When Amy started reading Amiel’s Journal Intime, I had my doubts. What could a 19th century Swiss philosopher have to say to a 21st century reader? Plenty, as it turns out.
Henri Frédéric Amiel (1821-81) taught aesthetics and philosophy at the University of Geneva. He never married, and his not having found a wife remained a lifelong regret. Still, he found happiness in communing with nature, in an unquenchable thirst for learning, and a faith in God strong enough to ask tough questions.
The Journal Intime was a multi-volume work originally penned in French and compiled over several decades. Thankfully, it didn’t take several decades for me to read it, but it did take several months! Unlike a John Grisham page-turner that you can devour in a few hours, Amiel’s writing is like a savoury meal best digested slowly and in small portions. Here are a few quotes that I hope will whet your appetite to download this free book on your own Kindle.
The power of example
“Like alone acts upon like. Therefore do not amend by reasoning, but by example; approach feeling by feeling; do not hope to excite love except by love. Be what you wish others to become. Let yourself and not your words preach for you.” – April 7, 1851
“Be careful of your reputation, not through vanity, but that you may not harm your life’s work, and out of love for truth.” – March 3, 1852
“Every life is a profession of faith, and exercises an inevitable and silent propaganda. As far as lies in its power, it tends to transform the universe and humanity into its own image. Thus we all have a cure of souls.” – May 2, 1852
“An evil example is a spiritual poison: it is the proclamation of a sacrilegious faith, of an impure God. Sin would be only an evil for him who commits it, were it not a crime toward the weak brethren, whom it corrupts.” – May 2, 1852
The danger of materialism
“Materialism is the auxiliary doctrine of every tyranny, whether of the one or of the masses. To crush what is spiritual, moral, human so to speak, in man, by specializing him; to form more wheels of the great social machine, instead of perfect individuals; to make society and not conscience the center of life, to enslave the soul to things, to de-personalize man, this is the dominant drift of our epoch.” – June 17, 1852
A proper view of God
“To believe in a good and fatherly God, who educates us, who tempers the wind to the shorn lamb, who punishes only when he must, and takes away only with regret; this thought, or rather this conviction, gives courage and security.” – September 27, 1852
I didn’t set out to write this book, but it was the book that had to be written.
A story might help. During my sophomore year at Eastern Nazarene College, I worked as a teller at a Boston Savings & Loan. Joel was my fellow-teller, and during slow times, I’d break out a book. One day, I was reading one of Hal Lindsay’s best-sellers about the end times. Joel flipped through the book, then asked a piercing question:
Do you believe all that stuff?
Joel was a non-believer, and his question got me thinking. What if Hal Lindsay was wrong? What if his kind of writing – while seemingly truthful – was making Christianity unattractive to those we are called to reach? So I went back to Scripture and did a re-study. What I found led me away from that kind of sensational view to post-millenialism, a more historic and balanced view that fits better with the whole tenor of what God’s mission is in this world, especially as related to the work of the Church and the Kingdom of God.
That same process happened for me when it comes to the traditional doctrine of Hell.
This time it was many Joels whose voices came across in the threaded comments of websites. They questioned what kind of God would make individuals suffer forever in the flames of Hell. It was a character question, and that got my attention. I took down from my shelf Four Views of Hell (Zondervan, 1992) and re-read the excellent essay by Clark Pinnock. It was a good summary of an alternate view, but I wanted to go deeper. The magisterial The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment (3rd ed.; Wipf and Stock, 2011) by Edward Fudge made a convincing case from Scripture and answered some of the nagging exegetical questions that I’d had over the years.
Yet for all their merits, these kinds of works won’t be studied by the average layperson. So on this blog, bit by bit, I hammered out what later would become chapters to my new book, The Dark Side of Destiny: Hell Re-Examined (Wipf & Stock, 2013). Here’s what the back cover says:
Discussion of Hell is hotter than ever. Yet for all the attention the topic has drawn, few are the resources that provide an overview of the major points in dispute without bogging down in detail.
The Dark Side of Destiny: Hell Re-examined is an excellent primer, yet goes beyond a mere description of options. Dr. Crofford weighs various views of Hell in the light of Scripture and finds them wanting. In the end, he champions a neglected view of last things that both responds better to the preponderance of biblical evidence and safeguards the character of God as equitable, holy, and loving.
With probing discussion questions at the end of short chapters, The Dark Side of Destiny is ideal for Bible studies, Sunday school classes, or small groups.
The book has only 90 pages. It’s short on purpose. I hope to develop a C.S. Lewis side to me, to bring theology into the streets.
You can order the book for just over $ 10.00 directly through the Wipf & Stock website (click on the link). Or, if you prefer, it’s also available here on Amazon.com for $ 13.00. Within 3 months, it will be available as a Kindle e-book.
