January 28, 2009

Ordinary Joes, Part 1 - Peter, the Spokesman

Run-of-the-mill. Rag-tag. Bumbling. Sinful. Faithful. Brave. Great. All of these are words that could be used to describe the twelve disciples of Jesus. Commercial fishermen from the backwater towns. IRS workers. These were the kinds of “ordinary men” (as John MacArthur calls them) whom Jesus selected to be His first and most significant followers. In many ways they were a lot like us. Normal Joe’s who, indwelt by the Spirit of Jesus, had the potential to become great in God’s kingdom. If they were alive today, their names would probably be Tom, Dick, and Harry. Jesus seemed to pick them almost indiscriminately. That is, He chose them, not because of any innate potential in themselves … but to demonstrate His power to change and use any life – no matter how normal or sinful.

Do you want Jesus to change and use your run-of-the-mill life? If so, there is a great deal to learn from the ordinary Joe’s whom we call the Apostles. My hope, for the next dozen or so weeks is to present them to you, in miniature. Twelve thumbnail sketches of twelve mediocre, sinful, great men … beginning this morning with, perhaps, the greatest (and most obviously sinful) of them all – Peter, the Spokesman.

If you know anything about Peter, you probably know that he was a fisherman … and that he was a bit impulsive, too – diving into the water, for instance, when he saw Jesus on the shoreline, while the other disciples rowed calmly to shore (John 21.7-8). His impulsiveness was especially evident in his speech, wasn’t it? It was Peter who rebuked Jesus (God’s own Son!) when He prophesied His death at the hands of the religious leaders (Mark 8.31-34). It was Peter who, on the mount of Transfiguration, began blurting out architectural plans instead of worshipping the glorified Jesus (Mark 9.1-6). It was Peter who boldly proclaimed that he would never deny Jesus (Luke 22.33). And it was those same bold lips that, just a few hours later, could be found cursing and playing dumb about the Christ.

It was Peter’s tongue that made him so peculiarly bumbling, wasn’t it? It was Peter’s tongue with which he seemed most prone to outward sin. And yet it was also Peter’s tongue that wooed three thousand people to the feet of Jesus in a single sermon (Acts 2). And it was Peter’s tongue that first took the good news of Jesus to the Gentiles (Acts 10). What happened? Peter’s tongue came under the Lordship of Jesus! Slowly the impulsiveness was washed away … and gave way to a more holy boldness. Jesus did not give Peter a whole new human personality. But He did redirect the focus of Peter’s confidence in a totally new, Godward direction. He took Peter’s quickness to speak his own mind, and turned it into a readiness to preach the gospel! And He took Peter’s audacity and made it courage.

This last point comes into stark relief when we read the accounts of what happened to Peter after the close of the New Testament. Ancient historians report that Peter went right on preaching … not only in the territories of Galilee and Judea, but also as far away as Rome … where he was martyred. And in his newfound holy boldness, Peter ventured to speak one last time … not another rebuke or set of denials. But a simple, bold appeal: ‘Crucify me upside down. I am not worthy to die in the same manner as my Lord.’

May it also be so in us! May the Lord mercifully cleanse and redirect our sinful defects … and make our lives and lips beautiful for Jesus!

January 26, 2009

Out of Africa

Wow! It doesn’t seem like 4 full days have passed since my feet were firmly planted on African soil. But they have. Thanks for being patient and waiting until now for this update. What a jam-packed 10 days we had! Five full days of teaching. Denominational meetings. A Wedding. And a professional burglary hit mixed in just for fun. It was truly a whirlwind tour. Maybe that’s why it took me a little longer to recover this time around (although don’t remind me that Anthony ran a half-marathon less than 24 hours after touching down in Memphis!).

My first experience of an Ethiopian wedding came on our last day in Ethiopia ... [Read the whole article] ...

January 13, 2009

Wanna go to PTI?

Several folks have asked me: 'So what exactly are you teaching in Ethiopia?' Answer? A bunch of stuff I've already taught here. Of course, things will be re-shaped slightly for a slightly different context. The Stonewall Jackson illustration on leadership, for instance, may not mean much to a room full of Ethiopians! Some of the areas of needed emphasis will change slightly, too. Americans and Ethiopians both have theological blind-spots. But they are not always in the same places. Where, for instance, I needed to emphasis the plurality of elders here in Cincinnati, I will need to place more emphasis on the spirituality of elders in Ethiopia (that they are more than a board of trustees, IOW).

