April 2001

South African churches struggle to assist unemployed members

April 6 2001 by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor

South African churches struggle to assist unemployed members | Friday, April 6, 2001

Friday, April 6, 2001

South African churches struggle to assist unemployed members

By Tony W. Cartledge BR Editor A journey through southern Africa reveals a jarring juxtaposition of First and Third World conditions. Downtown Cape Town is as beautiful and modern as the best U.S. cities, while Johannesburg's skyscrapers poke through Los Angeles-style smog as commuters battle traffic and urban sprawl. Yet, shantytowns of abject squalor rub shoulders with the walled compounds of more prosperous neighborhoods. Unemployment is rampant among the poor of southern Africa, especially in the numerous black townships, where as many as 80 percent of adults can find no work. Church planters face an extra challenge when developing new works in areas where the people struggle for daily survival and cannot support a pastor or finance a building on their own. Yet, they persevere.

Many pastors in southern Africa are learning to be as entrepreneurial as they are spiritual. They seek to feed the body as well as the soul, and to assist church and community members in finding ways to feed themselves.

John Pascoe is pastor of Westridge Baptist Church, a predominately colored congregation in the Mitchell's Plain township outside Cape Town. In South Africa, "colored" is a commonly used term used to describe persons of mixed racial heritage.

Pascoe's church sponsors a soup kitchen but is also active in skills training and job creation. The church has nearly completed an outreach center to house a preschool program so parents can work, and to host other social programs. Hickory Grove Baptist Church in Charlotte and Stowe Memorial Church in Belmont have sent funds and work teams to assist in the project. Several churches in the Baptist Metrolina Association have contributed to the project, including Mulberry Baptist, Steele Creek Baptist and Oak Grove Baptist.

A sign marks the building as the F.R.O.G. Center, with F.R.O.G. being an acronym for "Fully Rely On God." The facility includes bathrooms, a kitchen, and a large multi-purpose room that can be used for both feeding and recreation programs. Basketball goals bear the logo of the "Opportunity to Serve Ministry," the church's job creation program. Learning to fabricate and weld basketball goals is one of several job-training opportunities.

Bathwell Mketsu is a church planter who serves as pastor of Great Commission Baptist Church in Khayalitsha, a large black township near Cape Town.

Mketsu bemoans the lack of jobs and the need for churches to provide skills training. Noting the pervasive presence of "burglar bars" on the windows and doors of houses in the nicer neighborhoods, he said. "It is better to train workers to install burglar bars than leave them to become burglars."

He hopes to offer computer training courses at the church if he can round up a few used computers in working condition. "We have six members who have taken training," he said, "and they could train others who would pay a small fee to take classes, creating jobs for the teachers and the students."

Gilbert Ndlovu is pastor of Ivory Park Baptist Church, which serves the combined townships and squatter villages that have grown up around the Ivory Park and Winnie Mandela townships near Johannesburg. The church started in a "zo zo hut" (a metal shack) in 1995, then moved into a borrowed tent. A donor provided funds for a building if the church would agree to offer a weekday preschool program. Several N.C. teams, including two from First Baptist Church of Kannapolis, have assisted the church with construction projects and outreach efforts.

Ndlovu worries about the poverty he sees. "I have so many visions in my mind," he says. "The first is to train people in the community to operate a small business." He offers a brochure promoting the "Micro-MBA Bursary Fund," a charitable job-training network that offers subsidized classes in local churches.

Most of the adult members at Ivory Park are women, some of whom stand by the roadside, roasting ears of corn in rusty metal drums for sale to passersby. Others take in laundry, or buy vegetables from wholesalers and resell them in the community. Ndlovu believes the business classes can help them to grow their businesses. He prays for a half-dozen sewing machines, which are available locally for about $100 each, so the church can offer sewing classes.

Adult literacy classes are also part of Ndlovu's vision, and he has arranged a missionary volunteer to teach the classes. Ndlovu hopes to begin a new work in another part of the area, which now counts well over half a million residents.

Twenty miles north of Johannesburg, Mabopane Central Baptist Church occupies a renovated warehouse that was donated by a local businessman. Energetic pastor Reuben Mamatsinya oversees operations that include a computer lab, a print shop, a preschool, a shelter for street children, and an assortment of job training opportunities including a dress-making school. Mamatsinya, who speaks frequently in local schools, hopes to land a contract to manufacture school uniforms so the program can provide steady work as well as training. N.C. partnership teams helped to convert the large warehouse into more functional space.