Some of you may have downloaded the book in its original self-published Kindle e-book format. In a minor revision, this version tightens up some of the arguments and corrects some typos. It also includes a new foreword by Edward William Fudge.
Let me know what you think, and spread the news!
Image credit: Wipf & Stock
Seminário Nazareno em Moçambique
30 November 2013
Rev Margarida Langa, Rev José Moiane, members of the Board of Trustees, members of the administration and faculty, District Superintendents, Pastors, members of the Class of 2013, distinguished parents, friends and guests, all protocols observed –
It is my honor today to greet you in the strong name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour. I am also happy to bring you greetings from Dr Filimao Chambo, Regional Director of the Church of the Nazarene, Africa Region.
We come together on this grand occasion to honor the hard work of our graduates. Our congratulations go to them and to their families. Graduates, you have persisted through a rigorous course of study. Despite temptations to quit, despite moments of discouragement, you stayed in the race. Today, you cross the finish line, and we salute you.
I. Introduction: The Optimism of Grace
You are heading into a lifetime of professional ministry. Even as you officially launch into that sacred vocation, storm clouds are gathering. Jesus said in Matthew 24 that we will hear of wars and rumors of wars, and today we hear war drums in Mozambique that beat ever more loudly. At such a time when fear threatens to paralyze us, what word of comfort would God have His children hear?
The shadow of the cross fell ever more darkly across the little band of disciples gathered in the Upper Room. According to John 14:27, Jesus comforted 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” (NIV).
Today, instead of sipping from the poisonous cup of fear, let us drink deeply from the cup of Christian faith. As followers of Christ who belong to the Nazarene family, we know that the holiness message we preach is the hope for Mozambique, for Africa, and for the world. What is this message? It is the optimism of grace. Let us reflect this morning on that optimistic grace in three commands:
1) Let God’s grace transform you.
2) Let God’s grace transform the church.
3) Let God’s grace transform society.
II. Let God’s grace transform you.
Let us talk about the first command: Let God’s grace transform you. In theological terms, we call this work of God in the human heart sanctification. It is the cleansing work of the Holy Spirit that begins when we ask God to forgive us our sins. When we ask divine help in abandoning our sinful ways, God adopts us into heaven’s family. The transformation of our whole outlook on life is remarkable! The sinful things that once attracted us seem cheap and ugly. Now we hunger for the deep things of God. The Apostle Paul put it this way in 2 Corinthians 5:17 – “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”
Sometimes we focus on radical conversion stories, on individuals who knew nothing of God or the church yet who came later in life to faith in Christ. We rejoice in those stories, and give God the praise. Yet sometimes we forget that God’s grace is active just as much in the child who grows up in the church. But here we must be careful. We are not interested in just having good, moral children. We must introduce them at a young age to Jesus Christ so that they, too, will come to know Him in a life-changing way. We must not assume that just because a child attends church and has done so all of her life that she has a firsthand experience of the saving power of God. We can show the Jesus film all over town to strangers, go door-to-door evangelizing yet neglect to ask our own children: “Would you like to follow Jesus?” Our invitation to one and all – outside the church and inside – is to follow Christ.
In the church, we can sometimes make assumptions about people. Though I had grown up in the Church of the Nazarene, I had never been baptized. My pastors never spoke of it, and when as a teenager I asked my pastor to baptize me, he replied: “We don’t believe that baptism saves us.” So after receiving a call to preach, I obtained a local preacher’s license, then several district licenses. Not once did anyone on those boards ask me the simple question: Have you been baptized? Later during Seminary, the Nazarene congregation where I attended announced a baptism service. Having been saved as a child at age 7, finally 14 years later, at age 21, I was baptized. Sometimes I wonder if I could have been ordained as an elder in the Church of the Nazarene without ever having been baptized.
With that experience in mind, I ask our graduates as well as all present today: Have you repented of your sins and asked God to forgive you? Have you come to understand that to be a Christian is not just to go to church or to be a moral person, though those things are important? Rather, have you consciously claimed Christian faith as your own and invited God’s grace to transform your life? If you have, then you are a disciple of Jesus Christ. What’s more, having done so, you should obey the Lord and be baptized as a sign of your decision to follow Him. If you have not yet made that life-transforming decision to follow, then I encourage you: It is not too late!
III. Let God’s grace transform the church.
We’ve been looking at the command: Let God’s grace transform you. We saw that when we decide to follow Jesus, God forgives us, adopts us into heaven’s family, and begins a cleansing work in our lives. But let’s look at a second command: Let God’s grace transform the church.
On the Africa Region, we are all about Holiness Revivalism. If you go to our website, it is the first thing you will see. The word “Revivalism” is an acknowledgment that God’s grace is active not only to transform individuals but also to transform the community of faith.
