Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Preaching at Ndola Baptist Church

This past Sunday I had the privilege of preaching at Ndola Baptist Church:

 From what I am told, the church has a long and proud history in Zambia. Men raised up in this church have gone many places to start new works of God both in Zambia and beyond. Because they are currently renovating the sanctuary, they are meeting in a tent on the property.

I was asked to preach 1 Corinthians 6:1-11 in continuation of their series through the book. I must confess to being hesitant to preach such a text, since without knowing the Zambian culture very well I was not sure how to make specific application. But the Lord was gracious, and his people seemed to genuinely be helped by hearing from God's Word about the necessity of settling our disputes within the body of Christ. Sometimes that will mean that we allow ourselves to be wronged rather than tarnish the reputation of Christ. But we follow a Savior who allowed himself to be wronged so that God might be glorified through the redemption of his people. If we are to be like our Master, there will be times when we will allow ourselves to be wronged rather than bring shame on the name of Christ.
What an encouragement to see God keep the promise of Isaiah 55:10-11
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Do They Go To Witch Doctors in the U.S.?

Yesterday during my class on Jesus and the Gospels, the discussion turned to spiritual warfare. Anytime this subject comes up (no matter where I am teaching), I try to explain that there are two extremes within the evangelical church. One extreme says that any talk of demons or spiritual warfare is simply an outdated and ignorant way of thinking about things that have other, "natural" causes. According to this view, such talk was the only way that less enlightened people had of explaining things that were beyond their control such as sickness, calamity, drought, famine, etc. I would suggest that this is the default view of most evangelical Christians in the United States. The other extreme says that virtually everything that happens in a day is the direct result of activity in the spirit world. According to this view, one must be constantly alert to how the spirits/demons are at work to avoid offending them or being somehow hurt by them. This is the default view in much of Africa even among evangelical Christians.

So in the middle of our discussion one of my students, a woman named Charity, asked, "Do they go to witch doctors in the United States?" I explained that in the United States you would be hard-pressed to find a witch doctor, though I am sure that in some places you can find those who present themselves as such. It was clear that the concept of a culture where almost no one thinks of going to a witch doctor to learn why they are sick was new to her.

Satan has many weapons in his arsenal. He is perfectly content with either of the two extremes mentioned above. In some cultures (such as most of Africa and parts of Asia) he prefers to manifest his power in the spiritual realm very directly. He shows himself to be powerful through the use of witch doctors, curses, the spirit-realm, and even demonic possession. I call this the "in-your-face" approach. But just as deadly is the approach he takes in other cultures. Rather than show himself directly, Satan prefers to work with great subtlety through the apparent comforts of affluence and security. He is perfectly content to persuade people that he doesn't really exist and that everything around us has natural or material explanations. He often dulls our senses to God through the material comforts of our affluence, as we amuse or numb ourselves to the greater spiritual realities around us.

Biblically speaking there is a middle ground. Scripture is very clear that the spiritual realm is very real, and that Satan is our great enemy. He is at work in the world to thwart God's purposes and destroy his people. At the same time, Scripture also emphasizes that the sin within our own hearts is our most pressing problem. The problem is that Satan is a master at exploiting the sin that is within us.

Of course, the good news of the gospel is that Jesus Christ is has conquered sin, death and Satan at the cross. He is sovereign over all things including, including the spiritual realm. Consider these passages and meditate on the good news that Christ is truly the one who rules this world:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:15-20)
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Colossians 2:13-15)
and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:19-23)
The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. (Romans 16:20)
The devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. (Revelation 20:10)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Safely in Zambia

After 36 hours of travel across eight time zones, I arrived safely in Ndola, Zambia on Sunday. Sadly, my luggage did not make the final leg from Johannesburg to Ndola, but it did arrive the next day so all is well. I have been blessed with the hospitality of American missionaries David and Terrie Wegener, joining them for several meals and getting to know them and their family. Also here from the United States is a pastor named Steve Lane, who is also an adjunct professor at Messiah College. He brought along his wife and their two sons as well.

I am staying in the home of a missionary couple from New Zealand (Timothy and Zara Woo), who are currently home on furlough. They will be returning shortly before I leave. The house is located right on the campus of Theological College of Central Africa where I am teaching. I am within short walking distance of some shops but have yet to do much exploring.

So far the class is going well. Over the course of the next few weeks I will be telling you more about each of the students, but please pray for them as they study the Gospels that their love for Christ would grow deeper.

Thanks for your prayers. I hope to post more in the days ahead. I am still adjusting to what a typical day looks like, but I hope to have that figured out by the end of this week.