Beyond Mabopane, along a dusty road dotted with small fruit stands, there is a rambling, ramshackle town with the unlikely name of Stinkwater. The town's name recalls a time when the only available water was in a muddy, scummy drainage pond, but wells now provide clean water.

Here lives Credo Mangayi, the king of entrepreneurial ministers. Mangayi immigrated from the Congo in 1991; bringing with him a degree in economic development and his wife, Esperance, along with a heart for serving God. Since 1992 he has added degrees in adult education and theology, and has nurtured a new church that was accepted into the Baptist Union in 1999.

Mangayi's creative efforts to promote economic independence for the people of his community clamor for attention from every corner of the church property. A bright red and white popcorn machine stands incongruously in the dirt yard outside the church, which sits at the crossroads of two dirt roads and across the street from an elementary school.

Vegetable patches dot the church grounds, where Mangayi teaches gardening skills to parishioners and other members of the community. Participants receive hands-on training at the church and enough seed to plant their own gardens for one year. The soil is poor, with a shallow layer of rock beneath the surface, so Mangayi teaches organic gardening, showing class members how to dig through the stony layer and build up good soil by using compost.

Behind the pastor's home, just a few yards downhill from the church's outdoor toilets, there is an enclosure of heavy wire that can hold up to 100 chickens in two rows of elevated wire cages. Mangayi is teaching several women in the church how to care for the chickens so they can have eggs for food and for sale. He shows how an enterprising person can start with 40 chickens, and by careful financial management can increase the number by 20 each year until they have enough to provide a livable income.

It costs about $115 to set up one person in the gardening operation, and about $250 to get someone started in the egg business, Mangayi says. In both cases, the major expense is for a sturdy fence to protect against roaming animals and human theft.

In the small church building, Mangayi coordinates sewing lessons and literacy classes. Members of his church cook soup in large pots to provide a weekly lunch to students at the elementary school, where Mangayi also offers counseling and teaches classes three days each week.

In a small outbuilding, computers covered in bubble wrap sit in a dusty row, awaiting the beginning of the next class. Some of them still run Windows 3.1. Mangayi is hoping to upgrade to computers that have CD-ROM drives, faster processors, and newer software.

On the floor beneath the computers are three metal molds used for forming interlocking cinder blocks for use in construction. Mangayi says three men can produce 150-200 blocks per day with the equipment, which costs a few hundred dollars.

In the yard, beside a large stack of completed blocks, are the metal forms for another project. Appropriate burial practices are culturally important in the area, where signs advertising funeral services dot nearly every intersection. Families scrimp and save to provide nice grave markers for loved ones but are often unable to afford them. Mangayi is teaching three men to make crosses of cement and wire mesh that can be sold inexpensively as temporary or permanent grave markers.

Mangayi was undeterred when a new beekeeping project suffered a setback after someone stole a protective fence surrounding the hives. He is confident that he can get the project going again, teaching local people to care for the bees so they can package and sell both honey and beeswax candles.

In addition to his local church work, Manayi coordinates a convention-wide program called B.U. C.A.R.E. (Baptist Union Community Advance and Relief). Terry Rae, general secretary of the Baptist Union, is especially fond of this project. "South African Baptists have always been good at proclaiming the gospel," he said, "but we have not been so good at doing social ministry." Rae has encouraged the Baptist Union to establish or expand programs related to social needs, disaster relief, and the care of children affected by the AIDS epidemic.

Southern African pastors and denominational leaders hope that N.C. churches or mission groups will adopt economic development projects such as these, providing financial help that can help deprived communities help themselves. G.A. or R.A. groups, for example, could raise money to purchase a sewing machine or to sponsor a chicken project. For more information, readers may contact Kathi Kestler of N.C. Baptist Men at (919) 467-5100 (Raleigh area), (800) 395-5102 (toll-free in North Carolina), or kkestler@bscnc.org.