As Nazarenes we like to quote 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24. We speak about the God of peace who will “sanctify you through and through” (NIV). The Greek pronoun is humas and is a plural pronoun. We believe that God entirely sanctifies believers, filling them with God’s perfect love. However, 1 Thessalonians is addressed not to an individual but to a group of believers, the church that is in Thessalonica. Through Paul, God is saying: “I want you, church, to be set apart for my work! I want you, church, to be pure, clean.”
There’s an Ivorian proverb that says: “Dirty laundry is washed in the family.” I certainly understand the intent of the proverb. When we have differences in the church, we don’t go off to the local judges to air those differences. We take care of them among ourselves. But may I suggest to you that people outside the church – those who have yet to come to Christ – are watching how we treat each other? Jesus reminded his disciples in John 13:34-35 (NIV):
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
When we allow God’s transforming grace to operate in the church, we will not jockey for position. Likewise, we will not sweep under the carpet misdeeds of ministerial colleagues as if they don’t matter. If you take a dirty mop and try to wash a floor, you’ll just end up with a dirty floor. But if you keep the mop head clean, the floor will be clean as well. In the same way, God cannot use the church as a cleansing agent in society if the church itself is dirty.
I remember a conversation with one of our ministerial students in another part of Africa. He told me that he was on the Board of his local church, and that there hadn’t been a detailed treasurer’s report given in a board meeting for years. Finally, a new pastor was installed and with him, a new treasurer. At the very first board meeting under the new pastor, the treasurer gave a detailed finance report. The long-time board members were so pleased that one of them spoke up: He said: “So today we’ll start being Christians.”
Graduates, you will be going into pastoral ministry. You must allow God’s transforming grace to continually operate in your heart. But as shepherds of the flock, you are also entrusted with the spiritual condition of the church. Let us not cover up sin! Instead, let us be the first ones to call the church to repentance, to seek the Revival that the church so desperately needs.
IV. Let God’s grace transform society.
Have you ever dropped a stone in a pool of water? What happens when you do? Where the stone lands in the water, it makes ripples. The larger the stone, the larger are the ripples. Soon, the ripples will spread far out over the water. In the same way, when we let the grace of God transform our lives, when we let the grace of God transform the church, then it can’t help put ripple out and change society.
We see that so clearly in Acts 19. God’s transforming grace was at work in the lives of the believers in Ephesus. People were getting saved, and when they did, they brought their sorcery scrolls and burned them publicly. God’s transforming grace was work at work in the church. Paul was holding daily discussions in the lecture hall of Tyrannus, and people were hearing the word of the Lord. There were miracles, people getting healed, people delivered from evil spirits. And like that stone dropped in the pond, the whole of society began to feel the effects of the Revival! We know this is true because the sale of statues of the goddess Artemis took a plunge. Demetrius the silversmith had to stir up a riot against Paul and the believers, he was so troubled by the dip in his sales. What was happening? God’s grace was spilling over and touching even those outside the church.
There’s a lesson here, graduates: When God’s church is on the move, expect Satan to counterattack. As long as God’s people are content to pray within their four walls and worship God in private, the devil won’t bother you much. But when the grace of God that transforms individuals, when the grace of God that transforms the church starts spilling over and changing the world, the alarm bells start going off in hell.
We’ve known all along that the Gospel of Jesus Christ has social implications. You can’t read Matthew’s Gospel without knowing this. Jesus calls us to be salt that preserves a rotten world (5:13). Likewise, Jesus calls us to be light that shines in darkness (5:14-16). Or what about yeast? Jesus says we should be like a little yeast that works its way through the whole batch of dough (13:33).
The truth of the matter is that Matthew mentions the word “church” (ecclesia) just one time. But what about the word “kingdom” (basilea)? It appears dozens of times, so many times that some Bible scholars call Matthew “The Gospel of the Kingdom. The most famous instance of kingdom language is the Lord’s Prayer, where Jesus taught us to pray: “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). Where is God’s will to be done? Is it to be done in the church? Of course, but that is too narrow. God’s will is to be done inside the church and outside it. God’s will is to be done “on earth.” The Shaker proverb reminds us: “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” And so we shine God’s light into every corner of our society.
