grow as a minister and disciple.

Fourth and finally, while spiritual maturity happens over time, it is up to us to serve well, continue to grow, and finish well. Timothy was a disciple when Paul met him. He served faithfully beside him, but Paul knew the trials of life and ministry could derail Timothy's faith. He urged him to fight the good fight of faith and remain faithful.

I urge you to think about your own life. Who have been the powerful influences? Who can you encourage in the faith? Are your practices, choices, and goals insuring that you will continue to grow so that you will keep the faith and finish well?

Note: The image above is an ancient Orthodox icon of Timothy.

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Three Ways We Can Live Out the Greatest Commandments

Three Ways We Can Live Out the Greatest Commandments

By Timothy Gunnells

All the words written in Scripture have a purpose and value, but some are certainly more important and applicable for daily living. For instance, when I was translating from the Book of Numbers in my Hebrew Reading class several years ago, I was translating numbers. This chief of this tribe brought this many silver bowls, etc., and one after another they brought the same number. When I began to translate some of the Psalms, however, there was a sense of awe and reverence that came over me. The language is different. Words have meaning. Some words have more meaning for life than others do.

So, when I read Matthew 22:36-40 and see Jesus answer a profound question, I pay even closer attention than I did to the number of silver bowls. One is a fact; the other is a foundational principle for living.

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Matt. 22:36-40, NASB)

When Jesus speaks, everyone should listen. Here he tells us plainly that all of the commandments, and by extension the entire Bible up to this point, hang on these two commandments. They can be summed up as Love God and Love People. So, how do we live out these commandments?

This is not an exhaustive commentary on how to live out these commandments, but the three basic principles I am suggesting will certainly guide you and provide a pathway for growth in living out the commandments to love God and love people.

Solitude

While corporate worship is vital to spiritual health, so is individual time with the Lord. There are several examples in Scripture of Jesus being in solitude with the Father. The same goes for Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Elijah, John, Peter, Paul, and on and on. If Jesus and these spiritual giants needed to be alone with God, then why am I not setting aside regular time for it? Just 15 minutes of undistracted time alone with God each day can make a big difference in your relationship with God, and with other people. Longer periods regularly will be transformative.

Sacred Reading

Reading the Bible for the sake of gaining knowledge and insight is important, very important. I have read through the entire Bible from cover to cover multiple times. I love to do it, and it has been vital to my growth. At the same time, I have spent a week on a short Psalm or in the Beatitudes or some other short passage. I have meditated on them, prayed over them, and used them as guides to prayer. When I do this, I am not seeking head knowledge I am seeking to be transformed more into the likeness of Jesus Christ. When I read short passages and savor every word to be changed from the inside out, I approach Scripture in a more sacred way. The Bible is not an ordinary book to be read for pleasure alone or to prepare for an assessment. The Bible is written for our transformation and we must approach every moment with it as sacred. Sacred reading will help us to love God and love people.

Service

If you haven’t spent time in John 13 lately, you may have forgotten an important example Jesus set for us. This is where He washes His disciples’ feet, including a man who would betray Him to His death. In the passage, he sets the example and always states very directly that serving others is part of serving God. Some people aren’t easily served. Some people annoy us, mistreat us, talk down to us and even betray us, but we must seek to serve those most of all. We can serve in small ways, like putting our shopping cart away or picking up litter in the bathroom. We can serve in big ways, like aiding after natural disasters or caring for the sick. The bottom line is service is a way to show that we love God and love people. It should be what we do all day long. There are no shortages of opportunities to serve; we just need to open our eyes.

To recap, we can better live out the greatest commands to love God and love people by pursuing three things: solitude with God, sacred reading of Scripture, and serving our fellow human beings. If we will do these three things consistently we will be transformed and those around us will be transformed as well.

Thursday, February 10, 2022

Firecracker Theology?

FIRECRACKER THEOLOGY?[1]

C. Philip Slate

My wife and I were in Taiwan for the 1980 Far East Mission Workshop, guests of Enoch and Janneane Thweatt. By then they had already worked in the country several years. At one point Enoch informed me that he did an analysis of the literature that had been produced by our people for use in Taiwan. “Between 80% and 90% of it was addressed our issues with Protestants and Roman Catholics,” he said. In terms of world religions, literature was intramural in nature.

This is what I mean. In the later 1970s Taiwan was 48.5% Folk religion and 43 % Buddhist. The combined total of the motley Christian groups formed only 7.4% of the population. The remaining 1.1% was made up of Muslims, atheists, Baha’is, Jews, secularists, and all others.[2] Although the majority of the national population was not receptive, some groups and individuals were. David Liao had pointed out that historically the Hakka Chinese people had been receptive to the gospel.[3] He argued that in Taiwan they had been just neglected.

Firecrackers. Meanwhile, when I walked through residential areas of Taipei, especially earlier in the day, I noticed on the sidewalks fluffy paper left from spent firecrackers. I inquired what that meant. I learned that often people light a pack of small firecrackers and toss them out the front door to scare away the evil spirits before residents leave the house for work, perhaps to work in sophisticated technology. Evil spirits? Yes, and it was likely that over half of the national population regarded them as real and active.