Copyright (c) Biblical Recorder Inc.
4/6/2001 12:00:00 AM by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor | with 0 comments

Cul de sac racket

April 6 2001 by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor

Cul de sac racket | Friday, April 6, 2001

Friday, April 6, 2001

Cul de sac racket

By Tony W. Cartledge BR Editor There is noise in the neighborhood these days, but I'm not complaining. It is the sound of children playing, and it's music to my ears. Ten years ago, our daughter was the sparkplug of our short cul de sac, where seven houses sit tight on tiny lots and wink at each other when the lights come on. The sound of Bethany's roller blades on the asphalt inevitably brought out other children to play and to laugh, to tell secrets and jokes.

When Bethany died, a hush settled over the place. The other young children moved away shortly afterward, and for years you could sit on the front steps and read the paper without a single squeal to punctuate the stillness.

Then our son Samuel came along, and some other kids moved in. New friendships developed slowly, and Samuel was shy at first, but now the noise is back. It usually begins with the hollow racket of Samuel's big wheel making laps around the circular end of our shared drive, or with the pinging sound of Jordan's basketball as he shoots hoops on his plastic goal across the street. Before long, there can be half a dozen kids hard at play while the daylight lasts.

They are a delightful collection. There are racial differences among them, and developmental differences, and differences in religious traditions. None of that interferes with their pursuit of outdoor playtime. Some are leaders and some are followers, some want to play sports and others prefer games of imagination, but they always find enough consensus to get along.

There's some trouble involved in watching kids and kissing boo boos, refereeing misunderstandings and fetching juice, picking up toys and chasing stray baseballs. Sometimes I long for a quiet hour with a good book, but I wouldn't trade one "knock-knock" joke for all the silence in Saskatchewan.

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4/6/2001 12:00:00 AM by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor | with 0 comments

Unfinished business

April 6 2001 by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor

Unfinished business | Friday, April 6, 2001

Friday, April 6, 2001

Unfinished business

By Tony W. Cartledge BR Editor Something about us doesn't like an unfinished story. We like things carefully drawn to a conclusion, wrapped neatly and tied with a bow. Open-ended conclusions leave us a bit uncomfortable - and that is precisely what we find in the Easter story. In all the world's history, there has never been an event quite like the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is a story we never tire of hearing and of telling because it is the heart of our hope.

Easter is the fulfillment of a prophecy that no one expected, save the One who lived it out.

It is the birth of a promise that no one deserves, save the One who died to make it possible.

It is the doorway to an eternal hope, unsealed by a rolling stone and proclaimed to believers who shook in unbelief.

It is a story without an end ... the story of a crucified Savior who won't stay nailed down, a buried Master who won't stay dead, a resurrected Lord who won't stay away from those who follow Him.

It is our response to all this that makes the story unfinished.

The ending of Mark's gospel offers an apt illustration of Easter's unfinished business. Many scholars who study the thousands of ancient Greek manuscripts underlying our present Bibles believe that Mark's gospel ended with Mark 16:8. The manuscripts accepted as most accurate by the majority of textual scholars simply stop at that point. Other manuscript families have one of two different endings appended, one longer than the other. Some manuscripts include both endings. It is the longer ending that incites some believers to prove their faith by drinking poison and handling snakes.

If an early version of Mark's gospel really ended at verse 8 of the final chapter, then the narrative ends with fear and uncertainty. Three women had come first to the tomb and found it empty. A divinely appointed messenger declared to them that Christ was no longer dead but risen. Overcome by the enormity of the angel's news, the absence of the Lord's body, and the presence of unexpected hope, the women ran away from the tomb, afraid and uncertain but committed to proclaiming what they had seen and heard.

We know, from other gospels and from the remainder of the New Testament, what happened. Jesus appeared to His followers, commissioned them all to become witnesses and then left them in body while promising never to leave them in Spirit.

We know what those early followers did. They believed. They obeyed. They suffered and died, some of them. They shared their lives in a community of faith. They shared their faith from one end of the known world to the other. They trusted in Christ's promise, experienced the power of Christ's Spirit, and birthed a church that has lived and grown to this day.

But the story is still unfinished.

We know what the first disciples did.

It remains to be seen what we will do with the Christ who won't stay in the tomb, who won't stay in the church, who won't even stay in the Bible.

What will we do with a Christ who still lives and speaks and touches our being?

