Friday, April 26, 2013

7 Reasons Evangelicals Must Return to the Gospels

by nmcdonal

Evangelicals are a didactic, analytical crowd. We love it when our preacher cuts up an epistle into bite-sized chunks, extracts the flavor, and serves it a la carte on a platter each Sunday. Logic, reason, argument; we readily bite the bit for these appetizing delights.

But in his book “Reading the Gospels Wisely” Dr. Jonathon T. Pennington argues that Evangelicals, in their obsession with the Epistles, have missed the meat of the Word of God. The gospels, he argues, are the main course of the Bible, and if we miss preaching through the gospels regularly, we haven’t given our congregants a balanced diet. Here are Pennington’s reasons – he originally gives nine, but I’ll reduce them to 7:

1. The Gospels Take Center Stage in Church History. From the earliest accounts we have of the church, it is clear that these ancient disciples prized the four gospels so highly that they were read in every church service. This is still tradition in Catholic circles. While this isn’t an exegetical argument, it ought to make us raise our eyebrows – why did the earliest disciples value the four gospels so highly, but we modern Evangelicals only get around to them once in a while?

2. The Gospels Fill in the Epistle’s Blanks. The fact that Paul does not repeat much of the gospels (though clearly alludes to them throughout every letter) has been perplexing for some. Why doesn’t Paul seem to be saying the same things as Jesus? The answer is this: Paul assumed that the knowledge of the gospels were already deeply ingrained into the lifeblood of the churches. The lack of repetition and many clear allusions tell us that Paul’s epistles, in reality, don’t make sense without the gospels, for they assume a deep, clear knowledge of them already in his writing.

3. The Gospels Were the Language of the Early Church. Although the gospels were written after the Epistles, the gospels were spoken and carried throughout the ends of the earth before the Epistles. In other words, the four gospels were the first New Testament Scriptures; these words, memorized by the apostles and handed down, were what would have been on their lips as they taught in Philippi, Ephesus, Rome, Etc. The oral tradition of the gospels built the foundation for the written epistles.

4. The Gospels Clearly Plug the New Testament into the Old. Simply put, the Gospels are the clearest bookends of the Old Testament. They most clearly connect the redemptive themes and purposes of the Old Testament with the life of Jesus. While this knowledge is assumed and built upon the Epistles, nowhere is it more obvious and up front than in the teachings of Jesus, as he comes to explicitly fulfill the role of the coming Messiah in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. If we would understand our Old Testament, we must unlock them with the keys of the gospels.

5. The Gospels Paint a Picture of the Kingdom. The theme of the kingdom is crucial to understanding the full scope of the gospel. The coming kingdom is fleshed out in full between the four gospel witnesses, and is largely assumed in the Epistles. Without the foundational knowledge of Jesus’ coming fulfillment of the kingdom, we tend to end up with a gospel stripped of its story – “We are sinners, Jesus died for us, we can now have eternal life.” This is such a bare-bones sketch of the true nature of Jesus’ ministry, it’s more like a half-gospel. If we want to understand the true nature of Jesus’ redemptive work, we must get back to the gospels.

6. The Gospels Clothe the Epistle’s Truths. While the Epistles have many solid, bare-boned, practical tips for daily living, these admonitions only assume and reference the more full-bodied teaching of Jesus. There is a difference between “we are justified in Christ” and the parable of the justified tax-collector. There is a difference between “love one another” and Jesus’ washing of the disciple’s feet. The gospels put clothes on the teachings of the Epistles, and help us to understand the teachings of the Apostles in all their fullness and richness. The gospels most fully address us as human beings – our imaginations, sensations, emotions, and eyes – in a way the Epistles do not attempt. Rather, the Epistles constantly point us back to Jesus, the Author and Perfector of our Faith, to fully grasp what it means to be a disciple.

7. The Gospels Allow Us to Experience Jesus. Finally, the gospels help us experience Jesus. We can learn much about Jesus from the Epistles and the Old Testament. But we cannot know Jesus through these two mediums in the same way as through his life. Disciples are imitators, followers, intimate allies. If we do not know the Jesus of the gospels, then we do not know Jesus in the full, rich, life-giving way God intended for us through the precious, four-fold gift He’s given us through these four witnesses.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Pray For Missionaries: Seven Prayer tools from the Apostle Paul

1.  Pray for Open Doors
“Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned…” (Colossians 4:2-3, nasb).

Open doors can’t be taken for granted.  Many missionaries work in difficult-access countries or in areas that are resistant to the Gospel.  But “open doors” include more than access to nations and people groups.  Individuals’ hearts also need to be opened and receptive to God’s truth.