Along another route I noticed a small box-like structure, not more than 24 inches high. “What is that?” I asked. I was told it was the dwelling place of some spirit or minor deity. Such structures can be seen at the edge of rice fields and other places where the people felt the need of some kind of power or force to help them with life.

“The Old Man in the sky.” One night, just past midnight, we heard horrific explosions, much like one hears in the USA around New Year’s Eve and the 4th of July. The following morning, we inquired what that noise meant. The Thweatts asked a local Chinese girl about it. She thought for a moment and said, “Oh, it’s the birthday of the Old Man in the Sky.”

Over and over one could see evidence of traditional religions and Buddhism, but our literature dealt with the proper form of baptism, the right church, and appropriate worship—all important for people who want to follow the New Testament order of things, but hardly appropriate as beginning points with pagans. Later, at Harding School of Theology Edward Short wrote a fine M.A. thesis on an evaluation of the pai pai feasts in Taiwan in view of the New Testament teaching about eating meat sacrificed to idols. Short had worked many years in Taiwan and learned Chinese. The purpose of his thesis research was eventually to help Chinese Christians determine to what extent they could participate in that feature of their society without being idolaters. That thesis was a useful encounter with the local culture at a valid point of tension, but it was exceptional.

It seemed to me that somewhere along the line someone should have developed what might be called “firecracker theology” addressed to a society that fears evil spirits. There would have been much material for it in the Gospels, and even Ephesians 6:10-20, on the availability to the Christian of means of dealing with whatever active evil forces there might be in their lives. There is nothing “Pentecostal” about the items of Christian armor in Ephesians 6:10-20, nor does that armor look like even the gifts seen in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14. Those items in Ephesians 6 are available to every child of God, with the promise that through them one may wage a winning warfare. Paul’s letter addressed some of the pressing concerns in first century Ephesus. As surely as that was a “principalities-and-powers” theology, there is place for various beginning points in contemporary evangelism and post-baptismal nurturing. What form should that take in your area?

The Purpose Here

The purpose of this article is not to analyze the past work in Taiwan by our workers. Rather, it is to raise the question in our own country about where to begin in our evangelistic efforts and nurturing work in a changing culture. No matter how biblical a point might be, if it does not initially “scratch people where they itch,” to quote B. C. Goodpasture, it is unlikely to lead to a useful engagement between Christians and non-Christians.

To illustrate this point, I refer to efforts at a meeting of the minds with Buddhists and Hindus. Historically, both religions have yielded many converts to one form or another of Christianity. The initial contact, however, is very important. A Scottish teacher in a seminary in India was once asked to speak to the students in an Ashram (Hindu “seminary”) on the meaning of Christmas. After the missionary’s presentation, the Hindu Headmaster asked, “Sir, is it not true that for you Christians forgiveness of sins is primary, whereas to us Hindus that action is not possible, and if it were it would be immoral?” In their worldview sins of all sorts are to be punished, not forgiven. There is a way of making meaningful initial encounters with Buddhists and Hindus who hold such views, but the promise of forgiveness of sins is not that point! Forgiveness is, of course, good theology to us but not good news to them.

A Japanese missionary to Thailand, Kosuke Koyama, has written engagingly about how he tried to make sense to rural farmers among whom he worked. He remarked, “I decided to subordinate great theological thoughts, like those of Thomas Aquinas and Karl Barth,[4] to intellectual and spiritual needs of the farmers. . . . I also decided that I have not really understood Summa Theologiae and Church Dogmatics until I am able to use them for the benefit of the farmers.”[5] His theology apart—I do not know what his basic message was—one should think the same way about using solid biblical teaching (cf. 1 Cor. 9:19-22). Did not Paul begin his preaching at different points with Gentiles and Jews? Check out book of Acts and notice the differences between sermons to Jews and those to Gentiles.

Timothy Tennent has provided a good, general overview of the varying wordviews and assumptions found in various regions and religions of the world and suggested points of engagement.[6] Reading that work helps one to ask the right questions about one’s own culture.

A big question for would-be bearers of good news is, where do I begin in my zip code? All the surveys in recent years indicate a slight increase in the number of atheists but a large increase of the “Nones.” Among those who call themselves “spiritual,” even “Christian,” when asked with which church they identify or are a member, they answer, “None.” Finding the right church is not a big priority with them, or if it is, they think in terms of what a church can do for them, regardless of its name or theological stance.

People who think that way grant the spiritual category of life, but they are very straightforward about what does or does not make sense to them. They seem to be attracted initially to behavior more than to belief. Yes, we know that behavior without the underpinning of biblical meaning is in the long run mere humanism and futile, about like being baptized as an act of magic or to please a girlfriend. The Nones seem to be attracted to the compassionate work of churches and to the consistently lived Christian life of individuals.[7] The question is, What are the pressing concerns in various regions of North America?

Once people become Christians today, they bring with them baggage that is different from the common baggage of fifty years ago, and this has a bearing on the content of our post-baptismal nurturing of new converts. There is no single path to disciple-making and nurturing in our pluralistic society. It is important to note people’s background as we work to teach and re-educate them in the Christian worldview. We can gain insight from nationwide surveys like Thom Rainer’s Surprising Insight from the Unchurched, but it is still necessary to think in terms of our own zip codes.

_________________________

[1] A slightly different version of this article appeared in PreacherStuff a year or so ago. Joel Stephen Williams suggested I submit it to Christian Ministry and Missions.