It would be easier and more comfortable, perhaps, if Jesus would just stay put in a safely concluded story, but He continues reaching beyond the story. He keeps calling sinful people to hope, to believe, to follow and to obey. He persists in wringing our hearts and sending us out to Africa and Asia and Asheville. He insists on reminding us to love one another, as He loved (and loves) us - even those who don't deserve our love any more than we deserve His.

We all have unfinished business with Jesus and unfinished lives to live.

So, ...

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4/6/2001 12:00:00 AM by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor | with 0 comments

'Beyond Belief' describes meeting

April 6 2001 by Bill Boatwright , BSC Communications

'Beyond Belief' describes meeting | Friday, April 6, 2001

Friday, April 6, 2001

'Beyond Belief' describes meeting

By Bill Boatwright BSC Communications RIDGECREST - The N.C. Woman's Missionary Union's (WMU) 2001 Missions Extravaganza could best be described by its theme, "Beyond Belief." The WMU's two-part annual meeting was held March 23-25 and March 28-April 1 at Ridgecrest Conference Center near Asheville. WMU began spreading the meeting out over two weekends last year to handle large crowds.

WMU officials said 1,371 registered for the first weekend and 935 registered for the second weekend.

Participants attending the meeting reflected the growing cultural and ethnic diversity apparent within the state, with special interest conferences conducted in Spanish, Hmong, Vietnamese, Korean and Sign Language for the hearing impaired. For the first time, there were also general large group sessions in Spanish to serve the growing Hispanic WMU groups being organized across the state.

The weekend conferences also reflected a wide range of ages, vocational backgrounds and mission interests. People from the state's largest and smallest communities and churches attended.

BSC officials believe Missions Extravaganza represents the largest cross-section of Baptist life assembled at any BSC-sponsored meeting.

A special offering of $13,901 was received during the two Saturday evening sessions. It will be divided one-half for Alaska hunger projects and one-half for literacy mission work.

Both weekend meetings included four general sessions and more than 100 special interest conferences. The annual business session was held during the first weekend session, with all of the current officers re-elected to serve another one-year term: Ruby Fulbright, Greenville, president; Sandra James, Whittier, first vice-president; Dianne Daniels, Graham, second vice-president; Beth McDonald, Rockingham, secretary; and Shirley Kool, Sylva, assistant recording secretary.

J.T. and Trish Harrell and George McSpadden of First Baptist Church in Gadsden, Ala., led music during the first weekend. J.T. serves as minister of music at the church. His wife, Trish, is pianist and McSpadden is organist. Trish Harrell is the daughter of Ruby and Ellis Fulbright.

Musicians for the second weekend were Neal Eller, music and worship team, Baptist State Convention, director; Katherine Hilliard, Black Mountain, organist; and Carol Cone, Concord, pianist.

The small group sessions - each participant could attend six different conferences - followed both the traditional WMU topics, such as age-level training for church mission organizations, and a large number of sessions of special interest to women.

Small group sessions included such topics as coping with widowhood, dealing with infertility, joys and struggles of home schooling, and "When the Glass Slipper Doesn't Fit," a session for every woman whose life isn't what she expected.

The 2000-2001 N.C. Acteens panelists each gave their testimonies during the weekend sessions. Katherine Ellison of Boone and Christi Black of High Point spoke during the first weekend session with Christina Reid of Hudson giving her testimony during the second weekend.

The general sessions, including missionary testimonies, prayer time and special music, featured a "Beyond Belief" presentation by futurist Karen Simons, former national WMU staff member and current senior consultant with the Union Baptist Association in Houston, Texas. Simons' presentations, which involved video clips and participant-involvement activities, underlined the importance of thinking outside the traditional parameters people usually assign themselves or accept from their cultural surroundings.

"God can do so much more than we can think about," Simons reminded her audience. "We need to learn to look at what we do from different angles and think beyond the lines," she said.

Following the Christmas story in the Gospel of Luke, Simons characterized the shepherds' behavior as open to change and opportunity. Although afraid, the shepherds listened to the angel, paid attention to the signs, moved out on their feelings and then returned to tell others what God had done in their lives. "Like the shepherds, we should take the opportunities at hand, even if afraid of what is ahead."

Katharine Bryan, interim executive director for N.C. WMU, distributed a printed report on the state of the group, indicating signs of health and vitality throughout the statewide organization.