I’m a proud third generation Nazarene. My grandfather came to Christ as a young man in the 1920s and began worshiping in a Nazarene congregation in the northwestern USA. My father was raised in the Church of the Nazarene and my 5 brothers and I grew up in a Nazarene congregation in New York State. I love the optimism of grace that permeates the Wesleyan message. But if I may offer an observation, our idea of grace is still not optimistic enough! We believe that God can transform the individual and we preach it. We also believe that God can revive the church, transforming it, and we long for that anointing upon God’s people. But too often we have stopped short of the full ramifications of holiness doctrine. Too often, we have hesitated to apply the implications of sanctifying grace to our world. Our denominational mission statement – “Making Christlike Disciples in the Nations” – though inspiring, is too limited. One may ask: And what are these Christlike disciples supposed to do, besides make more Christlike disciples? May I suggest that we need a revised mission statement? Our mission statement should be:
“Making Christlike Disciples who Change the World”
On this high occasion, the 2013 commencement exercises of the Seminário Nazareno em Moçambique, I once again congratulate you, the graduates, on a job well done. Academically, you have laid a solid foundation for your ministry. May this be just the beginning as you continue to study and learn for the rest of your lives. Yet may you never forget: Without the grace of God evident in your ministry, your labor will be in vain. Are you a disciple of Jesus Christ? Are you allowing God’s transforming grace to have free rein in your heart and life? Are you justifying sin in your life, or are you confessing it and forsaking it once and for all? And what about the community of faith where you worship? Are you tired of playing church? As a people, let us be hungry and thirsty for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, for the cleansing of God’s people that only the Lord can give. Then sanctified wholly – both as individuals and as the people of God – let us change our world for Jesus Christ.
It’s a sweeping statement from King David: “I have been young and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread” (Psalm 37:25, NRSV).
What did David mean?
The context of the passage quoted helps us understand what David was saying. Psalm 37 contrasts the lot of the “wicked” with the “righteous” or the “blameless.” Do the wicked prosper? Only temporarily, affirms David. “The LORD laughs at the wicked, for he sees their day is coming” (v.13). The “arms” of the wicked shall be “broken” (v.17). Like a pasture can have “glory” for a time, so the wicked may as well, but they will “vanish” like smoke (v.20). They shall be “cut off” (v.22).
If the wicked won’t endure, the opposite is true for the righteous. They shall “inherit the land” (v.22). Even in famine they will have “abundance” (v.20). They will “give liberally” and be able to lend, their children becoming a blessing (v.26).
Two things come to mind when reflecting on this passage:
1. Redemption and lift – Jesus said: “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21, NIV). If you want to determine what a person values – where their “heart” is – look at how she spends her money. Helen had been a chain smoker for years. When she came to Christ, God broke her desire for cigarettes. “Pastor,” she said, “the money I would have spent on cigarettes, I’m going to put into my change purse.” A year later, Helen had enough for a trip to Hawaii. When money is no longer going down the drain at the neighborhood bar or being wasted on gambling, it’s now available for the family budget. Christians call this “redemption and lift.” God re-orients our value system, meaning some of the leaks in our financial boat get plugged.
2. The solidarity of the community of faith – I can’t read Psalm 37 without thinking about Acts 2:44-47 (NRSV):
All who believed were together and had everything in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day as they spent much time together in the Temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
When I was in high school, our church youth group took a trip to one of the colleges sponsored by our denomination. For three days, we competed in sports and talent competitions. Before dinner one night, without thinking, I slipped my wallet into the pocket of my jacket, then hung the jacket on the coat rack outside the cafeteria. After dinner, my heart sank when I realized my wallet (and with it the $ 50.00 inside that I’d carefully saved up for the trip) had been stolen. Later that night back at the hotel, there was a knock on the door. Roger, my youth pastor, came in and handed me an envelope. I opened it up, and inside was $ 50.00. I couldn’t believe it! Had he found my money? “No,” he said. “But when I told the others in the youth group about your loss, they all wanted to take up a collection for you.” That generous gift of solidarity meant so much to me! I felt loved.
How do we as a church measure up to Acts 2:44-47? Are there practical ways that we could help each other? If the children of the righteous avoid begging bread, it will be because the community of faith has taken care of her own, seeing needs in the Body and responding in Christlike ways. Instead of making loans to each other – loans that cause division when repayment is delayed – how about if we simply say:
I’m giving you this small amount, but it’s not a loan. It’s a gift. You don’t have to pay it back to me, and let’s never speak of it again. All I ask is that you keep your eyes open, and if one day you see someone else in the church who has a similar need, give to them with the same simple conditions.
The “pay it forward” concept is powerful. As we exercise it inside and outside the church, it will commend the Gospel to those who are not yet followers of Christ.
King David rejoiced that he had never seen the children of the righteous having to beg for bread. If this was true, then surely it was not accidental. Putting God at the center of our lives means that wasteful practices will wither away. A holy frugality will take its place. Likewise, we cannot love God without loving our neighbor (1 John 4:20), whether that neighbor is already or not yet part of the community of Christian faith. Let’s pray that God will give us eyes to see like God sees and hands to do what God wants us to do.
While attending Nazarene Theological Seminary, I participated in a dialogue with students from a nearby Seminary for rabbis. We gathered around a table and discussed passages from the Old Testament, or what they just called the Bible. In the sentence you just read lies the crux of the matter: Should the Bible have a “New Testament”? Christians says yes; Jews say no.
As the discussion turned to what Christians would consider “Messianic prophecies” fulfilled in Jesus Christ, one of the rabbinic students remarked:
You Christians read your Bibles backwards.