·   Pray that God will open doors of ministry, blessing partnerships and friendships.
·   Pray that those who serve will be lead by the Holy Spirit and recognize open-door opportunities.
·   Pray that God will lead His people past the barriers to hearts prepared to receive His Word.

2.  Pray for Boldness in Witness
“…and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel…” (Ephesians 6:19, nasb). 

Missionaries are regular people who fear pain and rejection as much as anyone else.  When faced with opposition, they need God’s strength to help them stand firm.

·   Pray that missionaries will have boldness to overcome the fear of embarrassment or failure.
·   Pray that the Spirit will provide them with words that communicate effectively in other cultures and languages.
·   Pray that God will thwart the opposition of evil forces so the mystery of the Gospel can be known.

3.  Pray that God’s Word Will Spread
“Finally, brethren, pray for us that the word of the Lord will spread rapidly and be glorified, just as it did also with you…” (2 Thes. 3:1, nasb)

Obstacles must be removed to allow God’s Word to spread rapidly and freely.  Removing obstacles implies resolute resistance in spiritual warfare.  Just as Aaron and Hur supported Moses’ arms in the battle against the Amalekites (Exodus 17:12), you can support the weary arms of missionaries through your prayers.

·   Pray for strength and stamina as missionaries encounter antagonistic spiritual forces. (Ephesians 6:10-18)
·   Pray that Satan, who is determined to obstruct the spread of the Gospel, will be resisted. (James 4:7)
·   Pray that God’s Word will be indeed spread rapidly and be honored wherever it goes.

4.  Pray for protection
“…and that we will be rescued from perverse and evil men; for not all have faith”(2 Thessalonians 3:2, nasb).
Open doors in difficult-access countries may also open the possibility of danger and personal harm for missionaries who enter those areas.  People resistant to the Gospel sometimes express their resistance in direct and harmful ways. 

-Pray that God will keep the Christian workers safe from those who might seek to harm them.     
-Pray that God will change the hearts of those who are resistant to His word and to people who share the Gospel.

5.  Pray for Their Ministry
“…that I may be rescued from those who are disobedient in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints…” (Romans 15:31, nasb).

Cooperation and partnership are essential to ministry and vital to the progress of the work.

·   Pray that the missionary’s ministry and attitude will be worthy of acceptance.
·   Pray that colleagues and fellow believers will be supportive.

6.  Pray for God’s Guidance
“…so that I may come to you in joy by the will of God” (Romans 15:32, nasb).
Many missionaries travel frequently both nationally and internationally.  Their mode of transportation varies from country to country and often involves stressful situations.
·   Pray for clear guidance from God regarding travel decisions.
·   Pray for protection during their travels.
·   Pray for adequate provisions and permission to travel where it’s necessary.

7.  Pray for Refreshment
“…and find refreshing rest in your company” (Romans 15:32, nasb).

Missionaries deal with many of the same stresses you face in life, like overwhelming workloads, conflicts in relationships and financial uncertainties.  Often, however, missionaries struggle with these issues alone, without the fellowship and support of other Christians.  Living and working cross-culturally adds an additional element that can deplete their emotional, spiritual and physical vitality.

·   Pray that God will provide opportunities for missionaries in remote or difficult areas to spend time with other believers.
·   Pray that God will provide times of peace and relaxation to refresh His workers.
·   Pray that God will encourage missionaries with the knowledge that people back home care about them.

Partners in prayer
The apostle Paul was a missionary and a man of prayer.  He prayed for those without Christ, for the believers and for the new churches established under his ministry.

Paul also asked the believers to pray for him:  “Now I urge you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me…” (Romans 15:30, nasb).

 Paul knew prayer would bring results:
“…you also joining in helping us through your prayers, so that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed on us through the prayers of many…” 
(2 Corinthians 1:11, nasb).

In his letters, Paul gave specific prayer requests for which believers should pray.  As a prayer partner with those who are called to go, you, too, will have an impact that can reach around the world.  Paul’s prayer requests can serve as a tool for praying with effectiveness and understanding. (adapted by Doug Nichols from article by SIL)


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Do More Laws Help?

In meetings and interaction with many of God's people in Canada and the US, you can get a sense of the feelings and thoughts of many:

Do more laws and higher taxes help especially when our leaders spend tax payer funds foolishly and extravagantly?

When leaders make immigration a hot political issue but do not simply enforce laws already in existence.

When the same officials call for more gun laws but do not enforce laws already made.

It is the same in Christian circles, for example most liberal churches have excellent statements of doctrine and beliefs of faith but do not now follow.

