I WAS FEELING overwhelmed.
I don’t think I’d ever been in such a crowded place before. Sure, I’d been in bigger cities, but never in a location where 950,000 plus people were poured together in this kind of a living, moving, elbow-to-elbow mass. Welcome to Arusha, Tanzania.
More than a few of the local residents greeted me that first morning and tried to sell me their wares. “Support me, please” they would plead. ”No thank you,” I would tell them. (What would I do with a Masai warriors dagger anyway?) Most are desperately trying to eke out some sort of a meager living. ”Living.” That’s a laugh. Perhaps I should say, “existence.” I worry about paying this month’s cell phone bill. Tanzanians worry about where their next meal is coming from.
I wasn’t looking for souvenirs anyway; I was looking for souls. Hungry souls. Correct that. A hungry soul. Singular. Period. One. In the tens of thousands that aimlessly wandered the streets of that burgeoning community, I was interested in finding someone who was looking beyond the day’s mundane pursuits. I wanted to find one individual who yearned for something more than “what shall we eat, or what shall we wear?”
Philip found one of those folks back in the New Testament. Oddly enough, he was an African too (cf. Acts 8). The man was riding in his chariot reading through Isaiah 53, but he needed help in interpreting the sacred text. The guy had a hungry spirit; he just needed a guide. He needed someone to help him interpret the ancient words. In His marvelous providence, God brought the hungry soul and the willing guide together.
That’s my daily prayer—whether I’m on foreign soil, or here back in Alabama—that the Father repeats that circumstance with me.
”Lead me to some soul today, oh teach me Lord just what to say. Friends of mine are lost in sin and cannot find their way. Few there are who seem to care, and few there are who pray. Melt my heart and fill my life. Give me one soul today.”
THIS WHOLE ESCAPADE always elicits mixed emotions within me.
On the one hand, I feel a tinge of embarrassment melded with aggravation. On the other hand, I often have to stifle a laugh.
My shoes and belt are taken as well as the contents of my pockets—at least for the moment. My slacks illustrate Sir Isaac Newton’s law, and I’m inevitably forced to hold them up with at least one hand in order to prevent certain humiliation. Total strangers give me the mandatory “run down” and then I’m wanded. Next comes the usual litany of pointed questions—“Did you pack your own bags?” “What is your purpose for travelling abroad?”
This particular trip had all of these expected elements plus an added bonus. It seems my photography backpack harbored some “suspicious” items. Vigilance demanded further investigation.
Airport security had just run my bag through the x-ray machine. “It’s my camera,” I said flatly, but the TV monitor prompted a more thorough look. The authorities ran my bag through the x-ray machine a second time. Then a third. Each time, the officers would huddle around the screen, frown, and then shake their heads in obvious disapproval. Finally, they pulled me aside as insisted that I open my bag. For a minute, I fully expected my camera to be glowing neon green from that triple dose of radiation it had absorbed.
I keep a coiled wire with a laptop lock in the bag. I intended to secure my computer when I was away from my room in Tanzania. Oddly enough, when I looked at the x-ray of the wire next to my camera batteries, it kind of looked like—dare I say it—like a miniature bomb. The airport security folks evidently thought the same thing. Since they tend to frown on bombs in luggage, they really gave me the third degree then. “Where are you from?” “What’s your mother’s maiden name?” “Who was your second grade Sunday school teacher?” “Do you floss every night before bed?” “Who won the World Series in ’56?” “What is the square root of 374?”
I began to unpack my camera bag and reveal its contents. TSA officials studied each item, but then finally returned my bag and allowed me to pass on through. Whew.
When I arrived in Tanzania some 28 hours later, I discovered that security had also gone through my checked bag, because I found this note enclosed:
NOTICE OF BAGGAGE INSPECTION
To protect you and your fellow passengers, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is required by law to inspect all checked baggage. As part of this process, some bags are opened and physically inspected. Your bag was among those selected for physical inspection. During the inspection, your bag and its contents may have been searched for prohibited items. At the completion of the inspection, the contents were returned to your bag.