He was right if by that comment we acknowledge it’s practically impossible for Christ followers, on this side of the Cross, not to see Jesus when we look at parts of the Old Testament. The New Testament provides the model. Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 presents Jesus of Nazareth as the fulfillment of a prophecy from King David regarding the resurrection of God’s Anointed (the Messiah), that the “Holy One” would “not see decay” (Acts 2:31, NIV). Likewise, Acts 8:26-40 tells the story of Philip the Evangelist. Led by the Holy Spirit into the desert, he climbed into an Ethiopian eunuch’s chariot. The eunuch was reading the description of the suffering servant from Isaiah 53, and asked: “Who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” (v. 34). Philip used that passage to tell him the good news about Jesus.
Saint Augustine is credited for having said: “The New is in the Old concealed. The Old is in the New revealed.” Like a good two act play, the outcome of the drama can be hinted at through foreshadowing, but the ending is not given away. In the same way, Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart estimated that only about 2% of the content of Old Testament prophecy can be considered Messianic prophecies (See Klein et al., Introduction to Biblical Interpretation , p. 303). Still, it is enough to bind the Testaments together as the unfolding of God’s rescue plan for sinful humanity gone astray.
This Advent season, we will celebrate the coming of Jesus the Messiah into our sin-sick world. If “reading our Bibles backwards” means thanking God for accomplishing the divine promise to bring us salvation in Christ, then let’s keep celebrating. And as those who look to Christ’s return, let us together proclaim: Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus.
In two weeks, members of the Maraisburg Church of the Nazarene will vote on a new pastor. Here is the sermon I was honored to preach there this morning, in slightly modified form.
SCRIPTURE READING: Ephesians 4:1-16 (Common English Bible)
There’s something about the word “secret” that draws attention. Marketers know this. Take KFC for example. They draw us in with talk of the Colonel’s “secret recipe” made from 11 tasty herbs and spices. Or what about the website, WebMD? A recent article spoke about “10 Diet secrets for lasting weight loss success.”
If a marketer had been assigned to the Apostle Paul, what might she have labelled Ephesians 4:1-16? Perhaps she would have spoken of “Paul’s 3 secrets for church unity and growth.” And here they are:
1) Keep the focus on Christ.
2) Find your niche and fill it.
3) Above all, let us love one another.
II. KEEP THE FOCUS ON CHRIST
When you read Ephesians 4:1-16, there’s no question about who the star of the show is. It’s Christ!
v. 1 – Paul was a prisoner for whom? The Lord Jesus Christ
v. 7 – our gifting is from Christ
vv. 9-10 – It is Christ who descended to earth and who ascended to Heaven
v. 12 – We are the body of Christ.
v. 13 – As his body, we are striving for the standard of the fullness of Christ.
v. 15 – We are to “grow in every way into Christ.”
Theologians like fancy words. They would say that our faith must be Christocentric. In other words, Jesus must be at the center.
By no means do I agree with all that the Roman Catholic Church teaches. However, one of things that I really like is the sanctuary. When I go into a Catholic church, very often there is a cross at the front, in the center, a cross depicting the crucified Christ. The old hymn says it well:
Since my eyes were fixed on Jesus
I’ve lost sight of all besides.
So enchained my spirit’s vision
Looking at the crucified.
It is far too easy for us as the church to be distracted by minor things and turn our gaze from Christ. We are tempted to put our eyes on minor things:
Why did our pastor not do that? Isn’t that her job?
Why would sister so-and-so say such a thing?
Why was the music too loud this morning? Why was it too soft?
And when we start down that negative path, our eyes are diverted from the One who brings us together and the One in whom we find our unity! I’m glad that I’m part of a denomination that has chosen to put Jesus in our name. We are the Church of the Nazarene. Who is the Nazarene? The Nazarene is Jesus Christ.
Yet what kind of a Christ do we preach? We preach a Christ who reaches out to the marginalized, the forgotten of our society. Because Jesus loves people, he is never content to leave us where we are. Rather, Jesus is all about setting us on a new path. We serve Christus Victor, the Christ who is victorious over the unholy Trinity of sin, death, and the devil. Because Jesus loves us so much, he can never be satisfied to leave us mired in our sin.
As the Church of the Nazarene, we’ve understood that historically. For example, in Kansas City, Missouri, in the early decades of the 20th century, we started a rescue mission for alcoholics, and to this day the churches of the Kansas City area support that rescue mission, loving the poor and homeless, many of whom are caught in the trap of substance abuse.
But who are the other marginalized people of our day, right here in South Africa? If someone stood up among us and admitted that he’s addicted to drugs, asking for God’s help and ours, would we not help him? Yet I wonder what our reaction would be if someone stood up in church and admitted being attracted to the same sex, then asked for God’s help and ours? Would we distance ourselves and reply: “No, there’s nothing to be done for that one”? Would we not welcome them with outstretched arms?
