“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).

The Big FOUR–in the Old Testament

Teaching my Sunday school class today took my mind back to Sierra Leone and to September 4, 1969. Rosa and I had just arrived in Kamakwie, Sierra Leone, West Africa, where I was to be chaplain and Bible teacher at Kamakwie Secondary School (see the picture in my last blog). We had been married on August 15 and I had been ordained to the ministry on August 17. Then, on September 2, we arrived in Freetown for a three-year term of missionary service. For the first three to four weeks of that school term the students learned nothing in Bible class. I mean this literally—none of the students learned anything! The Sierra Leonean proverb runs: “If every tree you climb has ants on it, check your own pants.” The fault was obviously mine—I spoke too quickly in American English and used educational methods foreign to their background. What was I going to do? I either had to find a way to communicate with these kids—or, go back to America!

There were many facets in my adaptation to Sierra Leonean ways that enabled me, with God’s help, to become a successful secondary school teacher. One thing I did was to focus on the persons of the Biblical story. What was the difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament? Why, the Old Testament was about Adam, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, Solomon, and the prophets. The New Testament was about Jesus and the people who followed Him. Many of the students were already familiar with several of these names either through Bible stories taught in primary school or through Muslim teaching that recognized some of these same people.

Today in my Sunday school class I discovered that Biblical names could help adult Americans as well as teenage Sierra Leoneans. Our lesson was on God’s promising David that he would establish his sons as his “house” who would rule after him. You can find it in 2 Samuel 7. I wanted to put David in Biblical perspective. So I asked the class, “After Adam, who are the ‘big four’ in the Old Testament?” Abraham, Moses, and David were clear answers. The class was ambivalent about number four. I argued for Solomon—Abraham, Moses, David, and Solomon.

The next question was, “How are these four related?” “How does the Biblical story tie them together?” “What role does each play?” We talked about Abraham, Moses, and David today. Solomon as the beginning of David’s house is going to get our attention next week—when we look at Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew 1. The relationship of these three—Abraham, Moses, David—is integral to the Biblical story. In Adam humanity rebelled and was separated from God. The three relationships that made up God’s plan of blessing for human beings was ruptured—fellowship with God, harmonious fellowship among people, and responsible enjoyment of the world. When God called Abraham, he promised him that through Abraham’s family God would bless the world by restoring those very three relationships. Then, by delivering his people from Egypt under Moses, God began to fulfill his promise to Abraham. God’s people, however, refused to live in harmony under God’s laws, so they began to suffer. God made David king with the purpose that he, and his descendents, would overcome the people’s rebellion by leading them in faithful obedience. Then I realized that what I was teaching my class paralleled Christian Faith in the Old Testament: the Bible of the Apostles, my book just released by Thomas Nelson last month. Chapter one covers Adam; chapter two, Abraham; chapters three and four, Moses; chapters five and six, David and Solomon.

What do you think? I’d like to hear about your experience. Have you used Biblical persons as a way to tie the whole Bible together? Next Time: I hope to expand on this subject in next week’s blog.

Here, again, is an endorsement for Christian Faith in the Old Testament.
“As a pastor, Christian Faith in the Old Testament: the Bible of the Apostles really connects with me. I will use this well-written and informative book often in my reading, preaching, and teaching. In addition, I will encourage my congregation to read it! Dr. Cockerill helps everyone to grasp the wholeness of Scripture and provides aids to help us live an obedient life that reflects the full-scope of the Bible’s teaching.”
Steve Schellin
Senior Pastor, Southland Community Church
Greenwood, Indiana

One night—a Sermon, a Mosque, and a Cross (2 Corinthians 4:5).

Image

A picture taken at Kamakwie Secondary School in 2002. The Principal, Mr. Hemo Brima, on the left.