Friday, July 16, 2010

On the Way to Zambia

Today I leave for the country of Zambia, where I will be teaching a three week course at the Theological College of Central Africa. So for the next three weeks or so I will be periodically posting on various aspects of my trip. In the meantime, I would greatly appreciate your prayers. Here are some specific things you can be praying about:
  • My love for Christ and his people to grow deeper as I serve Him in Zambia. Pray that God would use this time to renew my heart to see the gospel go the ends of the earth.
  • My wife and two sons as they spend time with her family in Colorado while I am gone. Pray that God would bless them with rich fellowship together.
  • My health. Pray that God would enable me to overcome the jet lag quickly (I begin teaching the day after I arrive) and sustain my health during my stay.
  • My students. Pray that God would help them connect what they are learning in the classroom with their own relationship to God and those whom they lead.
Be sure to check back frequently for updates. Thanks so much for your prayers!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Application Part 9: Pressing the Text upon the Heart

Today we come to the end of our series on application. In case you missed any of the posts, here are the links:

Part 1 – A Theological Framework

Part 2 – We Resemble What We Worship

Part 3 – Fallen Condition

Part 4 – Gospel Solution

Part 5 – Making the Fallen Condition Personal

Part 6 – The Four Aspects of Application

Part 7 – The Levels of Application

Part 8 – The Three Orders of Application


Of course, a fundamental premise throughout this series is the crucial role of repentance and faith. When God reveals to us our fallen condition it is imperative for us to turn from it and embrace by faith the solution that the gospel offers.


To wrap things up, I wanted to try to synthesize the most helpful things from this series of posts. What follows is a list of questions that I try to ask every time I read Scripture. There are five main questions, but I have included sub-questions under each that give the bigger picture of what I am trying to get at with each question.

  1. What do we learn about God?

    • What aspects of God's character do we see in this passage?
    • What do we see God doing in this passage?
    • What things, events, people, and situations is God concerned about?

    1. What do we learn about man/mankind?

      • What aspects of the image of God (longings, desires, interests, values) are reflected in this passage?
      • What fallen conditions (desires, attitudes, actions, beliefs, etc.) are stated, described or implied in this passage?
      • What struggles, challenges, temptations, and realities to walking with God are stated, described or implied in this passage?
      1. What do we learn about redemption?

        • What does this passage reveal about the nature of our salvation?
        • What is the "gospel solution" to the "fallen condition" that this passage states, describes or implies?
        • In what specific ways has Jesus obeyed in the areas where you have failed?

        1. What do we learn about ministry?

          • What does this passage teach us about the nature of ministry (its joys, its pains, its challenges, its rewards, etc.)?
          • What does this passage teach about the way I should lead/care for God's people?
          • What does this passage teach about the way God's people respond to leaders?

          1. How should I apply this text to my life?

            • What does this passage indicate that I should know, think or understand?
            • What does this passage indicate that I should believe?
            • What does this passage indicate that I should feel?
            • What does this passage indicate I should do?

            Tuesday, July 06, 2010

            Application: Pressing the Text upon the Heart (Part 8)

            Not all lines of application are created equal. We have all sat through a sermon, Bible study or Sunday school class and heard someone (perhaps even the preacher or teacher!) make an application from a text that makes us scratch our heads and wonder where in the world that came from.

            One way to avoid this experience is to think through the different "orders" of application. What I mean will become clear as I explain each of the three orders of application:
            • First Order: Those points of application that can be shown to relate directly to the main point of the passage. These should be obvious from the text to most anyone reading or hearing the passage. They are the equivalent of low-hanging fruit that is ripe for the picking!
            • Second Order: Those points of application that can be shown to be a reasonable inference from the main point of the passage. These may not be immediately obvious to all who read or hear the text, but upon brief explanation should be clear. In this case the fruit is higher up in the tree but is still reachable by standing on your tip-toes.
            • Third Order: Those points of application that can be shown to be a reasonable inference from an incidental aspect of the passage. These are not obvious to the reader or hearer, but with substantive explanation can be made clear. In this case the fruit is near the top of the tree and requires a good ladder or even a bucket truck to get to it.
            So let's apply these different orders to Philippians 1:27-30:
            Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, 28 and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. 29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.
            For the sake of our exercise, let's say that the main point of the passage is this: We must live out our heavenly citizenship according to the pattern of the gospel. Now let's suggest some possible applications for each order:

            • First Order: I must believe that my primary identity is as a citizen of God's kingdom, not the USA. This challenges the broader culture around me that finds identity in belonging to this world and one of its various subcultures
            • Second Order: Because the Christian life is a fight/struggle, I need to be more intentional in my efforts to grow spiritually. These efforts must be within the context of the body of Christ, for it is in fellowship with other believers that God gives me the strength to stand firm.
            • Third Order: Because persecution is a reality faced by my brothers and sisters in Christ around the world, we as a church should financially support Voice of the Martyrs.
            Hopefully these examples give you a clearer sense of what I mean by the different orders of application. Regardless of whether you are doing personal application or application for teaching/preaching, the emphasis should always be on first order, and only then move on to second or third order. You want your people to come away from the text saying, "That makes total sense. It's obvious that's what I should think, feel, believe or do."

            In our final post in this series, we will attempt to summarize the entire series into something that is manageable.