At first this whole process seemed unnecessary and intrusive. “Why must someone pour over my personal items? Good grief, Charlie Brown! I’m not some radical terrorist; I’m a just a gospel preacher! I pay my taxes and try to drive the speed limit.” Probably the most radical thing I’ve ever done is sneak out of Farrow dormitory late one Friday night when I was a senior at Freed-Hardeman to buy a couple of barbeque sandwiches.
Rifling through my personal belongings was offensive to me. From my perspective, it said that I might not be what I appear to be. I could be some subversive with violent intentions.
But I endured this whole episode for one reason. Safety. Read that word again slowly—S A F E T Y. 911 was a rude wake up call for America. It reminded us as a nation us that not everybody shares our political, moral, and religious convictions. It screamed at us to rethink the whole policy of air-travel security.
I wish some of my brethren could appreciate the significance of this truth. Many elderships welcome newcomers to a congregation’s fellowship without so much as a question as to their marital background, their beliefs, or their religious convictions. In essence, they say, “Ya’ll come…! We trust you…” They refrain from asking personal questions in this day of political correctness because it is viewed as being too invasive. “You can’t ask folks questions anymore,” we’re told. “They might get upset and not come back.”
Then one day, some doctrinal bomb explodes within the local church. Ka-boom! Dozens are wounded, while others are dazed and hurting. The body is divided, bloodied, and splintered. It is a terrorist attack (Mat. 7:15-20; Gal. 2:4; 2 Pet. 2).
Tragically the whole frightful episode might have been prevented had the shepherds taken the time to “go through the bags” as it were of potential new members. “Can you tell us about yourselves?” “Where did you worship before you moved here?” “When, and for what reason, were you baptized?” “Could you tell us briefly about your marital status?”
False doctrine isn’t introduced into a congregation all at one time, brethren. That’s too obvious. Cunning terrorists know that and they how to smuggle stuff piecemeal—just a little bit at a time. A statement here, a devotional there, a couple of phone conversations there, a sharing of some liberal blog, etc. They bring in heresy in something as innocuous as a preacher’s camera bag.
Had the elders introduced themselves and created a loving, safe, but firm environment to talk to new members about their moral, doctrinal and practical ideas, they might have prevented the disaster all together. Division could have been averted.
When my family first considered worshipping with one congregation in Indiana years ago, one of the shepherds invited me out to lunch. He created a safe atmosphere to ask questions and to inquire about what my family taught, believed and practiced. He spoke on behalf of the eldership at large and welcomed us to the congregation with the understanding that error in any form would not be tolerated.
At the time I felt a little peeved. “This wasn’t necessary,” I thought. “Why did he have to go through my luggage?” “We’re good, faithful folk…”
In retrospect, I look back now and recognize why the shepherds took this step. They wanted to impress upon the Benson family what they would, and would not tolerate. They wanted to communicate their stance on unity (Eph. 4) and harmony within the congregation. They understood their role as overseers of the local church (Acts 20:28ff), and they were determined to protect the body of Christ from attacks without and within.
Good shepherds do that (1 Thess. 5:20-21; 1 John 4:1ff). They ask you to take your shoes off. They check your luggage, as it were. They gently probe for answers.
Elders, are you asking questions? Are you active in protecting the flock over which you shepherd? Do you take the time to introduce yourselves to new sheep? Do you ask questions in a non-threatening environment, in a loving way, to communicate your concern for the precious body of Christ?
Christian, the next time you’re considering placing membership with a congregation, don’t be too upset if the church leaders ask some questions about you and your loved ones. They love your soul and the souls of those with whom you hope to worship. They’re not trying to be busybodies; they just love the Bride and want to keep her pure and free from injury.
OKAY—IT’S NOT exactly a curse word, but we sometimes treat it like one in the church.
Christians try not to say it, hear it, think about it, much less experience it.