Scripture Union camp was a spiritual highlight for secondary school students in Sierra Leone, West Africa. As chaplain and Bible teacher at Kamakwie Secondary School, it was my delightful privilege to participate in these camps. I am thinking particularly of a camp held at the Secondary School for Girls near Magburaka. It was always the custom at these camps to spend one night in village evangelism. We had walked to a nearby village. The young man who was to preach the gospel that night stood facing one of the houses. Fifty or sixty feet separated him from the house. The congregation was gathered in those fifty-sixty feet and on the houses’ veranda. I was sitting as inconspicuously as possible in a back corner on a side-wall in the shadows. A small Mosque was located next to this house. At the hour of evening prayer a half-dozen or so men entered this Mosque and began to pray. The Mosque’s hurricane lantern cast their shadows where I could see them as the men bowed to the ground and then again stood. With one ear I listened to the rhythm of these Arabic prayers, with the other, to the passionate proclamation of the Gospel of Christ. The difference was striking. 2 Corinthians 4:5 makes one aspect of this difference clear: “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (ESV). A “Muslim” is one who is a servant or slave of God. We, however, who follow Jesus, are not simply called to be God’s servants or Christ’s servants, but servants of others for Jesus’ sake! We follow the one who said, “I am among you as the one who serves” (Luke 22:27 ESV); “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14 ESV); and “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  (Mark 10:45 ESV, cf. Matthew 20:28). And then he proved it by going to the Cross!

 

 

Praying to “the Father of Mercies and God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:11)

My wife Rosa had a dangerous, life-threatening delivery with our oldest daughter. We were in Sierra Leone. Although I was in the operating room, the attending lady physician, a colleague and close friend, would not look me in the face—her face was pale and her lips were tightly pursed. God told a godly African woman, known as a prayer warrior, to go and pray when she heard Mrs. Cockerill was in labor. God answered that prayer, and we have been thankful ever since. Some mission boards require missionaries to have several hundred prayer partners before they can go to their place of service. God invites us in Scripture to pray for our needs, for the needs of others, and especially for those engaged in his service. We know that God is not limited by our prayers, and yet sometimes we pray and ask others to pray because we feel that the more people who join us in prayer the more likely God is to answer.

When we turn to the eleventh verse of this passage (2 Corinthians 1:3-11), we are astounded: “You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many” (2 Corinthians 1:11 ESV). Paul urges the Corinthian believers to pray for his deliverance and the furtherance of the Gospel, not so that God will answer, but so that they will increase the number of those who give thanks when God does answer! Paul is so confident of God’s answer that he is sure it will lead to thanksgiving! God chooses to act through our prayers—and sometimes not to act if we do not pray—because he wants us to know that He is answering! He wants to draw us close to himself through his gracious action and our grateful thanksgiving. What a privilege to pray aright (praying aright may be a topic for another day), to witness God’s answers, and to give thanks.

Praying to “the Father of Mercies and God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:11)

My wife Rosa had a dangerous, life-threatening delivery with our oldest daughter. We were in Sierra Leone. Although I was in the operating room, the attending lady physician, a colleague and close friend, would not look me in the face—her face was pale and her lips were tightly pursed. God told a godly African woman, known as a prayer warrior, to go and pray when she heard Mrs. Cockerill was in labor. God answered that prayer, and we have been thankful ever since. Some mission boards require missionaries to have several hundred prayer partners before they can go to their place of service. God invites us in Scripture to pray for our needs, for the needs of others, and especially for those engaged in his service. We know that God is not limited by our prayers, and yet sometimes we pray and ask others to pray because we feel that the more people who join us in prayer the more likely God is to answer.

When we turn to the eleventh verse of this passage (2 Corinthians 1:3-11), we are astounded: “You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many” (2 Corinthians 1:11 ESV). Paul urges the Corinthian believers to pray for his deliverance and the furtherance of the Gospel, not so that God will answer, but so that they will increase the number of those who give thanks when God does answer! Paul is so confident of God’s answer that he is sure it will lead to thanksgiving! God chooses to act through our prayers—and sometimes not to act if we do not pray—because he wants us to know that He is answering! He wants to draw us close to himself through his gracious action and our grateful thanksgiving. What a privilege to pray aright (praying aright may be a topic for another day), to witness God’s answers, and to give thanks.