"As I have been observing, examining and evaluating this organization (as an outsider), there are several things which stand out as being so right. First of all, you have an outstanding staff that brings commitment to missions. They are creative, they are thinkers, they are planners, they are workers."

Bryan went on to say that statistics of membership and meetings do not tell the whole story. She used examples such as "the Mission Friend who interrupts the family prayer time at the dinner table because they have not prayed for the missionaries, or the woman and her family who experiences the prison retreat and leaves with a sense of hope - hope for herself, her children and her future."

The first weekend ended on Sunday morning with a message by Fulbright. Wanda Lee, executive director of national WMU, spoke during the final session of the second weekend meeting. Each Sunday morning session concluded with a commitment time to go forward and further in Christian commitment - to go "beyond belief."

Copyright (c) Biblical Recorder Inc.
4/6/2001 12:00:00 AM by Bill Boatwright , BSC Communications | with 0 comments

Family Bible Study lesson for April 22: Obeying the Lord of Glory

April 6 2001 by William (Mac) McElrath , Matthew 17:1-13

Family Bible Study lesson for April 22: Obeying the Lord of Glory | Friday, April 6, 2001

Friday, April 6, 2001

Family Bible Study lesson for April 22: Obeying the Lord of Glory

By William (Mac) McElrath Matthew 17:1-13 There's something about a mountain top. Engraved on the cornerstone of the old Spilman Auditorium at Ridgecrest are these words: "the mountain top of vision and inspiration." How many thousands of us do you suppose there are who at one time or another have found vision and inspiration at Ridgecrest?

Others have found it on other mountain tops. Way back in 1919 my mother found it at Blue Ridge, in the teachings of Walter Rauschenbusch, Baptist prophet of social justice. Some have found it at Billy Graham's retreat, The Cove, some at Glorieta or elsewhere.

During our years in Indonesia, Betty and I liked to hold personal retreats at a vast Chinese cemetery on a mountain top near our city. Surrounded by brilliant tropical flowers, looking down at cloud shadows scudding across the valleys, we seemed to get a clearer perspective on our lives. That's where we both started working through Experiencing God; maybe the mountain top had something to do with the experience.

The Bible speaks of many mountain top experiences: Moses on Mount Sinai and Mount Nebo; Elijah on Mount Carmel and Mount Horeb. Yet none of these is as striking as the transfiguration of Jesus.

Jesus - glorious Lord (Matthew 17:1-4) Jesus' mountain top experience came at a time when it was sorely needed. He had been rejected at Nazareth (Matt. 13:53-58). Teachers of the law had argued with him about ritual cleanliness (Matt. 15:1-2). Pharisees and Sadducees had demanded a sign from heaven (Matt. 16:1). Jesus' own disciples had showed that they were not yet ready to hear that He must suffer and die (Matt. 16:21-23).

In the transfiguration, God the Father graciously lifted the veil of time and space long enough for God the Son to be reassured as to who He was and why He had come to planet earth. Moses and Elijah appeared, thus reinforcing the continuity between God's people under the old covenant and God's people under the new.

No wonder Peter blurted out, "Let's just stay here, Lord! Let's put up three brush arbors so we can stay right here on this mountain top!"

Jesus - preeminent Son (Matthew 17:5-8) God the Father mercifully interrupted Peter's foolish prattling. Out of a bright cloud He spoke, making it clear who ought to be listened to - and it wasn't Peter. No wonder Peter, James and John "fell facedown to the ground, terrified!" (v. 6, NIV.)

Perhaps the wonder of the incarnation shines more clearly in Matthew 17:7 than in any other verse of the New Testament. There could be no more mistaking who Jesus really was - not on that vision-crowned mountain top! Yet He came to His disciples; He touched their trembling forms. "'Get up,' He said, 'Don't be afraid'" (NIV).

They lifted their terror-stricken faces and saw - no one except Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth, their friend and teacher whom they had left all to follow. Moses and Elijah had disappeared; but Jesus, God's beloved Son, was still with them.

Jesus - suffering Savior (Matthew 17:9-13) As they walked together back down the mountain, Jesus warned His three closest followers not to tell anyone what they had seen "until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead."

There it was again - the same thing that had spooked Peter after his great confession that Jesus was Messiah and Son of God. How could the Christ, God's great anointed one, be expected to suffer and die? The disciples' question in verse 10 reflects their confusion.

