Two More New Features This Week.

Podcasts of Lecture Series. Once again, click on the menu page above entitled “An Invitation to the Journey of a Lifetime.” I’ve uploaded a pod cast of Lecture One, Part Two of the lecture series given at the Evangelical College of Theology, near Freetown, Sierra Leone, May 16-19, 2016.

“The ‘Many-Splendored’ Wisdom of God. Monday and Tuesday I have the privilege of doing the Tishomingo County Pastors School at the First United Methodist Church in Iuka, Mississippi. Our study is entitled “The ‘Many-Splendored’ Wisdom of God: Studies in Ephesians 1-6.” If you click on the Ephesians page above, you can download the note-taking guide for these studies. Pastors receive one CEU for participating.

Two New Features: “An Invitation to the Journey of a Lifetime” and “What is the Bible?”

Two new features for you to explore.

Podcasts of Lecture Series. Click on the new page in the menu above entitled “An Invitation to the Journey of a Lifetime.” That page is dedicated to a series of lectures given at the Evangelical College of Theology, near Freetown, Sierra Leone, May 16-19, 2016. You will find a description of the lectures and a podcast of Lecture One, Part One.

Video on the Bible. Click here to view the video, “What is the Bible?” on Youtube.

The “Fear of the Lord”—and One Night in Madina

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Madina House

We had our last class on 2 Corinthians tonight. It has been a good course—none of us wanted it to be over. The class has been delightfully small—three students have been physically present in the class room, and three have been present by Skype—one in south Mississippi, one in Spokane, Washington, and one in Mexico City. Tonight we were finishing our study of  2 Corinthians 5:11-21 in the Greek text. Paul begins this passage by saying, “Because we know the fear of the Lord, we persuade people.”

The “Fear of the Lord” is opposite the fear of evil. Some years ago we were living in the village of Medina—about 2,000 people—Sierra Leone, West Africa. One night well after dark there was a knock on the door. Several men from the regent chief were standing outside. They asked me to bring my little blue Mazda B1600 pickup to the chief’s house. When we were on our way they told me to turn off the head lights—because someone might see us. They loaded the sick regent chief into the back of the truck and we took him to another house. The pastor of the local church explained it to me the next day. They believed the chief’s sickness was caused by a witch. If they could move him secretly, the witch would not know where he was. The fear of curses and swears, of jealousy and malicious intent were a staple of life. From this fear Christ would set us free.

The “Fear of the Lord,” however, is our trepidation before infinite good. It is our accountability before the almighty Creator of the universe who himself is pure self-giving love without stain of evil. Who can truly behold the vast universe that He has created without trembling before the Maker.

Although the Cross through which God has redeemed us delivers us from condemnation, it does not diminish the “Fear of the Lord.” The work of redemption only intensifies our awe and trembling before a holy God. Sin is so horrible and God’s judgment on the sinner is so terrible that nothing less than the Cross was sufficient to remove its stain. Roberto Stevenson, one of the students in the class, suggested that “the Fear of the Lord” in 2 Corinthians 5:11 was actually the “Fear of Christ.” After all, Paul says in 5:10 that we must all appear before “the judgment seat of Christ.” Yes, you say, but the Cross also reveals the great love of God in Christ—look at 2 Corinthians 5:14-15. There “Christ died for all.”  It was there that God “made [Christ] who knew no sin to be sin for us” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Doesn’t the fact that the God of the universe would go to such lengths for our salvation add to our trembling? The wonder of what he has done—and the realization that to reject him is to also reject “such a great salvation.” No wonder Paul said, “Because we know the fear of the Lord, we persuade people” to receive God’s offer of reconciliation in Christ.  

Kamakwie Secondary School—“being given over to death for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:11, ESV)

In my last post I described what happened at Binkolo on our second night in Sierra Leone, September 3, 1969. It seemed that I was the one to whom other funny and embarrassing things happened over the next three years as Rosa and I completed our first term of missionary service. Maybe I’ll write about them another time. In this post, however, I’m not going to talk about the funny or the embarrassing, but about how the life of Jesus shines through our weakness and suffering.

In 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 (remember, I’m teaching 2 Corinthians this semester!) Paul uses the following words to describe his life as a minister of the New Covenant: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (ESV).

On September 4 we went up-country from Binkolo to Kamakwie (yes, for those not familiar with Sierra Leone, Kamakwie is more “up-country” than Binkolo—but not as many ants). For the next three years I was to be chaplain and Bible teacher (Bible Knowledge was a required subject) at Kamakwie Secondary School. I was straight out of seminary and so green that I made the grass look red, and I was the only missionary at the school. Those who had been there the previous year had either gone home or been transferred. There had been a big brouhaha (or, as we say in Sierra Leone, a “palaver”) that necessitated their untimely departure.