[2] David Barrett, ed., World Christian Encyclopedia (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982): 235.

[3] David H.C. Liao, The Unresponsive: Resistant or Neglected? (2nd ed.; Chicago: Moody Press, 1972).

[4] A product of his Western/USA education at Drew and Princeton.

[5] Kosuke Koyama, Water Buffalo Theology (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1974): viii.

[6] Timothy C. Tennent, Theology in the context of World Christianity: how the global church is influencing the way we think about and discuss theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007).

[7] See Art Lindsley, Love, The Ultimate Apologetic, The Heart of Christian Witness (Downers Grove: IVP, 2008); Thom S. Rainer, Surprising Insights from the Unchurched and Proven Ways to Reach Them (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008).

Monday, January 10, 2022

Avoiding Burnout

Avoiding Burnout

By Timothy C. Gunnells

Burnout is a common problem for leaders in almost any profession and almost any type of organization, but I know first-hand that burnout is a common problem for spiritual leaders, especially those in full-time ministry. Most people go into ministry because of a sincere and passionate desire to lead people closer to the Lord. They want to be an active part of carrying out the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). However, all too often the burdens of working with people, tending to needs, and laboring in ways that most people cannot understand lead to burnout. In her book, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, Ruth Haley Barton uses Moses’ life as a case-study for today’s leader.

Barton recalls how overworked and burned-out Moses had gotten when Jethro, his father-in-law, returned with Moses' wife and sons:

“Now when Moses' father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, "What is this thing that you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge and all the people stand about you from morning until evening?" Moses said to his father-in-law, "Because the people come to me to inquire of God. When they have a dispute, it comes to me, and I judge between a man and his neighbor and make known the statutes of God and His laws." Moses' father-in-law said to him, "The thing that you are doing is not good. You will surely wear out, both yourself and these people who are with you, for the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone. Now listen to me: I will give you counsel, and God be with you. You be the people's representative before God, and you bring the disputes to God, then teach them the statutes and the laws, and make known to them the way in which they are to walk and the work they are to do. Furthermore, you shall select out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain; and you shall place these over them as leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens. Let them judge the people at all times; and let it be that every major dispute they will bring to you, but every minor dispute they themselves will judge. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. If you do this thing and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all these people also will go to their place in peace." So Moses listened to his father-in-law and did all that he had said.” (Exodus 18:14-24)

Jethro saw the signs of burnout and offered a solution to Moses and Moses listened to him. Barton lists the signs of a spiritual leader who is “dangerously depleted” and running on fumes:

  1. Irritability or hypersensitivity – Things that normally don’t bother us send us over the edge.
  2. Restlessness – Uneasiness during the day and the inability to rest or sleep at night.
  3. Compulsive overworking – There are no boundaries between work and other parts of our life.
  4. Emotional numbness – We aren’t in touch with our emotions, things don’t seem to affect us.
  5. Escapist Behaviors – Compulsive eating, drinking, substance abuse, or even surfing the internet.
  6. Disconnected from our identity and calling – We find ourselves going through the motions. Where once we were passionate, now we are tired.
  7. Not able to attend to human needs – We don’t exercise, eat right, or sleep enough.
  8. Hoarding energy – We become overly self-protective or even reclusive, to avoid people.
  9. Slippage in our spiritual practices – We don’t have the energy for solitude, silence, or prayer. This leaves us with nothing to offer anyone else.

If even a few of these conditions describe you, then chances are you are like Moses and “what you are doing is not good”. Just like Moses, we should delegate responsibilities to other spiritually mature people who can, in turn, minister to the people that we don’t have the time or energy to help. If we don’t learn to delegate, decompress, and spend adequate personal time with God, then burnout is coming. Make changes now and chart a new course for a healthier life. If I can help, let me know.

____________________

[1] Ruth Haley Barton, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry, IVP Books, 2008.

Monday, December 6, 2021

Global Evangelizing: Doing It Better

GLOBAL EVANGELIZING: DOING IT BETTER

by C. Philip Slate

Few churches of any theological persuasion doubt that God wants the good news of Jesus Christ taught throughout the world, to every person. Jesus made that clear, and the story of the early church (Acts of the Apostles) shows that the believers understood it. For those in our day who want to carry out our Lord’s desire, the question of how to do it is always present. Crossing national and cultural lines involves many variables, and those variables often change over time: languages, finances, national politics, human values, and the like. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Failure to learn some of those variables and to think and pray through them invites great disappointment.

Mistakes and Defeats: Some churches and missionary societies have labored for many years with almost nothing of permanence to show for their work, while others in the same area do well. Often, workers about the task in the wrong way. Some human groups, of course, are so resistant to new things that no method of evangelism brings a big harvest. In other cases, however, groups might be very open to wise approaches to them. It has been easy for many Protestant churches simply to pour money into a missionary society since such groups are supposed to know how to do the work effectively, but several societies are known to have made some of the biggest mistakes in missions history. The big factor is having knowledge of the processes, and that is open to any and all who will put forth the effort to learn.

