Friday, September 28, 2007

Wednesday Night Message Outline

Introduction: We sometimes have mountaintop experiences, and at other times we feel like we are in a valley. Sometimes we have an emotional/spiritual letdown after a great victory, and at other times we feel very depressed due to a series of difficult experiences. Elijah had a series of ups and downs in close proximity. We can learn from his experiences.

1. A Mountain of Special Service

Elijah offered the people a freewill choice. He recognized that they were between two opinions and had not yet made a commitment either to follow God or to follow Baal. (1 Kings 18:20-21) Elijah’s focus was not on himself; rather, he prayed that God would show His power and turn the hearts of the people toward Him. (1 Kings 18:37-38) Sometimes patience is needed to wait on God to demonstrate His power. (1 Kings 18:43-44)

2. A Valley of Depression

Elijah was physically, mentally, and spiritually exhausted. He was alone and close to suicide following the great victory on Mount Carmel. When an angel awakened him, the angel did not command him to pray, to worship, or to witness; rather, the angel told him to eat. When we are physically exhausted (1 Kings 19:4-5) as Elijah was, we need to rest and eat. After being physically renewed, Elijah moved in faith toward Mount Horeb. (1 Kings 19:8) There was no quick fix for his depression.

3. A Mountain of Revival

Twice God asked Elijah what he was doing on the mountain. (1 Kings 19:9, 13) God was trying to help Elijah gain perspective. Elijah twice answered God that he was alone and that people were trying to kill him. His focus was on himself and his problems, not on God and His solutions. God gave Elijah some simple tasks to perform to help him get back on the right track. God also told him that he was not alone—that there were 7,000 people who had not surrendered to Baal. (1 Kings 19:15-18) When God gives us a task and a team, we can move out of our depression.

4. A Valley of Simple Service

We cannot live permanently on a spiritual mountain, and neither should we live permanently in a deep valley of depression. Sometimes, however, we have to perform rather simple, unexciting tasks that may be very important from God’s perspective but may seem insignificant from our perspective. Elijah threw his mantle on Elisha while Elisha was plowing a field with oxen. Elisha understood the symbol, and he indicated that he had closure on his old life by killing the oxen. Then Elisha became the servant of Elijah. (1 Kings 19:19-21) God was not yet finished with Elijah.

Conclusion: Our spiritual lives will have many peaks and valleys. Our emotional and physical conditions can affect our spiritual condition, and our spiritual condition can affect our emotional and physical conditions. God wants us to lead a balanced life.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Yesterday's Sermon Outline

Introduction: One large, famous church does not have a cross inside or outside its building. Apparently the leaders of the church fear that the symbol of the cross will be offensive to the non-Christians that they are trying to reach with the gospel. The cross is a powerful symbol in our world today. Muslims dislike it. The Ku Klux Klan and some rock stars misuse it. In Galatians 5:11 and 1 Corinthians 1:23, Paul made it clear that the cross is offensive (a stumbling block) to some people. The cross, however, is very important to Christians.

1. The cross is necessary for spiritual growth. Notice Luke 9:23:

“And He was saying to them all, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.’” (NASB)

The same quote is given in Matthew 16:24 and Mark 8:34, but Matthew and Mark did not include the word “daily.” Luke was a physician and was more concerned about details than most people. The work of the cross does not stop at the time of conversion; it continues during our spiritual growth. Notice Colossians 2:6:

“Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him.”

We are saved by grace, and we are to grow spiritually by grace. We are saved through the work of the cross, and we are to grow spiritually through the work of the cross. Notice Romans 6:6, 11-12:

“Knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin. . . . Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts.”

Even though the Christian’s old self (the sinful flesh) was crucified and is now dead, it still influences the Christian. It is as if the Christian props up a corpse in a chair, places a gun in its lap, and waves a white flag while saying, “I surrender!” This scenario is morbid, not natural. It sounds more like the Hitchcock movie, “Psycho.” Christians should submit new situations to Christ’s lordship. When we become Christians, the Holy Spirit moves into our lives. It is as if our lives are houses, and the Holy Spirit looks around in our dark closets with a flashlight and finds stinking, rotting things that need to be cleaned out of the houses. This cleaning process takes time and is somewhat painful. God uses trials and painful experiences to help us grow. Notice James 1:2-4:

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

The trials and tests lead to completion (spiritual growth and maturity).

2. The cross is necessary for conversion. Notice Luke 9:24-26:

“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.”

Jim Elliot, a missionary who was killed by the Auca Indians in South America to whom he was trying to witness, said something very similar to what Jesus said in verse 24: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” When we hear that quote by Elliot, we think about a missionary who was martyred for a great cause, but really his statement applies to all Christians. In order to become Christians, we must be willing to surrender what we cannot keep (our earthly lives) to gain what we cannot lose (eternal life).

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor and theologian during World War II who was killed in a concentration camp, also said something similar to what Jesus said in verse 24: “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.” He was talking about death to the self life and the willingness to surrender everything to him, including attachments to the world. Notice 1 John 2:15:

“Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”

In John 3:16 we are told that God loves the world, but in 1 John 2:15 the reference is to a different world—the evil world system. We cannot love the evil world system and have the love of God in us at the same time.

Conclusion: We must make a choice. Joshua told the Israelites that they had to choose whom they would serve (Joshua 24:15). Jesus said that no one could serve two masters (Matthew 6:24).