Jesus' explanation cleared things up, at least in part. The disciples realized that John the Baptist had fulfilled the ancient prophecy that Elijah, the austere desert dweller, would come back before the coming of the Messiah.

How had this second Elijah "restore[d] all things?" (v. 11). By suffering and dying, John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus. Not only by his preaching a baptism of repentance but also by experiencing martyrdom.

The experience of Jesus, in turning from the transfiguration toward what awaited Him at Jerusalem, is echoed by the rest of that inscription engraved on the old cornerstone at Ridgecrest. It reads something like this: "From the mountain top of vision and inspiration we would carry the love of Christ into every valley of human need."

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4/6/2001 12:00:00 AM by William (Mac) McElrath , Matthew 17:1-13 | with 0 comments

Family Bible Study lesson for April 29: Being a neighbor

April 6 2001 by William (Mac) McElrath , Luke 10:25-37

Family Bible Study lesson for April 29: Being a neighbor | Friday, April 6, 2001

Friday, April 6, 2001

Family Bible Study lesson for April 29: Being a neighbor

By William (Mac) McElrath Luke 10:25-37 Remember the old expression about "gilding the lily?" Writing a commentary on passages of scripture is like that. Who could possibly clarify, expand or improve on Jesus' story of the Good Samaritan? Yet the most familiar and beloved passages sometimes need the most careful study. Lilies bloom every year. We tend to forget how bright their colors are. Try looking at them this spring through the eyes of a little child who is discovering them for the first time.

Important questions (Luke 10:25-29) An expert in Jewish law once asked Jesus a question that emphasized doing. In effect, he said (v. 25): "By the doing of what great deeds shall I earn the right to inherit eternal life?" His approach was legalistic; his motives were dubious, for he "stood up to test" Jesus.

How like Jesus to answer a question with a question! His implication was, "You, a legal expert, have posed a legal question; now render your own legal opinion" (v. 26).

It's hard to see how the lawyer could have answered any better than he did. The two verses he quoted (v. 28) represent a high watermark in Old Testament thought.

Jesus congratulated the lawyer (v. 28), but also put him on the defensive by challenging him with the humanly impossible task of always obeying those two greatest commandments. That's why the lawyer started looking for a loophole (v. 29). Surely there was some way to narrow God's demand that he love his neighbors! So he asked another question.

Callous indifference (Luke 10:30-32) How like Jesus to tell a story instead of giving a cut-and-dried answer! He spoke of things his hearers would have known well. The road from Jerusalem to Jericho dips 3,400 feet in 17 miles; it was notorious as a haunt of highway robbers. Many priests and Levites lived in Jericho, so they often traveled that road. The road lay near the borders of Samaria, even though Jews hated Samaritans and vice versa. A single Roman government ruled them all, so there was freedom of passage.

The priest and the Levite stand as stark word-pictures of people who get so busy being religious that they forget about the needs of others. Is there a bit of the priest and the Levite in each one of us?

Compassionate action (Luke 10:33-35) The last person that unfortunate Jewish traveler would have hoped to receive help from was a Samaritan. Who would you put in his place if you would make Jesus' story ring true for today? Someone of a different race? Of a different language or lifestyle? Of a different social or economic status?

Notice the utter extravagance of the Samaritan's response: He went far beyond the call of duty. Do any of us ever do only our duty toward ourselves? Do we ever look in the mirror and wonder, "How much should I do today to help you?" If the Samaritan had been the one robbed and beaten, would he have stopped to consider whether he owed it to himself to drag his aching body all the way to the inn? No and neither did he stop to consider how far he ought to go in helping a wounded Jew. Thus he became the perfect human example of loving a neighbor as much as he loved himself.

Divine command (Luke 10:36-37) Jesus' story had begun with a question. It also ended with a question. Note, however, that the two questions are not the same. The lawyer had asked, "Who is my neighbor?" The implication behind Jesus' question at the climax of the story is "To whom should I be a neighbor?"

In answering that climactic question, the expert in Jewish law apparently could not bring himself to speak the hated word, "Samaritan." Instead, like any skilled lawyer, he beat around the bush with legal terminology. But he got the point all right. Jesus drove it home by commanding, "Go, and do continually as he did!"

Indonesians of Chinese descent are generally hard working people who have garnered a bit more of this world's goods than non-Chinese Indonesians. As you might expect, this doesn't always make for good relations with their neighbors.