Using the local church rather than a missionary society has been a matter of principle, a matter of belief, with churches of Christ in the USA since the 19th century.[1] Happily, we have a lot of good, tangible results from this approach as God has worked through his people. Worldwide, the typical (if there is such a thing) member of the churches of Christ as we know them is a person of color; he or she is not a white Euro-American. It is estimated that sixty-five to seventy-five percent of “our” members live outside of North America and Europe. Comparatively, we have enjoyed much better success than some missionary societies. Nevertheless, some big mistakes have been made that hinder the spread of the gospel. When churches fund missionaries who do not have available knowledge about the tasks they undertake, disappointments come easily. Obviously, the only kind of workers God has for use are those who are flawed, so learning all we can still makes us “vessels of clay” (2 Cor. 4:7) so the power may be seen to be God’s.

Resource Servants: Some churches have persisted in practices that have been known for two hundred years and more to be a faulty way of going about the work. For example, as a rule it is a mistake for churches in one country to put national workers in another country on direct support without appropriate arrangements. Several churches continue to engage in that practice without circumscribing it with important provisions. The point is, in a church-sponsored approach to global work—and churches of Christ are not the only ones who do that—all the decisions about selecting workers, providing emotional and financial support, and evaluations fall to the sending church. That means those churches need to become informed about the nature of the task. Perhaps the best way to achieve such understanding is to form a group of willing workers within the congregation who are willing to learn the processes and thus become a good resource of information for the shepherds of the congregation. Whether such groups are called “missions committees”, “global evangelism teams”, or “global ministry committees”, they can be a valuable resource for the elders to make final and prayerful decisions about the work the congregation supports. Of course, outside resource persons can be used as well. Smaller churches can join larger churches in the financial, prayerful, and emotional support of the work. To meet this need of information at the local church level, Missions Resource Network requested a few years ago that I write a little handbook on the subject.[2] If resource groups, global evangelism committees, will work through that booklet their decisions will be much better. MRN has a vast collection of helpful and free materials. Check the resources on their website: mrnet.org.

Globalizing evangelistic work is God’s work that he does through his servants. That is one reason Paul mentioned being “workers together with God” (2 Cor. 5:16-6:1; cf. Eph.6:10). In reference to his teaching and warning, Paul referred to his “struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (Col. 1:29). I see no reason to believe that that kind of divine help was an exclusive apostolic power. Paul rejoiced that the church at Philippi has been used by God to minister to his needs (Phil. 4:10-20). No matter how well informed we are, how many articles and books we have read, how many classes and lectures attended, we never get beyond the need repeatedly to seek wisdom from above and strength to endure. With all the help God gives (2 Cor. 4:7), we still need, as we sing, to “give of your best to the Master.” That applies to churches as well as individuals.


[1] For a good recent statement, see Barry Baggott, “Missionary Societies: When Expediency was Allowed to Trump the Biblical Pattern,” Gospel Advocate (November 2005): 31-33.

[2] Philip Slate, Missions Handbook for Local Churches (Bedford, TX: Missions Resource Network, 2008). Contact them at mrnet.org or (517) 267-2727.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Unintended Messages

Unintended Messages

Bill Bagents

We know we must be exceedingly careful to avoid judgmentalism in all its forms. Because it flows from arrogance and/or fear, a condemning “gotcha” spirit is repeatedly rejected by Jesus (Matt 9:9–13, Matt 12:1–8, Luke 9:51–56, John 8:1–12). Scripture forbids judging others by a standard we don’t first apply to ourselves (Matt 7:1–5). It forbids judging by mere appearance (John 7:24). It forbids judging when it’s not our place to judge (Rom 14:1–13). I offer these warnings to myself in preparation for the thoughts that follow.

We know that practicing sound judgment is both virtuous and essential to healthy living. Sound judgment starts with healthy biblical self-evaluation (Matt 7:1–5, 2 Cor 13:5). It includes welcoming, verifying, and following God’s word (Acts 17:11).

We know it is far easier to evaluate actions and words than it is to discern the motives behind them. That commonsense statement gains support from both Matthew 7:15–20 and James 3:13–18. Still, we must watch our words (James 3:1–12). We often don’t say what we intend. We often send errant and confusing messages, even when we intend—or even think that we’ve expressed—the very opposite. Thus, we offer the list below of unintended messages that we must guard against.

We never want to say to others, “I’m better, smarter, or more important than you.” Such messages deny the truth of Genesis 1:26–27 and Romans 3:23. But that’s just the message we send if we bully, discount, or disrespect anyone made in God’s image. When we send mixed or contradictory messages, we impede communication. We open the door for those who hear us to choose the worst possible option and the pain that it brings.

We never want to say to others, “You have nothing to offer me. God can’t use you to bless me.” That contradicts the beautiful descriptions of the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4:11–16. But, intended or not, that’s what we say when we listen poorly, don’t listen, or reject wise counsel. When our actions contradict our words, people strongly tend to believe the actions. Not only that, they often judge the words to be insincere or deceitful. Some will even conclude that the incongruence reveals our motive—“I know pride when I see it.”

We never want to say to others, “You’re not worthy of my help. You don’t count in my world.” That contradicts the loving teaching of Matthew 7:12, John 13:34–35, and Philippians 2:1–4. But, intended or not, that’s what we say when we fail to step up, lean in, and serve when God gives us opportunity to help others. Think of the priest and the Levite in Luke 10. Think of the rich man who did not bless poor Lazarus (Luke 16).