And so we keep Christ the Saviour, the one victorious over sin, death, and the devil, at the center of all we do. It is this Jesus that will draw people to himself and to his church.
III. FIND YOUR NICHE AND FILL IT
Besides keep our focus on Christ, Paul adds a second secret for church unity and growth. Each of us is called to find our niche and fill it.
In the Common English Bible, the last 5 words of v. 16 sums this lesson up well:
…each one does their part.
The danger of us a a congregation having a salaried pastor is that we might be tempted to say: “I’ve stood in the gap during the interim. Now let the pastor do it.” Imagine what an American football match would be like if our team adopted that attitude. Let’s suppose we sent in our quarterback to take on the entire opposing team. Do you think we could possible win that way? The pastor is like the quarterback, calling the plays, rallying the team on to victory. The pastor has a key role, but is just one member of the team. If we want to win, we must all play together.
Paul realized this when he wrote in 4:11 about apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teacher. It would take another sermon to thoroughly explain each of those offices. For us today, what matters is the verse that follows, verse 12 -
“His (God’s) purpose was to equip God’s people for the work of serving and building up the body of Christ…”
The best approach to pastoral ministry is the team approach. We should be prepared to have our new pastor equip us to help him perform important tasks. For example, when he goes to visit the sick at the hospital, can he not go with others, to train them how to perform this ministry? The truth is, we may have one pastor, but we are all called to ministry.
Last week we had a row of children up here to sing at the front of the sanctuary. We need people who have gifts of working with children to help in children’s ministry. Each of us has a gift to bring. It’s a matter of seeing what the needs are, knowing what we’re good at, and plugging in. When we returned from home assignment, I knew that I had two primary areas of gifting where I could serve, so I spoke to one of the board members about it. Now we meet for Bible study every Sunday morning at 9 a.m. It’s going pretty well, don’t you think? Come join us!
What do you have to offer? Plug in, and make your contribution to the body of Christ.
IV. ABOVE ALL, LET US LOVE ONE ANOTHER
How can we be a vibrant, healthy church? First, let’s keep our focus on Christ, the kind of Jesus who is victor over sin, death, and the devil. Secondly, God calls pastors whose job is to lead a ministry team with you and me as part of it. What contribution are you making to that team? Finally, and most importantly, let us love one another.
“Love” is a word used repeatedly throughout Ephesians 4. Verse 2 reminds us: “Accept each other with love.” Accepting each other means not necessarily getting our way. It means realizing that though we may have done things differently, we are a diverse people. I’m so glad that God didn’t make us all what I call “cookie cutter Christians.” Then in v. 15 Paul invites us to “speak the truth with love.” Some time ago, I met with a leader. As we talked, he publicly said some things that troubled me, so later I gently challenged him to not bring up in public those certain matters any more. The next day, he thanked me. “Dr Crofford,” he said, “it has been a long time since someone talked to me like that, with a loving, fatherly tone. I’ll be careful not to publicly bring up those things again.” And there are times where it might be easier for us to remain silent, yet something must be said. We must pray and ask God to give us the right words, then speak up with love.
Sometimes loving one another has nothing to do with the words we speak. Instead, our actions bespeak our love. Last week, Pope Francis had an audience with many people. He had already personally received more than 500 admirers when he looked up and saw an ugly man approaching. Disfigured by a neurological skin disease that had left boils over most of his body, including his face, he approached the seated Pope, knelt, and laid his head in Francis’ lap. The Pope took the man’s face in his hands, prayed for him, blessed him, then leaned over and kissed his boiled forehead.
If hurting people – and let’s face it, we’re all hurting in one way or another – come here to Maraisburg church and find that kind of love, these pews will not be able to hold everyone. Even our balcony will be overflowing.
The Apostle Paul gives 3 secrets of a unified and growing church. Such a church is focused upon Christ, a Jesus who loves us enough to transform our lives. In a healthy, vibrant church, ministry is done not by one person, but by a team. Each of us has a gift of service to bring to the body of Christ. What is yours? Finally, people will make this their spiritual home as we love one another as Christ has loved us. Let us pray that God will give even better days to the Maraisburg Church of the Nazarene as we reach this community for Christ!
The story of Goldilocks and the three bears is a children’s favorite. A little girl takes a walk in the forest, and comes upon a house. She knocks, but when no one answers, she opens the door and begins to explore. Besides three bowls and three beds, she spies three chairs in the living room. Sitting in the first two, she concludes that they are too big, but the third one is different. “Ah, this chair is just right,” she exclaims.