A few years ago two talented Christians produced a modern Indonesian version, in comic-book form, of the parable of the Good Samaritan. Are you surprised that they turned the kindhearted traveler into an old fat Chinese merchant?

Suppose you were preparing a new version for here and now: whom would you put into Jesus' timeless story?

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4/6/2001 12:00:00 AM by William (Mac) McElrath , Luke 10:25-37 | with 0 comments

Formations lesson for April 22: Nothing can stop the gospel

April 6 2001 by Ken Vandergriff , Acts 5:27-32

Formations lesson for April 22: Nothing can stop the gospel | Friday, April 6, 2001

Friday, April 6, 2001

Formations lesson for April 22: Nothing can stop the gospel

By Ken Vandergriff Acts 5:27-32 At its birth, Christianity was one Jewish sect among several, and these existed alongside scores of Greco-Roman religious sects. While most of those died, Christianity thrived. By the end of the 4th century it was the official state religion of the Roman Empire. By the Middle Ages it dominated all of Europe. Since then it has become the world's largest religion. Today's text takes us to the earliest days of the church. By observing it we can better comprehend why it appears that "nothing can stop the gospel." Three things stand out in this text: the opposition, the Christian witness, and the work of God.

The opposition (Acts 5:17-21) Verses 17 and 21 identify the opposition to Peter and John as the high priest - the Sadducees, the sanhedrin (or, the "council" according to some translations) and the elders of Israel (or, the "senate" in some translations). In the Greco-Roman and Jewish cultures, each city or region had several ruling assemblies, variously termed city councils (boule), councils of elders (gerousia), or sanhedrins (councils). These overlapped in terminology, in composition, and in function, and hence cannot always be clearly distinguished. A supreme sanhedrin appears to have operated in Jerusalem.

All such councils were concerned with the general well being of the state - civil, religious, political and judicial matters fell under their purview. Because the councils were also a link to the Roman government, we can better understand the concern of the sanhedrin expressed in John 11:48-50 and Acts 4-5 - the Jesus movement might cause unrest, provoking the Romans to attack the Jews.

Our interpretation of the text will be more legitimate and more challenging to our thinking if we do not immediately characterize the Jewish leaders as "bad." We can recognize mixed motives in them. On the one hand, they were jealous (v. 17), but they were also leaders desperately trying to maintain order in their community, lest the Romans strike against them. We should try to understand why they considered the Jesus movement a threat, and we should ask ourselves how we perceive those who differ from us and what measures we take to silence them.

The Christian witness (Acts 5:29-30) Today's text is the continuation of a story that began in chapter 3, and it will be helpful in our teaching to review that entire story. Already Peter and John had been ordered not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus, but they had refused to do so (4:18-20). Their response in 5:29 resonates with their earlier response in 4:20.

Peter enunciated a principle significant for Christians of all times and places - "we must obey God" (5:29). Notice the foundation of Peter's affirmation (v. 30-32). He knew that God raised up Jesus because he had encountered the risen Christ. He knew that Jesus was exalted at the right hand of God because he had seen it (1:6-11). He knew that Jesus brought forgiveness of sins because his guilt had been cleansed. He knew the power of the Holy Spirit because he had experienced Pentecost. No wonder he was so calmly confident.

Three hundred years after Peter spoke these words the Christian church gained political power. For centuries the church would use political power to spread the gospel, and too often it acted like the sanhedrin in silencing its enemies. The gospel of God, however, progresses not by political coercion but by the confident testimony of Christians: "we must obey God."

The work of God (Acts 5:31-32) Theologian Douglas Hall notes that "the largely unspoken working assumption about the life and work of the church is that it is dependent upon our individual and corporate commitment, energies and promotion. And this working assumption is regularly and painstakingly reinforced by the whole machinery of our institutional churches, from financial drives to the generally exhortational mood of most preaching. ... Precisely this working assumption is what we must now question. ..." (Confessing the Faith 45-46).

He's right. Notice again the actions of God in v. 30-32 and throughout the book of Acts. If nothing can stop the gospel, it is because of God, not us. The divine Spirit indwells and empowers Christians to live the life of Christ in the world.