We never want to say to God, “I don’t need you today. I have life well in hand.” That contradicts the clear teaching of Acts 17:22–31 and Proverbs 3:5–6. That has us embracing the philosophy of the rich fool from Luke 12:16–21. But, intended or not, we tell God that we don’t need Him whenever we neglect prayer (Luke 18:1, 1 Thess 5:17). People left to their own wisdom do not fare well (Prov 16:25).

We never want to say to ourselves, “Just this once, this tiny sin won’t matter. God won’t notice—even if He does, He won’t care.” That contradicts both the strong warning of Romans 6:23 and the powerful encouragement of Colossians 3 and 1 Peter 1:13–15. It opens the door to being bound and blinded by sin (Rom 6:11–16). But, intended or not, any time we dabble in sin, we’ve said to God, “I don’t really believe You, my understanding of spiritual reality is superior to Yours, and I have not truly given You my heart.” What a fearsome, deluded message! What a stunning rejection of the first and great commandment (Matt 22:36–40)! The God who made us, sustains us, and gave His Son for us, deserves so much better!

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

On "Leading in Prayer"

Man Praying

On “Leading in Prayer”

by C. Philip Slate

The words “leading in prayer” are shorthand for one person’s voicing thoughts to which others assent, agree, or affirm. It is a biblical concept with a useful Old Testament backdrop and a New Testament example.

A Biblical Concept

When the ark of the covenant was brought from the house of Obed-Edom to the city of David and placed in the tent David had prepared for it, great celebration accompanied the procession. David directed Asaph and his brothers to sing a song of thanksgiving (1 Chron. 16:7). The song occupies twenty-nine verses in our Bibles (vs. 8-36). When they finished, the people said, “Amen!”, thus assenting to the words, approving what was sung. Thereby they participated in the thanksgiving. “Amen” is a transliteration of a Hebrew word by which people expressed agreement.

An interesting occurrence is found in Ps. 106:48. “Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting! And let all the people say, ‘Amen!’ Praise the LORD!” The people were assenting to, affirming agreement or identify with the sentiments expressed. Similarly, in Deut. 27 a dozen curses are pronounced from the law, and in each case the listening Israelites affirmed them by saying “Amen” (vs. 15-24).

The word “Amen” has other uses in both Old and New Testaments, such as simply affirming a statement made by oneself, but the concern here is the manner in which one person voices statements which others may affirm or make their own. Often, one who leads prayer will begin appropriately by inviting the congregation to “pray with me.”

Paul urges the Corinthian believers to avoid “giving thanks” in a tongue without interpreting it since those who hear the verbal sounds would be unable to “say the ‘Amen’ to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying” (1 Cor. 14:16). One person expressed thanksgiving; others identified with it and made it their own by saying “Amen.” This “amen” could be uttered at any time and more than once; it was not the signal that the prayer has finished. How, then, may one who leads prayer thoughts do it well?

When One Leads Prayer . . .

Leading others: There is a difference between praying in the presence of others and leading others in prayer. I have heard men who were supposed to be leading a congregation in prayer to thank God for “my good family” or “my loving wife” or “my good health.” Everyone cannot engage in those expressions. One who leads prayer should voice sentiments with which most of the congregation can identify, to which they can say the “Amen.” It is appropriate to state at times, “Lord, some of us . . . . “ rather than putting everyone in the same position.

Categories: There are values in mentioning categories of prayer and then giving the congregation time to pray silently and personally. One might say, “Now let each of us ask our great God to help us with one problem with which we are dealing.” That suggests a category, but the problems will vary with the individual. The leader might suggest such categories as thanksgiving “for one person who has helped you in your Christian growth”, confessing a sin or some weakness, or requesting strength to carry out a righteous resolution you have made. Many people like to be reminded of such categories because they do not think of them when they pray.

Planning: It is advisable to know ahead of time when one is to lead a group in prayer, for then he (or she in appropriate cases) can plan the components of prayer. It is useful to make a list of things to mention in prayer. As early as 1807 writers were using the components of thanksgiving, confession, supplication, and praise; but there is a clear example of grouping those components by the acronym, ACTS: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. There are other dimensions of prayer, but these four are vital. In my experience among Christians, there is much more Thanksgiving and Supplication (requests) than Adoration and Confession. Adoration appears in several of our songs and hymns, and it means “praise”, “veneration”, “worship”. Of course, the Psalms are full of praise and adoration sentiments. Confession is an important element of maintaining relationship with God (1 Jn. 1:8-9). Read Nehemiah’s prayer of confession of Israel’s sins (Neh. 1:5-4-11). Each time we ask for forgiveness we are tacitly confessing we have transgressed in some way, but it is spiritually healthy to name some of those errors, things that we have committed or omitted, what we have wrongly done or neglected. People who follow you in prayer will appreciate you helping them to name errors of life, but it is likely best to say, “. . . some of us confess . . .” because everyone in the congregation is not in the same position. Be thoughtful about things for which you express Thanksgiving; mention items that are often neglected. We are in our right to make Supplications, requests (1 Tim. 2:1; Phil. 4:6; Eph. 6:18), because our heavenly Father cares about us and gives good gifts (Matt. 7:7-11).