The school was in disarray. As far as I could tell that first year, there was no other committed Christian teacher for the 450 or so students in attendance. During the next two plus years the school was characterized by gross misuse of funds and by immorality of various kinds. I once found the boys in the boarding department drunk with wine given them by a respected person in town. At another time the walls of the senior prefect’s room were covered with porn given him by one of the school authorities. It appeared that everything was being done to intentionally corrupt the students. There was still tension among missionaries.

There was also anguish in our personal lives. During these years our first child died twenty-four hours after birth and Rosa all but died at the birth of our second. Throughout much of the last year I was suffering from recurrent intestinal cramps, fever, and chills, all the while endeavoring to stand as a witness for Christ in the midst of a godless mess. At one point my life was threatened and I have no doubt that at other times I was in physical danger. Although I had not been beaten five times with “forty-stripes save one” (2 Corinthians 11:24 KJV) as had Paul, I certainly felt “afflicted . . . perplexed . . . persecuted . . . struck down.” Yet, by the grace of God, “not destroyed.”

Paul thought his sufferings were necessary. He described them as “being given over to death for Jesus’ sake.” They were necessary “so that the life of Jesus also” might “be manifested in” his weak “mortal flesh” (2 Corinthians 4:11 ESV). And so it was at Kamakwie. By the time we left God had given us a strong Christian principle, several Christian teachers, and a youth center in town for the students. But the long term results were even more important. Many of the students to whom Rosa and I ministered during that time became strong Christians and leaders in the church—one became National Superintendent, another the Principal of The Evangelical College of Theology, and another the Principal of Gbendembu Wesleyan Bible College. We never know how, when we are faithful, the “life of Jesus” will shine through our human weakness.

September 3, 1969. Binkolo, Sierra Leone, West Africa.

The time has come for the truth to be told concerning the events that occurred at Binkolo, Sierra Leone, West Africa on the night of September 3, 1969. The preservation for posterity of a true account of that night is important for several reasons. First, the recounting of this story has often led to distortion. Various exaggerated apochryphal versions of legendary proportion have gained credibility. Second, the true account will establish the fact that I was an innocent victim of the embarrassing events that occurred that night. Furthermore, after more than forty-four years, Rosa and I are the only two surviving witnesses. Thus, with her by my side, I am endeavoring to write a true an accurate account, which will be of interest to all persons concerned with the history of the American Wesleyan Mission in Sierra Leone.

It is necessary for me to give you a certain amount of background information in order to put that infamous night in proper context. Rosa and I had been married on August 15 of that year. On the second of September we arrived in Sierra Leone for what would be my first three-year term of service. Rosa had already completed one three-year stint. We were met in Freetown by two respected single lady missionaries, Dr. Marilyn Birch and Miss Lois Sheridan (later Miss Lois Sheridan Ellis). We remember awaking the next morning in the mission rest house, affectionately known as Summer Hill Villa, and hearing some children outside saying, “they done come from the United States of America.”

After some business in Freetown, we headed up country arriving in Binkolo about 10:00 pm. Binkolo, as most of you know, was an old mission station. The house, with high ceilings, dark wood paneling, overhanging eves, and large shuttered screen windows, had often been enlarged. It had numerous rooms and a total of thirteen outside doors. At this time Marion and Marge Birch lived there. Marion was Mission Director. We were to spend the night with the Birches. Another single lady, Marie Lind, was also present. Marie was writing a history of the American Wesleyan Mission and the Sierra Leone Wesleyan Church.
Dr. Marily Birch (Marion’s sister), Lois Sheridan, Rosa, and I got out of our van and began walking toward the dark house. One or two feeble flashlights lit our pathway. The women, who were wearing skirts, began to complain of driver ant bites. As many of you know, driver ants march in columns. They do not inject a toxin, but their pinchers are very painful. I felt no driver ants.

The three women and I climbed the steps to the veranda and entered the living room of the house. Marge and Marie were there to welcome us. There was one small candle. Its feeble light disappeared in the shadowy recesses of the ceiling. The rest of this mysterious house was enveloped in darkness. The women were busy picking of the biting ants. Suddenly, I, too, began to feel the sharp bites. As I began to squirm, Dr. Marilyn Birch, in her quiet way, said, “The only thing you can do is drop your pants.” So, since the doctor had spoken, I loosened my belt and let my pants fall. Immediately, the four-foot florescent bulb overhead burst into light. Marion, Marge’s husband, was not there because he had slipped out to start the generator. There I stood with my pants down in front of five women—three of whom were single and one of whom was my wife of two weeks. You have heard of people rolling with laughter. Rosa was literally on the floor doubled up and shaking uncontrollably.

This event had numerous after effects. Once when I was telling it in Dr. Marilyn’s presence, she said softly, “Well, what else could you do but drop your pants?” When new people came to Sierra Leone they, too, first went through Binkolo. When they got to Kamakwie, they would often look at me with a wry smile and say something like, “So, are you the one . . .” Marion had already told his version of the story. Once several years after we had returned from Sierra Leone Carol Earl, who had served as a nurse at Kamakwie Hospital, asked me for a true account. There were many distortions. Some thought this embarrassing incident happened at Gbendembu or Kamakwie. What I have here written, however, is a true and faithful narrative. You now know how, at the very beginning of my missionary career, I was caught “with my pants down.”