When it comes to the devil, Christian theologians disagree on how large a “chair” he should occupy. Some argue that he should only be a bit player in salvation’s drama. After all, Satan goes unmentioned in the early affirmations of faith, including the Apostles’ Creed (2nd century CE) and the Nicene Creed (325 CE). Henry and Richard Blackaby, in their devotional guide Experiencing God Day-By-Day (Broadman, 1998), are of this persuasion. In their thoughts for October 31, they observe:
Christians can become preoccupied with battling Satan. This deceives them to invest their time and energy attempting to do something that Christ has already done for them. If Satan can divert you to wage a warfare that has already ended in surrender, he will have eliminated your effectiveness where God wants you. Fearing Satan is fearing a prisoner of war.
Dr Rob Staples, Professor Emeritus of theology at Nazarene Theological Seminary, recalled when he was a boy that his mother asked him to choose one of their farmyard chickens for dinner. When he lopped off the chicken’s head with a axe, the headless chicken danced in a frenzy for a while before dropping over dead. “That is an image of the devil,” Staples told us. “Jesus, through the Cross and Resurrection, chopped off Satan’s head, and all that we have seen since is his death dance.”
On the other hand, some reserve too large a place for the devil in their thinking. In 15 years of ministry in Africa, I have resisted calls for inserting a “demonology” course in our curriculum. While several courses with a different focus touch upon the issue, to dedicate an entire course to the topic reminds me of Goldilock’s comments about the first two chairs: “This chair is too big!” I’ve been in church services where the first ten minutes are given to the congregation raising its voice to chase the devil away. I’ve challenged pastors to consider whether they are unwittingly sowing fear in the hearts of believers. After all, if it takes 200 Christians ten minutes of concerted, high-volume prayer to chase the devil on a Sunday morning, what will the poor saint do on her sick bed when she senses spiritual attack and can only manage a whisper?
The New Testament truth appears to lie somewhere between the position of the Blackabys and Staples and the exaggerated view of some African pastors. It is a view that recognizes the eventual defeat of the devil (Rev. 20:1-3), a final defeat begun via Cross and Empty Tomb. Satan was wounded, there can be no doubt, yet is this the mortal wound of Staples’ headless chicken? If so, then the “death dance” has lasted 2,000 years!
Peter chose another animal to which he compared Satan:
Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8, NIV).
Paul joins Peter in his assessment, lamenting that to-date he had been unable to visit the Thessalonians, since Satan had “hindered us” (1 Thess. 2:18, NIV). Yet the same Paul did not hesitate to cast out of of a slave girl in Philippi a python spirit of divination (Acts 16:16-19). His spiritual preparedness to confront whatever the devil threw his way is epitomized in Ephesians 6:10-20, where we are to “put on the full armor of God” so that we may “stand against the devil’s schemes” (v. 11). Unlike the Blackabys, I do not believe that the devil has already surrendered, though one day he will.
When it comes to our understanding of the devil, there is a position – like the chair Goldilocks chose – that fits the biblical evidence “just right.” I wonder: If we insist that “Satan is a defeated foe” – rather than “Satan is wounded and will finally be defeated” – could this lead to spiritual complacency? A wounded animal is particularly dangerous. To downplay this reality may risk being naively blind-sided while serving the Lord. We may consider something a “test from God” that is instead an attack from Satan. On the other hand, to place the devil center-stage in our thinking is to do what neither creeds nor Scripture have done. This can lead to an unhealthy fascination with darkness. It may sow fear in our hearts, a fear that is unbecoming a Christian’s confidence in the victory of Christ, now and in the future.
Meanwhile, in this great parenthesis between Jesus’ ascension and his final enthronement at the Second Coming, we ask the question contained in Francis Schaeffer’s book title:
How should we then live?
We live in neither complacency nor fear in this time of “already, but not yet.” We live a vigilant life, aware of the devil’s schemes (2 Cor. 2:11). With the Blackabys, we refuse to be distracted from the work to which God has called us, preaching the Gospel, binding up the wounds of the brokenhearted, and in victory over Satan awaiting the day when God shall in Christ bring all things to fulfillment. What a day that will be!
Photo credit: Missoula News
The 1955 film A Man Called Peter, based on the life of Peter Marshall, contains a story by the late pastor and Senate Chaplain, where this earnest line is on the lips of a terminally ill young boy, Kenneth. His mother does not know what to respond to her sickly son, and runs to the kitchen, supposedly to tend a pan on the stove. Finally, she has an inspiration, and reminds her son of a time when he had come home from playing outside. Exhausted, Kenneth had fallen asleep on the sofa. Later, his dad arrived home from work and gently picked up his sleeping boy in strong arms and carried him upstairs, laying him in his bed, in his own room. “Kenneth,” his mother said, “death is like that. You wake up in your own bed, in your own room, because Jesus loved you and carried you in his strong arms.”
In the same way, the Apostle Paul comforted the Corinthians:
Listen, I tell you a mystery. We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed – in a flash, in a twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. – 1 Cor 15:51-52, NIV
We lost a member of the NazNet.com community this week. In a tribute, the site manager emblazoned a banner on the front page. Part of the message read:
May he rest in peace and rise in glory.