Commonly, we do a lot of asking, requesting don’t we? In this regard it is important to remember “D.v.” Often our brothers and sisters in the British Isles will insert “(D.v.)” in their letters and articles at points where they are referring to plans and intentions for the future. Those two letters stand for the Latin, Deo volente, which mean “God willing.” Lest we be presumptive about life, and even our requests, James instructed that we should have a “D.v.” attitude (Jas. 4:13-17). That should be the case in our requests to God.

We Learn to Pray

People tend to pray the words they hear others using. Thus, when mature, thoughtful people lead us in prayer, they are also providing useful models for us. Jesus’ disciples asked him to “teach us to pray” (Lk. 11:1). He did. We can also learn from the prayers recorded in Paul’s epistles. Herbert Lockyer’s All the Prayers of the Bible provides a useful collection of prayers.

William Barclay, Scottish biblical scholar who wrote many popular books, was once interviewed by a writer for The British Weekly. “Professor Barclay, you have written many books,” the interviewer began. “Which of those has given you the greatest satisfaction?” Barclay replied, The Plain Man’s Book of Prayers.” He reported that in response to it he had heard from people all over the world, monarchs and inmates, wealthy and poor, well-educated and poorly educated—many types of people. “People don’t know how to pray,” Barclay observed. At least most of us can use some help. One who does a good job of preparing to “lead us in prayer” can both help us to pray and provide some useful models of how to go about it. Strive to do your best when asked to “lead the prayer” or “lead us in prayer”.

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Fellow Workers

Fellow Workers

Joel Stephen Williams

Recently I purchased a beautifully preserved hardback Revised Standard Version New Testament in a used bookstore. My old favorite leather RSV NT had simply fallen apart many years ago, and I could not find a replacement like it anywhere. This hardback RSV NT has large, easily readable print for my poor eyesight, so I fell in love with it immediately. There was not a mark anywhere in it . . . except for a beautiful inscription in the front pages. Apparently one minister given it to another minister on behalf of a congregation in gratitude for his service on May 24, 1953.

May this token of love on behalf of the Church always find you supporting it by your prayers, presence, gifts, and your service. And may God use you in the establishment of His Kingdom – and bless your every creative endeavor.

What a wonderful sentiment and spirit of fellowship between two ministers of the gospel working in harmony together.

Fellow workers are united in a common cause. The church at Corinth was suffering from various divisions. One of the appeals the apostle Paul made to try to resolve these divisions was to show that he was a fellow worker with other godly servants like Apollos. It did not matter who did one part of the work or another part of the work, because it is God who makes it fruitful. God gives the increase. We are merely fellow workers in God’s vineyard who are privileged to serve (1 Cor. 3:1–9).

Fellow workers should commend and encourage one another. Paul commended Titus, Epaphroditus, Clement, Euodia and Synteche (even as he urged them to agree in the Lord), Epaphras, Tychicus, Aristarchus, Mark, Justus, Philemon, Apphia, Archippus, Demas, and Luke (2 Cor. 8:16–17, 23–24; Phil. 2:25; 4:2-3; Col. 1:6-7; 4:7; 10-11; Phile. 1:1-2, 23–24). The apostle John did the same (3 John 5-8). Likewise, as the minister encouraged another minister by giving him a Bible and writing the lovely note in it, as I mentioned above, all of us should encourage our fellow workers and commend their work to others so that good work may be supported by Christians everywhere.

Fellow workers hold their fellows accountable and encourage them to strive for excellence. We are fellow workers, but that does not mean we should look the other way when a brother or sister is wandering from the path of truth. Instead, we should urge others to strive for excellence in our service for Christ. The apostle Peter, as an elder himself, exhorted his fellow elders, “Tend the flock of God that is your charge, not by constraint but willingly, not for shameful gain but eagerly, not as domineering over those in your charge but being examples to the flock” (1 Pet. 1:5-6).

The need for fellow workers is great. Missionaries are often working alone or as an isolated family. They need fellow workers to support their efforts, even if all you can do is write letters and pray. That alone will be a great encouragement. Many ministries in a large congregation need workers – for example, benevolence, ministry to widows or orphans, or World Bible School – and your help will make a difference. What do you enjoy doing? What is your godly passion? Find other workers with the same interest and join yourself to them as a fellow worker.

Monday, May 24, 2021

Evangelism? Where do We Go from Here?

Evangelism? Where Do We Go from Here?

By Roger Shepherd

America is paralyzed with great fear since 2020; however, some churches have maintained their evangelistic vision. Political strife and COVID–19 have produced doubt, unrest, and a loss of faith that God is in control. The preaching of the gospel can make America free. This is the significant work of evangelists. Therefore, there is a need to train preachers and evangelists. The Bible shaped the life and work of Patrick Henry, who realized that the gospel was shaping the identity of this new nation. His observation in 1765 before the Virginia House of Burgesses is valid: "It cannot be emphasized too clearly and too often that this nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religion, but the gospel of Jesus Christ. For this very reason, people of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity, and freedom of worship here" (Christopher Lensch, "A Christian Patriot," 2). Where do we go from here?