Below are the links if anyone would like to go to PTI with us. To really feel like you've been there with us, get up in between messages, drink some scalding hot tea, eat some lentils with your bare hands, bang on a drum really loud, and sing at the top of your lungs to Jesus!

The Church
Membership: Requirements
Membership: Privileges
Membership: Responsibilities
Church Discipline
Why Elders?
What do Elders do?
Qualifications for Elders
Baptism and the Lord's Supper

Enjoy. And "pray for us, that the word of the Lord will spread rapidly and be glorified" (2 Thessalonians 3.1)!

January 12, 2009

Lagniappe from Philemon

In Cajun Louisiana (Tobey’s growing up stomping grounds) … they have what they call lagniappe (pronounced lan-yap). It means ‘a little something extra.’ So, when you go to the Cajun CafĂ©, and order a Shrimp PoBoy, maybe they toss in a couple of extra fried shrimp or hushpuppies, on the side, as lagniappe. And, as we worked our way through three messages on Philemon, there were a handful of points of interest and/or side notes for which we did not have sufficient time. So, I thought I’d toss them on your plate today, as my own little Ohio version of lagniappe.

“Not … by compulsion.” Paul says, in verse 8, that he has every right (as an apostle of Jesus, and a brother in Christ) to “order” Philemon to do what is right (to release Onesimus, the slave). But instead of ordering him, he appeals to him; he pleads with him. And in verse 14 he tells us why … so that Philemon’s goodness “would not be, in effect, by compulsion but out of [his] own free will.”

I am intrigued by how Paul handled things. He could have ordered Philemon, but instead he asked. How does this translate for us – in parenting and pastoring, in the office or the classroom, in the church business meeting, in marital relationships, and so on? Quite frankly, I am not sure where all the lines should be drawn. For there are plenty of times for simply giving commands (as Paul makes clear in numerous other places). But according to Philemon 14, there are also times for pleading and waiting. Right decisions may happen a little slower this way. But maybe they will happen a little deeper, too.

So, if you are in a position of leadership (and especially in spiritual matters … parents, elders, husbands) … the question is worth considering: ‘Is this a time for pleading instead of ordering? Is this task so urgent that it must be done, if necessary, by compulsion? Or should I plead … and wait for goodness to come by his or her own free will?’ It’s a question I definitely need to further consider. Maybe you do to.

Mark and Demas. At the end of Paul’s letter, he gives his customary greetings from friends – two of which come (v.24) from quite intriguing characters. “Mark”, you may remember, had once been in Paul’s dog-house. Early on, he had travelled with Paul and Barnabas on their missionary journeys. But, somewhere along the line, he wimped out for one reason or another. He went home early from the trip. And Paul was so upset about it (Acts 16.36-41) that the missionary society was split in half. And yet here, in Paul’s final imprisonment, Mark is back at his side – both forgiven and, once again, useful in the cause of Christ.

What a contrast, then, when we compare Mark with “Demas.” You wouldn’t know it from Philemon 24 (for here, Demas is at Paul’s side just like Mark) … but, in a very short time (as Paul informs us in 2 Timothy 4.10), “Demas, having loved this present world has deserted” Paul. And the New Testament never restores his reputation. So, apparently, he did the opposite of Mark. Mark ran away at the first, but came back to Jesus forever. While Demas stayed around for quite a long time, and deserted Christ at the end … all because “he loved this present world.”

So … which one are you? A Mark? Or a Demas?

Prayers for Ethiopia

Anthony and I depart this Wednesday afternoon for Ethiopia and PTI, Round 7. Here are a few ways you can be praying for us…

1. Our travel. Every time I get on a plane, the thought occurs to me: ‘There is no way this several ton metal bird is going to get off the ground.’ Of course I know it actually can … and there are physics lessons that could teach me why. But, ultimately, it is God who keeps us in the skies. And it will be God who enables us to make all our connections, in spite of winter weather, tricky layovers, and so on. Pray for smooth sailing.

2. Our souls. We are going in order to give, help, teach, and so on … on behalf of others. But it is possible to do that from a very dry well; a cold heart. So pray that, with all the rearranging of schedules and sleep, that we would find (no, make) time to be with Jesus each day. I plan on grazing in the books of Genesis and Exodus while we’re away. Pray that God would make me “lie down in” these “green pastures” … and show me Jesus.