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4/6/2001 12:00:00 AM by Ken Vandergriff , Acts 5:27-32 | with 0 comments

Formations lesson for April 29: Paul's conversion

April 6 2001 by Ken Vandergriff , Acts 9:1-6

Formations lesson for April 29: Paul's conversion | Friday, April 6, 2001

Friday, April 6, 2001

Formations lesson for April 29: Paul's conversion

By Ken Vandergriff Acts 9:1-6 When I first saw the text for today's lesson, I thought the editors must have made a mistake. Why study only the first six verses of this chapter? Why neglect the rest of the story, with its compelling psychological drama between the fearful but obedient Ananias and the fearsome yet strangely weakened Saul? Nevertheless, focusing on these few verses alone leads us to significant insights.

The background (Acts 9:1-2) Saul first appears in Acts 7:58-8:1, where he approved the stoning of Stephen, and 8:3, which describes his "ravaging the church." Why? Because he was convinced that he was upholding God's honor. He was convinced that this Christian proclamation concerning a crucified criminal was blasphemy and therefore deserved harsh attack (see 26:9). We can only appreciate the intensity of Saul's Christian convictions when we have appreciated his pre-Christian convictions. Here was a man zealous for God both before and after his Damascus experience.

It is instructive to compare 1 Tim. 1:12-16. There Saul's violence is attributed to ignorance, but even more important is the affirmation that God "judged me faithful and appointed me to his service ... and the grace of our Lord overflowed to me." God saw more than simply a violent persecutor. God saw one whose strength of conviction - if it could be redirected - would be one of his greatest assets. If we could see others and ourselves through God's eyes, the potential would amaze us.

The revelation (Acts 9:3-5) We often focus on "Paul's conversion." Paul himself, however, pointed away from himself to Jesus Christ. God "was pleased to reveal his Son to me" (Gal. 1:16); Paul saw Jesus the Lord (1 Cor. 9:1); the risen Christ appeared to Paul in the same way he had appeared to the disciples at the Easter event (1 Cor. 15:8). Since, for Paul and us, the objective revelation of Christ produces the subjective conversion experience, we do well to look first at the one being revealed. There is no Christian conversion without Jesus Christ being revealed to an individual.

How did the revelation of Jesus influence Paul's theology? Several things may be noted (see the helpful analysis of Joseph Fitzmeyer, Pauline Theology: A Brief Sketch [Prentice-Hall, 1967], 6-15). First, Paul recognized the continuity between God's work in Israel and God's work in Jesus. Paul did not abandon the faith he had learned as a well-educated Pharisee. Rather, he built upon it. He saw in Jesus the blossoming of the centuries-old covenant promises of God to Israel (see Acts 13:32-33).

Second, the revelation of Jesus impressed upon him the saving significance of the death and resurrection of Jesus. His Jewish background had taught him the concept of vicarious death, a concept central to animal sacrifice. What his Jewish background had not taught him was that the Messiah would die a vicarious death. In Old Testament and Jewish expectations, Messiah was supposed to conquer, not die. That is why the concept of a crucified Messiah was a "stumbling block" to Jews (1 Cor. 1:23; Gal. 3:13). Seeing the crucified and risen Christ convinced Paul of something new: Jesus was the expected Messiah, who conquered sin and death through his own vicarious death.

Third, as a Jew, Paul believed that one-day God would bring to completion all that God had intended his creation to be. That would be the eschaton, the age to come, the day of salvation (see Isa. 2:1-4; 25:6-9; 29:18-21; 35:1-7). The revelation of Christ convinced Paul that the eschaton, although not yet brought to completion, had already begun. Its first fruits were already enjoyed in this age (1 Cor. 15:20; Eph. 2:6; Col. 2:12, 15; 3:1-3; Phil. 3:20).

We should not expect that Paul immediately grasped all of this. Like us, over time he grew in his understanding of the faith.

The mission (Acts 9:6) If we compare verse 6 with 22:14-15; 26:16-18 and Gal. 1:16, we see that "what you are to do" refers not to the upcoming events in Damascus, but rather to Paul's mission to the Gentiles. Paul does not dwell on his conversion experience. He sees through it to its greater purpose. May each one of us be sensitive to that unique work God has appointed for us beyond conversion.

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4/6/2001 12:00:00 AM by Ken Vandergriff , Acts 9:1-6 | with 0 comments

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