Jesus made disciples serving the community of Galilee. He sought the lost at weddings, fellowships, funerals, hospital beds, friends, prisons, homes, and fishing (John 2:1f; Mark 1: 14–17). We should evangelize like Jesus and his disciples. We cannot be a stiff and teach people. We must not have any strings attached. People must be comfortable with us, and then, we can teach.

The growing church has a ministry of intentional evangelism to "make disciples" in every ethnic group (Matt. 28:19). Jesus instructed disciples to "preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15) and "proclaim a message of forgiveness to every ethnic group" (Luke 24:47). God "sent Jesus" and then he sends Christians today (John 20:21-23). Jesus also taught the apostles the importance of wisdom in winning souls on the limited commission (Matt.10:5–16).

The personal teaching ministry of Jesus started in Cana of Galilee, where he performed his first miracle (John 2:1; 4:46). Cana is identified as Kana (place of needs) a place eight or nine miles north of Nazareth, which lies on the direct road to the Sea of Galilee and twelve miles in a direct course from Tiberias. It is called "Cana of Galilee" to distinguish it from "Cana of Asher" toward Sidon (Josh. 19:28). Galilee means "Country of Gentiles." It was the birthplace of Nathanael (21:2). Cana near Nazareth, a small village in the province of Galilee, was the home of Jesus and a Roman village with a Jewish population that declined considerably in the Late Roman period and finally abandoned in the Byzantine Period. At the time of Jesus, it was a quiet, rustic, peaceful little tranquil place. The region was known for being a hotbed of political activity violently ruled by one of Herod's sons with heavy taxes (biblestudytools.com/cana). Then, in this time, they needed JESUS!

Galilee was a venue for a good deal of Jesus's ministry, the heart and soul of Jewish learning from the first and second century onward, one of the most beautiful landscapes of the entire Middle East region. The Jordan rift is the primary north-south dividing line that goes to Mount Hermon in the northeastern corner of the land of Israel and is the northernmost border of Galilee. The major east-west route that divides upper and lower Galilee. It was populated with ordinary working people: A place of commerce in Jesus's time, some historians believe his father Joseph may have found carpentry work here. Jesus and his family worked to make their world better (Eric Meyers, pbs.org). Like, in the movie "The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl", Max had many dreams of how he could escape until he was taught to stay in the real world and make it better in his dream. Many desire to escape the real world; however, the world will only get better with Christians teaching salvation in Jesus. In Galilee, Jesus and his disciples performed three successful ministries of evangelism (Matt. 4:23–5:1). In the New Year, where do we go from here?

First, TEACHING to explain truth in the synagogues (Luke 4:14–37). The synagogues were an assembly for the community for teaching, worship, and study. They were also a community center, school, and to hold court. The early church worshipped here, also in the home, and continued the same practice of living and teaching as a community in private homes (Acts 2:42–47). The early disciples were busy "every day, in the temple, and from house to house, teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ" (Acts 5:42).

Second, "PROCLAMING the gospel of the kingdom" with conviction and persuasion; preach the gospel as the authority binding upon sinners (Rom. 1:16–17); a herald sent from God (Rom. 10:13–18) the act of gospelize to change lives (Rom. 6:23) bringing eternal accountability to all who hear (2 Cor. 5:10).

Third, "HEALING every kind of disease and sickness among the people." Healing is the word therapeuo that is the most common Greek word for healing. It is the word from which we get the word therapy. It also means to serve or do service to another person (Matt. 20:28); cure or restore to health (Matt. 9:1–8); relieve hunger, disease, heal, and cure (Matt. 8:16–17; 15:32); and causes great stress relief through worshipping God. We heal the hearts of people through an outreach ministry and proclamation of the gospel.

Evangelism is a personal Bible study with a person who is seeking salvation in Christ. We have learned from the COVID experience that it is successful for each one teaches one. Many from the pew have learned that they can discuss Jesus with a friend, family member, or neighbor. When this continues, the church will grow, and America can remain free.

The restoration of evangelism begins with the prophets. The greatest example is Ezekiel, who possessed a new spirit and heart for personal teaching, which God commissioned to restore in Israel a new heart and spirit for his work by teaching the lost and the unfaithful believers (Ezek. 3:18–22). He warned the leaders of Israel to shepherd the flock of God and seek the lost (Ezek. 34:1–16).

Evangelism has always been a significant part of the Restoration Movement. Cecil J. Sharp (1924) taught: "By evangelism, we do not mean merely the conduct of revival or protracted meetings by professional evangelists. By evangelism, we do mean the use of the Word of God by every Christian to win to Christ as nearly as possible everyone who is unsaved. The thought needs to be restored and reemphasized that every minister of the gospel is an evangelist first and that second, every Christian is capable of being, and therefore, ought to be, a winner of souls to for Christ. One advantage of the plea is that an ordinary soul can teach it plainly and effectively. It does not require a professional nor a profound theologian to teach the way of life as given in the New Testament" (Evangelism, 39–42).

What is the lesson application? David "proclaimed glad tidings, grace, the righteousness of God and truth" (Ps. 40:9–10). Jesus taught publicly and one-on-one evangelism, successfully gaining many disciples (Matt. 19: 16–26; John 3:1–5).