No, it’s not a dirty word in an immoral sense, but it certainly is a term we’d rather not articulate—for to do so is to tacitly admit that it exists.
“What is it?” you ask?
Oh sure, we can rubber neck in awesome wonder at the suffering in other people’s lives, but we don’t want any part of it in our own.
“Whew, I’m glad that’s not happening to me!”
It’s like the old line from a comedy I watched on TV years ago, “I don’t like pain! It hurts me!”
Well, of course it hurts—that’s the nature of suffering, that why it’s called suffering and not pleasure.
Ironically, suffering is not only an inexorable part of the Christian walk (1 Pet. 4:16), it has certain redemptive elements about it too (2 Cor. 4:17; Heb. 12:11).
Study the following passages:
1. “For to this you were called, because Christ also SUFFERED for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps” (1 Pet. 2:21).
“Since the disciple is not above his master, nor the servant about his lord, suffering was to be expected. Two ideas are here advanced: (1) Christ suffered; hence, you, His servants, must likewise suffer; (2) in suffering the Lord left us an example for His disciples to imitate in enduring similar trials.”1
2. “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to SUFFER for His sake” (Phil.1:29).
“Since Christ suffered for us, we are called to suffer for Him. Paul wanted to share in Christ’s sufferings so that he might identify more with his Savior (3:10). Whenever we suffer for Christ, our faith has the potential of being strengthened. Such refinement and tempering will make us more fit for heaven (Jas. 1:2-4; 1 Pet. 1:7). We are also more prepared to offer comfort to those who experience similar trials.”2
2. “And if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we SUFFER with Him, that we may also be glorified together” (Rom. 8:17).
“This specifies a particular condition for heirship, namely, the same one that applied to Jesus: first suffering, then glory. Jesus necessarily followed this path (Luke 24:26; Phil. 2:6-11; Heb. 2:1; 12:2). If we want to be co-heirs with Him, we must be willing to accept this same sequence, since participation in Christ’s glory can come only through participation in His sufferings.”3
4. “And our hope for you is steadfast, because we know that as you are partakers of the SUFFERINGS, so also you will partake of the consolation” (2 Cor. 1:7).
“All sufferings received in the service of Christ are also certain to receive the comfort of Christ, the sufferings and the comfort being inseparably linked together (cf. Rom. 8:17; 2 Tim. 2:12).”4
Notice that in the aforementioned passages suffering is not only a given, but from a divine perspective, it is meant to bring us closer to Christ.
When you think about it, “suffering” really isn’t a dirty word after all. Rather, it is a special term of endearment which reminds us of the means by which we are brought closer to the risen Lord.
1 Guy N. Woods, A Commentary on the New Testament Epistles of Peter, John, and Jude, 78
2 David Stewart, A Commentary on Philippians, 242
3 Jack Cottrell, The College Press NIV Commentary on Romans, Vol. 1, 485
4 James Burton Coffman, First & Second Corinthians, 306
PERMIT ME TO substantiate my claim.
No, this is not an attack on the inerrancy of Scripture, nor is it yet another feeble attempt at recasting the literal language of Genesis into figurative.
However, there is a sense in which the first book of the Bible is full of lies.
The Old Testament records a significant incident in Eden’s garden.
The devil, in the form of a serpent, approached mother Eve and inquired, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden?'”
His goal was not to learn what the Almighty had actually said, but to prepare the woman’s heart for deception.
Eve replied that both she and her husband enjoyed the God-given liberty to eat from any and all trees within the garden (Genesis 2:16-17; 3:3), save one — the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
She noted that eating and touching the fruit from this particular tree would incur the judgment of God and result in the couple’s death.
“Not so!” said the devil. “You will not surely die. For God know that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God” (Genesis 3:4).
In essence, the specter of death was simply an intimidation tactic employed by God to dissuade Adam and Eve from becoming like deity themselves.
According to the old serpent (Revelation 12:9; 20:2), Jehovah dangled punishment over the first couple to keep their ambition in check.