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Islam, Iraq, and Some “Ancient” Missionaries

I recently read two fascinating books: Islam and the Cross by Samuel Zwemer and Pioneers in the Arab World by Dorothy Van Ess. Both served as missionaries to the Middle East and were sponsored by the Reformed Church in America (formerly known as the Dutch Reformed Church). Zwemer (1867-1952) was known as “the apostle to Islam,” and Dorothy Van Ess served in Basrah, Iraq. Dorothy was the wife of John Van Ess (1879-1949), a noted authority on the Arabic language. Some interesting quotes follow. First are those from Zwemer’s book:

“Islam is indeed the only anti-Christian religion. This world faith takes issue with everything that is vital in the Christian religion, because it takes issue in its attitude toward the Christ. By this it must stand or fall. In this respect all schools of Muslim thought are practically the same.” (1)

“Especially in lands that are wholly Muslim, nothing seems to stand out more prominently than Islam’s hatred of the cross.” (2)

“We must meet this earnest and latest challenge of our Muslim opponents not by compromises and concessions, nor by cowardice of silence, but by boldly proclaiming that the very heart of our religion, its center and its cynosure, its pivot and power, is the atonement wrought by Christ on the cross.” (3)

“That Islam in its origin and popular character is a composite faith, with pagan, Jewish, and Christian elements, is known to all students of comparative religion. Rabbi Geiger has shown how much of the warp and woof of the Koran was taken from Talmudic Judaism and how the entire ritual is simply that of the Pharisees translated into Arabic.” (4)

“Islam is also a political problem. When Muslim leaders sit down at conference tables with representatives of Western nations to discuss democracy, the incongruity of all this with the old idea of Islam as a church-state and with the whole Muslim theory of political government is self-evident. In spite of what has been said to the contrary, missionaries in the past realized the baffling character of the problem that Western colonial governments faced in Muslim lands. The chasm between democratic and Muslim political systems is enormous.” (5)

“Syncretism would be equivalent to surrender. For Islam thrives only by its denial of the authority of the Scriptures, the deity of our Lord, the blessedness of the Holy Trinity, the cruciality and significance of the cross (nay, its very historicity), and the preeminence of Jesus Christ as King and Savior. . . . At all these points the missionary problem is how to bridge the chasm with courage and tact, by the manifestation of the truth in love. The distribution of the Word of God always holds first place. . . . Islam is a spiritual problem and can be solved only in spiritual terms.” (6)

Some quotes follow from the book written by Dorothy Van Ess:

“The world of Islam, toward the end of the nineteenth century, was the great exception to the rule that this was an age of triumphant missionary expansion. . . . Those relations have been marked by bitter conflict, by the Muslim’s sense of superiority, and by his successful resistance to evangelization.” (7)

“I first saw Basrah under a full moon on the last night of 1911. . . . I have never forgotten the loveliness of my first impression of the city which was to be my home for nearly half a century.” (8)

“As soon as the British General Headquarters was established in Basrah in November, 1914, the general commanding officer appointed a military governor with two deputies. . . . A reliable police force was one of the first necessities for Basrah, and the American missionary had contacts with the Arabs which enabled him to select men who could be trusted, and who had the ability to do the job.” (9)

“I heard my Arab women friends in the harems discussing President Wilson’s famous Fourteen Points with great enthusiasm. . . . Wilson was a tremendous hero throughout the Near East at this time, and as Americans we had the advantage of basking in his reflected glory.” (10)

“The British attempted to get an idea of public opinion, to find out whether the Arabs of Iraq would favor a single Arab state, from Mosul to the Persian Gulf, under British tutelage; if so, should there be an Arab head, and whom would they prefer? The Kurds were against Arab government and favored British administration. . . . A. T. Wilson and Gertrude Bell attempted to enlighten the Arab experts at the Peace Conference about the Shiah Muslim element in Iraq (of which they knew nothing), the trouble to be anticipated from the Kurds in Mosul Vilayet, and the increasing power and importance of Ibn Saud in the Arab world.” (11)

“The rebellion of 1920 has been cited as a heroic effort on the part of patriotic Nationalists to throw off the British yoke. . . . The rebellion was put down by a British expeditionary force which was said to cost the British Exchequer about forty million pounds sterling, and caused an estimated ten thousand total casualties on both sides.” (12)

“In 1940 we had a crisis in our schools. Nationalism had developed a definite anti-Western bias.” (13)

“From early days our mission had not converts from Islam, but ‘born Christians,’ descendants of one of the minorities in Asiatic Turkey who had never become Muslims.” (14)

Conclusions: After reading these two books, I conclude that Muslims are in a general sense resistant to the gospel. Some Muslim groups are more receptive than other groups are. The more receptive groups should receive more of our evangelistic efforts than do very resistant groups. As for the very resistant groups, missionaries should wait until they are more receptive before making major efforts to share the gospel with them. This is simply good stewardship of resources—human and otherwise.

1. Samuel M. Zwemer, Islam and the Cross, ed. Roger Greenway (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2002), 26-27.
2. Ibid., 41-42.
3. Ibid., 53.
4. Ibid., 69.
5. Ibid., 151.
6. Ibid., 152.
7. Dorothy F. Van Ess, Pioneers in the Arab World (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), 6.
8. Ibid., 51.
9. Ibid., 88-89.
10. Ibid., 109.
11. Ibid., 110-111.
12. Ibid., 114.
13. Ibid., 146.
14. Ibid., 159-160.