Friday, April 16, 2021

"Hooked on Classics" Revisited

conductor

“HOOKED ON CLASSICS” REVISITED[1]

C. Philip Slate

Over thirty years ago several people were listening to—and even doing their aerobics to—“Hooked on Classics,” a collection of popular excerpts from operas, symphonies, and other larger pieces of music.[2] The smaller pieces were strung together uninterruptedly without plot or structure, a patchwork of pleasant sounds held together only by a steady beat.

At the time, it occurred to me that listening to “Hooked on Classics” bore a resemblance to what can happen when listening to some topical/subject sermons as contrasted with those that involve the use of extended texts.

The Parallels

In “Hooked on Classics” one may hear a small section, the finale, of Rossini’s “William Tell Overture” and have no idea how it fits into the larger work. Indeed, over time the finale may become associated with something the composer never dreamed, something like the theme music for the Lone Ranger program. Evidence of that’s happening is found in the amusing but inaccurate definition of a “cultured person” as one who can listen to the finale without thinking of the Lone Ranger!

In “Hooked” a segment of “On the Trail” is heard, probably because it was popular as the theme melody for the “I Love Lucy” television program. The short piece is likely not heard as a part of the five-sectioned “Grand Canyon Suite” by American composer, Ferde GrofĂ©. Consequently, on hearing it one thinks primarily about Lucy and fails to hear the hee-hawing of the burros as they begin the journey down the canyon trail—fail to learn of other sections of the suite, such as “Sunrise,” “Painted Desert,” and “Cloudburst.”

Similar injustices, as music lovers would consider them, are done to Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Stravinsky, Strauss, and others in “Hooked.” It is a musical version of quoting Dickens’ “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times” without understanding how the words fit into The Tale of Two Cities.

When the Stakes are Higher

I am confident that people can go to heaven without knowing that the Lone Ranger theme is part of the “William Tell Overture” or that the popular section of “The Triumphal March” is part of Verdi’s opera, “Aida.” The way of salvation does not involve our being classic music buffs. It is another matter, however, if we treat Scripture the way music is treated in “Hooked” since it would thwart accurately understanding the text.

It is quite possible to be “hooked” on select biblical texts and have little idea of the larger contexts that shape their intended meaning. Cases in point are “handle not, taste not, touch not” (Col. 2:21), God hears not the sinner’s prayer (Jn. 9:31), “No one born of God commits sin” (1 Jn. 3:9) and many others. The preacher who quotes them as single thoughts may know their contexts, but do his hearers? Does his method of preaching allow the hearers to perceive the meanings supplied by the contexts or get a glimpse into the thought of the narrative or epistle?

When in the sermon no reference is made to the larger picture which either shapes the meaning (as in Col. 2:21) or enhances it (as in 1 Sam. 16:7), the hearers are put in the position of listening to “Hooked on Classics”. Unless it is done well, topical/subject preaching can put the hearers in that position. Such patchwork hearing will often deprive the people of both the correct meaning and the desired punch of the biblical text.

It is one thing to quote Eph. 4:1 (“Walk worthily of your calling”) as an admonition. It is a different matter to show how that verse is a hinge of thought in the epistle and gives meaning to the entirety of chapters 4-6. It is one thing to preach the story of the lost boy (Lk. 15:11-32) without reference to the context, but the situation is different when one relates the story to its companion parables (vs. 3-10) and the two introductory verses (1-2). Listeners have a right to hear the Word of God expounded accurately and in keeping with the biblical author’s intentions.

The systematic presentation of biblical material on various topics/subjects is certainly appropriate, even necessary at times; but those lessons will be presented and heard better against a background of habitual exposure to lessons on larger texts. The word is to be preached, as Paul instructed Timothy to do (2 Tim.3:10-4:5). So the questions is not whether but how we should preach the Word for the spiritual health of the hearers.[3]

The Whole Bible Like the Book of Proverbs?

The sixty-six books of Scripture take several literary forms. Over 40% of the Old Testament is narrative in form. The Psalms and sections of other books are Hebrew poetry. In the New Testament there are epistolary, parabolic, narrative, and other forms. Those forms influence both the authors’ meanings and ways of creating emphasis. Thus, Scripture should not be treated as an expansion of the book of Proverbs in which context often plays no significant part in interpretation. Biblical chapters and verses, while useful in locating passages, are a creation of man. Paragraphs divisions are intended to group thoughts, but that cannot be said of verses.

Stories have meanings as stories. They are not to be treated like diamond mines where one must sift through tons of useless material to get a few gems here and there. The story is worth the telling in its own right. Along this line, Fee and Stuart’s How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth is still very valuable.[4]

Exposition of larger texts, or at least a well-defined unit of thought, is beneficial for both the hearers and the preacher. He will be less likely to misuse the text or intrude himself into the text or display his memory or knowledge (“No man can in the same sermon show both that he is great and God is wonderful.”). The hearers will learn more Scripture and be more likely to receive the author’s intended meaning and impact. Great benefit comes from handling Scripture correctly.

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[1] Adapted from my longer article that appeared in Image magazine as “Preaching: ‘Hooked on Classics,’” 6:3 (May/June 1990):24-5.

[2] Now available on YouTube where the larger piece of music is identified by subscripts.

[3] The Greek word translated commonly as “sound” is a health word, as in “sound in body and mind.” Sound preaching is the king that contributes to the spiritual health of the hearers.

So well did it serve people that the book has gone through several editions.