3. Our teaching. This round of messages is on the doctrine of the church. What, really, is a church? Where does she get her authority? Who leads … and how … and why? Who should be a member? What about accountability, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper? All of these are questions upon which there is much confusion … both in Ethiopia and the U.S.! So we need to be sharp and clear. We need to make sure the men are getting it. And we need to have a keen ear and wise heart when they ask questions related to their culture. There are a number of tricky issues. So pray for us!

4. Our students. Based on what we have seen in previous sessions, I have every confidence that the men will be in Addis Ababa in full force, with their ears and hearts wide open, and their thinking caps on. Praise God for these men! But pray that their hearts remain open and their thinking caps on when they go back home … and when, eventually, they go to new fields to start churches. Much of what we are teaching is going to be music to their ears, I think … but brand new music. And when they attempt to implement more biblical patterns of church membership, leadership, etc., there may be (just as their often is in America) some opposition from other Christians. So pray that God gives them hearts of courage and wisdom … especially in the weeks after we have come home.

5. Our partners. For many years now, God has been building and flourishing a wonderful connection of Baptist churches in Zambia (and a few other southern African nations). From what I hear, this group may be as theologically sound and evangelistically zealous as anything we know in the West – maybe more so. They are several years further along the road of fruitfulness down which we hope to send our Ethiopian brothers. And they have agreed (Praise the Lord) to help – to provide further training, mentoring, and counsel to the Ethiopian Baptists! This week, two Zambian leaders (Conrad and Wilson) will be in Ethiopia, meeting with Anthony, some Ethiopian leaders, and the trainees. Pray that this is a wonderful time of blessing … and the beginning of a Christ-honoring, fruitful partnership.

6. Our families. Hannah, Ellie, and Isaac. Tobey, Julia, Andrew, and Silas. All of them will have family and church family nearby. But it is still different when dad is gone. Pray God protects and gives joy to them all!

Thank you. And blessings in Jesus!

Set Free - 3 Sermons from Philemon

Here is the brief series we just completed, entitled "set free". All three sermons are drawn from Philemon 1-25 ...

Onesimus, the Slave MP3
Paul, the Prisoner MP3
Philemon, the Master MP3

Hope you enjoy ... and are encouraged in the Lord!

January 5, 2009

10 Reasons to Read Good Christian Books, Cont'd.

I began, last week, compiling a list of reasons to read good Christian books. Here are five more …

6. Good Christian books teach us history. One of the greatest blessings I have received in all my reading is the gift of history. So many saints of old have gone before us. And their stories are so compelling – watching them struggle with the same things we do; seeing them win victories that we are striving toward; learning from their mistakes; and understanding how we got to the places we are today. All of these are huge blessings that can be gotten, almost exclusively, from books!

7. Good Christian books are more edifying that TV or internet. OK, every now and again there may be a good program on Nova. And I did enjoy watching a few football games this year. But most of what is on TV is not all that helpful to body, mind, or soul. Interesting? Sometimes. Edifying. Often not. And who know how many hours many of us spend idling around on the web! But what if a large chunk of that time, in 2009, were spent on good Christian books? How might our lives, families, and brains be better off at the end of the year?

8. Good Christian books sharpen your mind. When you read, you force yourself to think about why the author stuck a comma in that place, or why he began a new paragraph there, or why he inserted an “although” in between those two clauses. Reading makes you think! And, since it does, what might be the effect on your ability to listen to sermons and understand the Bible if your mind were better trained to think? And if you are getting more from sermons and Bible reading, well then spiritual fruit cannot be far behind!

9. Good Christian books are wonderful teaching aids. You often hear me quote authors, or tell stories of Christian heroes in my sermons. That’s not because I have a file somewhere that has 12 stories and 6 quotes to use if I’m preaching on “faith”; and another with 9 stories and 3 quotes on “justification.” Most of the quotes and illustrations come right out of something I have recently read. And, if you are a teacher (or a parent who ‘teaches’ all the time, unofficially) what a resource for examples and illustrations a regular reading habit could be!

10. Good Christian books are available in the church Book Rack. OK, this last one is mainly for my church folks. But maybe your church has a book rack, or a good library, too! Perhaps your pastor could give you a few recommendations. And, since I know you have internet, you can certainly go to http://cvbbs.com/ ... the best bookshop on the web. Everything they sell is good.

Happy reading!