Death was God’s lie; it was an empty threat fostered upon man and woman in order to rob them of divinity and omniscience.
One commentator observes:
“Having led Eve first to question God’s authority and goodness and them both to augment and dilute His Word, Satan now was ready for the ‘kill.’ “Ye shall surely not die.’ The fact that God had warned Adam, and Adam told Eve, that eating the fruit of this tree would result in death, was beside the point. That warning, Satan suggested, was merely because God’s fear that they would learn too much. Not content merely with altering God’s Word, Satan now blatantly denied it, calling God a liar” (Morris, “The Fall of Man,” The Genesis Record, Baker, 111).
I find it striking that Genesis opens with the devil’s deception.
“He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it” (John 8:44).
He accused God of the very thing he was guilty of himself (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:3)!
Yes, Genesis, in a sense, is full of lies and serves to remind us that man is perhaps most like the devil when he says that which does not correspond to truth (cf. 2 Peter 2:1; Revelation 2:2).
Jesus hates lies.
“Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitians, which thing I hate” Revelation 2:15; cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12).
I suggest that we ought to be more like Him (John 14:6).
He was Rabonni. Master. Teacher.
He taught his students in terms of the spiritual despite the fact that their preconceptions kept them hearing, more often than not, in terms of the physical. They were looking to overthrow the Emperor of Rome; He was looking to overthrow the Prince of the power of the air,
Now imagine if Jesus had begun his very first Bible class with the twelve following introduction:
“Men,” he says, “Big changes are on the horizon. Judaism and the old Mosaic regime is about to come to a close. The Ten Commandments will no longer be in effect. Animal sacrifices will cease. Circumcision of the flesh will be a thing of the past. There will be no more High Priesthood – at least, not as you know it now. The Sabbath, with all of its fleshly ordinances, will be brought to an end. Regulations that your families have kept for generations will be made obsolete. What was once unclean will now be considered clean…”
How do you suppose Peter, James, John and their fellow-classmates would have responded to that kind of information?
Of course, these statements were correct (Romans 7:2, 6; Ephesians 2:14-15; Colossians 2:14ff; Hebrews 8-10), but it’s obvious they wouldn’t have been in any way prepared for them. Yes, the law was for Israel only (Deuteronomy 4:7-8), yes, the law constituted a temporary system (Jeremiah 31:31-32), yes, the law was about to become obsolete (Hebrews 8:13), and a new and better was about to be established; but none of these twelve freshmen were mature enough to stomach that kind of doctrinal meat – at least not yet.
Jesus knew that – and that’s why He waited; He did not tell them what they were not ready to hear. “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now” (John 16:12).
Christian teachers need to remember this important principle today. Typically folks have to get the hang of addition, subtraction and division before they wrestle with algebra, geometry and physics. They learn the basics and fundamentals first, then they are incrementally challenged with higher mathematics.
What is true in the realm of academics also ought to be true in matters pertaining to the Faith. Typically people need to learn the difference between the Law of Moses and the Law of Christ before they’re told that instruments of music in worship are sinful. It’s not that instrumental music is an inconsequential matter and shouldn’t be addressed (Colossians 3:16-17); it’s a matter of readiness and timing.
When we fail to prepare the heart – soil of our peers, try simply to win doctrinal arguments, and/or show others just how much (or little) we know about the Bible, more often than not, we shut out the very souls we were meant to convert. When we force information upon them when they’re not ready to hear it, we’re simply scattering the Seed-Word on blacktop.
It’s not that our friends will never accept the truth at some point in the future; it’s that they usually aren’t ready at Bible study #1 for deeper concepts of doctrine. It’s addition – then algebra, Testament – then worship, milk – then meat (cf. Hebrews 5:12ff).
Jesus, the Master Teacher, knew that. He prepared the hearts of his students for the reception of important truths. He reiterated ideas. He gave little tests. He spoke in figures and parables. He planted little seeds of faith, water them, fertilized them and then he waited for growth and maturity.
Christian teachers and evangelists would do well to remember his example.