“Let’s try one more time. Give me a push!”

“Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”  2 Corinthians 3:5-6 ESV

As we were working on 2 Corinthians 3:4-18 in class, we were struck by Paul’s clear sense that his sufficiency was not self-sufficiency. It was God-sufficiency. According to Paul’s own testimony in 2 Corinthians 3:5-6, God, and God alone, had made him sufficient as a minister of the New Covenant. How easy it is to attempt God’s work in our own strength—and ultimately, how futile.

When I taught at Kamakwie Secondary School in Sierra Leone, West Africa, one of my colleagues, Duane Steele, had a Honda 70 motor bike. As I remember, it was blue and white. Those Honda 70’s were a popular means of transport in the Africa of those days. I enjoyed riding it. One day he loaned it to me to ride over to the secondary school compound after school and visit with some of the students. After completing my business, I mounted the machine and kicked the kick starter. Nothing happened. I kicked it again. Nothing happened. I kicked until I had little kick left. What was the matter with this motor bike? So I enlisted some secondary school students to push me—my leg was tired, so we would push start it. They pushed me all over the school compound—the motor didn’t even sputter. Then I happened to look down. There was the key—in the switch, but not turned on! Somehow I distracted their attention long enough so that I could stealthily reach down and turn the key. Then I said, “Let’s try one more time. Give me a push.” And, of course, it started.   Sometimes we try to do God’s work by our own kicking and pushing— we have forgotten to turn on the switch. Even if we appear to have gotten things going, what we achieve will be futile in God’s sight.  

The “Big ONE”—in the New Testament, and in the Bible

Last week I was telling you about how I, as a new missionary, learned to communicate with the students at Kamakwie Secondary School. I remember the first night when I went over to meet some of the young men in the dormitory—although they were speaking English, I couldn’t even understand their names. I’ve told people that I was so green in those days that I made the grass look red!

Anyway, as I said last time, I learned that I could help them grasp the message of the Bible by focusing on the people of the Bible. The Old Testament was about Adam, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, etc. The New Testament was about Jesus and those who followed Him. We made banners for the New Testament books and hung them in the classroom. The Gospels gave us four pictures of this Jesus. Acts continued the story after his death, resurrection, and return to the Father. It told about what he, through the Holy Spirit, continued to do in his followers’ lives. The letters explained more about him and the Revelation looked forward to his second coming.

Last week we talked about the “Big Four” in the Old Testament—Abraham, Moses, David, and Solomon. The New Testament, however, is about the “Big One.”—Jesus. The “big four” lead us to the “Big One,” who is really the “Big One” in the whole Bible. Let’s look a little at how that happens.

Several years ago Rosa and I went through the Creation Museum near Cincinnati with our oldest grandson, Patrick, and with our dear missionary friends, Chuck and Ruth Pierson. How I remember walking from the hall of Creation to that of Chaos. In the hall of Chaos I saw such pictures of human misery. One felt the consequences of Adam’s sin—the awfully separation from God, the destruction of human harmony through selfish violence, and the disruption of humanity’s relationship with creation. The first eleven chapters of Genesis depict this situation so well.

The First of the “Big Four”—Abraham. But then God came to Abraham (Genesis 12), and promised to redeem humanity and restore fellowship with God, harmony among people, and enjoyment of creation. All of this through him and his family.

The Second of the “Big Four”—Moses. God used Moses, the second of the “big four,” to begin making this restoration a reality by delivering Abraham’s descendants from Egypt. This deliverance “with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm” (Deuteronomy 5:15 ESV) reestablished their fellowship with God. God confirmed his relationship with them at Sinai and constituted them as a people who would live in harmony under his covenant. Finally, God brought them into the land where they would again, if they were obedient, enjoy the blessings of creation. This was a genuine deliverance, but it was incomplete. Obedience led to a good life, but not eternal life. Their fellowship with God was real but limited. God’s promise did not yet extend to the whole world. Finally, God’s people, beginning right at Sinai (Exodus 32),continually turned away from God into sin.

The Third of the “Big Four”—David. According to 2 Samuel 7, God established King David and his house to “plant” his people. That is, David and his descendents were to direct the people so that they would live in obedience and enjoy the blessings of God’s covenant.

The Fourth of the “Big Four”—Solomon. Under Solomon, David’s son, the people experienced the height of God’s blessing. Solomon’s later reign, however, foreshadowed the history of disobedience that followed. More often than not, David’s children confirmed the people’s habit of disobedience—until the nation was carried away into exile. The prophets began to look forward to great David’s greater Son who would fulfill the mission of David’s house by truly delivering God’s people from their faithlessness.

The BIG ONE—This “Big One” would be the son of David, but He would also be the Son of God—“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”(which means “God with us”); “you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:23, 21 ESV).