There are previously effective ministries/organizations/missions who have excellent guidelines of conduct and policies of ministry and advancement but even the leaders do not follow as they are now in authority and do what they want.

"A man who wonders from the way of understanding will rest in the assembly of the wayward."(Proverbs 21:16).

Monday, April 22, 2013

Volunteers Rise Up!

by Doug Nichols

O volunteer, rise up and make a difference to the glory of God and His gospel to the nations!

In your local church you can be a volunteer global missions advocate. Form a team to recruit young and older to study the needs of the world, to pray, collect bibles, commentaries (for over 3.2 million needy untrained pastors worldwide), children's books and vacation bible school material (for the 143 million orphans worldwide), relief and ministry items. Send to needy ministries and missions worldwide. Arrange for missionaries to speak in your church in the worship service and in all Sunday School and Bible class.

Why not? If you and others in the evangelical churches in Canada and the US, there would be over 300,000 volunteers! 

Would this number make a difference? Even if you were the only one, this would be a huge impact for the gospel! 

"...always abounding in the work of the Lord..." (1 Corinthians 15:58). "God will be exalted among the nations ." (Psalm 46:10)

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Escaped Through Burma (Myanmar)

Recently we had a Chinese couple in our home, who reside in Canada, and run their own successful restaurant.  They escaped from China over thirteen years ago through Burma walking for 24 hours through the jungle to Burma and then to Thailand.  The UN considered them refugees and they were able to immigrate to Canada.  They are now Canadian citizens, and he running for town council in their small town.

They came to faith in Christ through difficulties, mainly watching their relatives suffer for Christ under the Communist regime. 

They interviewed Dad (Walter) Jespersen concerning his ministry and life in China and where Margaret was raised until she was 6. 

They are presently involved with the underground church and various ministries that help the poor church and its physical and spiritual needs.

Suffering Leads to Christ.

It is amazing as we heard their testimony how much the grace of God led them to the Savior by watching the suffering of others and also their own suffering.  It was the fear of the jungle that caused the young man to look to God and to call out Him and His mercy.

Later, he came to faith in Christ while suffering in Thailand.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

FactChecker: Misquoting Francis of Assisi

by Glenn T. Stanton
Note: FactChecker is a new monthly series in which Glenn T. Stanton examines claims, myths, and misunderstandings frequently heard in evangelical circles.

Christians use lots of quotes. Pastors use them in their sermons constantly. Writers illustrate their points with them. Nothing wrong with that. They are quite helpful and encouraging in making a point.
Save when the quote has no basis in fact.

We as evangelicals who claim we are committed to truth are certainly good at spreading falsehood, even if unintentionally. We can do better.

One very clever and popular quote we often knock around among ourselves is . . .

Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.

It is always attributed to St. Francis of Assisi---founder of the Franciscan Order---and is intended to say that proclaiming the Gospel by example is more virtuous than actually proclaiming with voice. It is a quote that has often rankled me because it seems to create a useless dichotomy between speech and action. Besides, the spirit behind it can be a little arrogant, intimating that those who "practice the Gospel" are more faithful to the faith than those who preach it.

But here's the fact: Our good Francis never said such a thing.

None of his disciples, early or later biographers have these words coming from his mouth. It doesn't show up in any of his writings. Not even close really. The closest comes from his Rule of 1221, Chapter XII on how the Franciscans should practice their preaching:

No brother should preach contrary to the form and regulations of the holy Church nor unless he has been permitted by his minister . . . All the Friars . . . should preach by their deeds.

Essentially, make sure your deeds match your words. While there's a nice and good sentiment in the statement---be sure you live out the grace and truth of the Gospel---the notion as it is typically presented is neither practical, nor faithful to the Gospel of Christ. It does not align with St. Francis' own practice.
His first biographer, Thomas of Celeno, writing just three years after Francis' death, quotes him instructing his co-workers in the Gospel thusly,

The preacher must first draw from secret prayers what he will later pour out in holy sermons; he must first grow hot within before he speaks words that are in themselves cold.

Mark Galli, senior managing editor at Christianity Today, wrote a wonderful little book on Francis as well as a clarifying brief article on the myth of this quote. He explains that Francis was quite a preacher, actually more along the lines of Jonathan Edwards or Billy Sunday than most of those who misquote him would like to think. Galli quotes Thomas' biography,

His words were neither hollow nor ridiculous, but filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, penetrating the marrow of the heart, so that listeners were turned to great amazement.