That’s a simple and comforting message. One day, I shall close my eyes in death, and one short sleep later, wake up in the presence of Jesus. What a resurrection promise!
If you want to chew up a church in America, hire a missionary who has just returned from Africa. When you’ve witnessed abject poverty and the resilient spirit of many who live in it, you may be tempted to ask a well-off U.S. church member complaining about petty things:
Would you like a little cheese with your whine?
As a theology teacher, I often include a section on theodicy in courses I teach pastors here in Africa. Theodicy is the doctrine of evil and suffering, especially attempts to justify God whom we believe – despite all evidence to the contrary – is both Almighty and good. It’s the old question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” But I’ve noticed across the years that theodicy doesn’t cause the angst in my African adult students that it causes in me. In fact, I’ve yet to come across a book written by an African theologian on that topic, though it’s a perennial favorite among American Christians, including the latest by Pastor Tim Keller, Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering (2013).
Why is this the case?
Many Americans I know (including myself) are accustomed to comfort, growing angry at God when difficulties unexpectedly arise. In contrast, many Africans I know are accustomed to a hardscrabble life and praise God heartily when they receive unanticipated blessings.
My wife and I went to the Muthare slum in Nairobi for church a few years ago. Eighty of us were packed tightly into a small room with a tin roof and a dirt floor. We sat on wooden benches in their humble church. At the end of the service, they wanted to celebrate Christmas early since the children in their church-run primary school were at the end of their term and would soon scatter. Two women brought out a white 12″x 12″ frosted cake. Before that day, I wouldn’t have thought it possible to cut such a small confection into eighty slices, but they masterfully pulled it off, gingerly wrapping each morsel in a napkin and passing it to the children. The young ones’ eyes lit up in delight at the sugary treat! I thought how as boys my five brothers and I easily devoured a birthday cake twice that size and with a fraction of the gratitude that those Kenyan children showed.
What was the difference? My brothers and I expected comfort as life’s default setting and so took cake for granted. As for Muthare churchgoers, they seemed to expect tough times as the norm and so were elated to find an exception to the rule.
Regarding theodicy, the apostle Peter lived closer to the dominant African view than the dominant American one. In 1 Peter 4:12-13 he writes:
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as through something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed (TNIV, italics added).
How can I who have received so much so easily fall into a complaining mode? My prayer is that God will help me to see the world with new eyes, as a place where tough times are normal and good times are a serendipity. Then, let me as I am able and directed by God’s prompting, be a channel of God’s good gifts.
Photo credit: Journey of Hope
James Copple’s Voices from the Night (Amazon Kindle, 2013) takes you from drug-infested crack houses in the Midwestern United States to the slums of Nairobi. In words that paint memorable pictures, Copple shares stories of children and youth who face impossible odds and somehow come out on top.
Key to Copple’s method is what he calls “coming alongside”:
My career path is about coming alongside the dispossessed, the impoverished, the broken, and the wounded. To be in journey along side of the oppressed is to recognize that you bring skills, gifts, and capacity that can strengthen or contribute to the welfare of those you engage. Further, to come along side suggests that you have as much to learn from the other as the other has to learn from you. It is a bridge bound by love, grace, and empathy (location 122).
For the author, child victims of war, drug abuse, and poverty must not be mere abstractions or projects at whom we throw money to ease our conscience. Rather, they are a living, breathing reality, youth with hopes, dreams, and incredible potential. Copple laments that governmental budgets find millions for wars and leave social agencies to fight each other over the remaining scraps. Surely we can do better than this! But more than money, children and youth need us, our time, our love, our attention. That’s what community is all about.
Voices from the Night includes heart-wrenching stories, so be prepared to be haunted by what Jesus called “the least of these.” Whether it’s little Omar in Somalia who divulges to soldiers where his mother is hiding, resulting in her rape, all so that his empty, growling stomach can have a couple of biscuits, to a little girl in a filthy crack house who pleads with Jim, “Mister, can you get me out of here?,” there’s no taking your eyes off the sad specter of children suffering.
A positive aspect of the book is that the author doesn’t just present the problem. He offers practical solutions, but be warned: They come at a personal price. Community change can only transpire when we are in-the-flesh involved with those who need rescuing. The final chapter offers ways to roll up your sleeves and make a difference.
The wide-ranging nature of Voices from the Night is also its weakness. Really there are two books here, one dealing with anti-drug crusading in the United States and a second telling more recent stories from the hardscrabble areas of East Africa. While the children and their stories are compelling, the long interludes of moralizing are less so.
Despite this weakness, Voices from the Night is a clarion call to advocate for those who are most often shunted aside as insignificant. Copple never promises that change will be easy, but he guarantees that looking back one day, you’ll be glad you spent yourself in a cause bigger than yourself.
Photo credit: James Copple the Seeker