Our man clearly spent a great deal of time using his words when he preached, "sometimes preaching in up to five villages a day, often outdoors. In the country, Francis often spoke from a bale of straw or a granary doorway. In town, he would climb on a box or up steps in a public building. He preached to . . . any who gathered to hear the strange but fiery little preacher from Assisi." He was sometimes so animated and passionate in his delivery that "his feet moved as if he were dancing."

Duane Liftin, president emeritus of Wheaton College, recently addressed the trouble with this preach/practice dichotomy in an important article. Of preaching the Gospel in deed, he explains,
It's simply impossible to preach the Gospel without words. The Gospel is inherently verbal, and preaching the Gospel is inherently verbal behavior.

And the "deed" proclamation of the Gospel is not biblical either. Paul asks the Church at Rome (Romans 10:14):

How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?

So next time you hear one of your brothers or sisters in Christ use this quote to encourage or challenge you in your labors for our faith, gently guide them from the land of misinformation and make believe into truth.
Glenn T. Stanton is the director of family formation studies at Focus on the Family and the author of five books on various aspects of the family, including his two most recent, Secure Daughters Confident Sons, How Parents Guide Their Children into Authentic Masculinity and Femininity (Waterbrook, 2011), and The Ring Makes All the Difference: The Hidden Consequences of Cohabitation and the Strong Benefits of Marriage (Moody, 2011).

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Walter Jespersen Reaches Century Mark

by Andrea Johnson
       It is profitable to learn from those who have known Jesus Christ and relied on Him for everything in this life and the next. Walter Jespersen lives with eternity in mind and has spent his life making Jesus known throughout the world. His is an ordinary life made extraordinary because of faithful obedience and trust in an amazing God!

Walter was born March 12, 1913, on the family farm in Stony Plain, Alberta. His parents not only taught him the value of hard work and perseverance, but also brought him up to know the Lord. At age 18, Walter surrendered to the lordship of Christ. His life was forever changed. He enrolled in Prairie Bible Institute and developed a vision and passion for China and the need for Chinese people to hear the gospel. 

In 1936 Walter boarded a ship bound for China and missionary service with China Inland Mission. He spent several years in language and cultural studies, learning both Mandarin and Tibetan, as he prepared to move to Mowkung, a remote village on the Tibetan border. Walter worked in Mowkung for three years, doing evangelism and medical work. In 1942 he married Helen Cope, a missionary from the United States whom he had met during a trek over the Himalayas. The newlyweds settled in Pengshan where they helped a local church, ran a mission home in Chengtu, and spent summers in the mountains caring for missionary children. 

The couple’s first two children were born while Walter and Helen were on an extended furlough in Canada. During this time China was in turmoil. Still reeling from the devastation of World War II, China’s government fell to Communism. Chaos, destruction, and lawlessness followed. 

When the Jespersens returned to China in 1947, their new assignment took them further inland to work with a church in Suyung. The church thrived with children’s ministry, prison outreach, and English Bible studies for two years before the area felt the effects of Communism. In November 1949 the Red Army stole into the city through a breach in the wall next to the Jespersens’ house. The situation changed drastically as terror, intimidation, and spying replaced trust and openness among the people. It became harder for Chinese Christians to be associated with the missionaries. Eventually the Jespersen family was placed under house arrest and soldiers moved into their home. Two more children were added during these tense years. God’s Word and presence continued to be the anchor of their souls.

On Christmas Day 1951, a long-awaited exit permit was granted and the family set off across China to freedom. When Walter and Helen returned to North America, God opened a new assignment for them as Northwest Representatives for Overseas Missionary Fellowship, the former China Inland Mission. They settled in Seattle and began representing the mission in churches, at Bible schools, and at missions conferences. The Jespersens also hosted missionaries, held prayer meetings, conducted youth retreats, and taught Bible classes. 

Helen battled cancer for years before graduating to her heavenly home in July 1988. Walter continues faithfully sharing his love for Jesus with everyone he meets and challenges people with their need for a Saviour. He lives daily with the anticipation of meeting the One he loves and serves as he continually reminds people that “the best is yet to come.” He is a great example of an ordinary life made extraordinary because of faithful obedience to the Lord.

Walter was the first Chairman of the Board of Action International Ministries (ACTION USA).  He continues to be a Trustee emeritus and the Chaplain of the ACTION Board.  Walter’s son-in-law, Doug Nichols, is the Founder & International Director emeritus of ACTION, and another son-in-law, L. Nelson Reed, is the current International Director.
Sources: Walter Jespersen, the Making of a Godly Man, One Ordinary Life Made Extraordinary by Linda Reed, daughter of Walter and Helen, and Under His Wings by Agnes Lawless