Friday, February 20, 2009

Horror in Zimbabwe

This recent post at the EPI Blog was moving and helpful to me to be more aware of what our brothers and sisters are going through around the world.

Horror in Zimbabwe - Warning - Graphic

I received the following letter from Pastor Tatenda Gunguwo, our EPI Partner in Zimbabwe. He has given me permission to post this. Please read it and pray for them. If you would like to help them out with a donation, please go to our site and designate your donation for the Zimbabwe Ministry.

Thank you for your prayers for us here in Zimbabwe. Last year was such a difficult year for my family and I. We were under constant threat from the government. I had to escape the country twice, because government agents were after me. We lost a lot of our pastors who were killed by the government militias because they were caring for orphans. Others lost their homes and all their belongings. Others have been maimed for life; hands and feet chopped off. Women were raped and now have AIDS. Children were left without fathers or mothers.

In addition, our orphans have been traumatized. Our Mt. Darwin orphanage was invaded. They raped our female orphans and care givers. They would bring people from the opposition party and beat them in front of our orphans; chanting slogans and revolutionary songs. We are now helping some of the people who survived to rebuild their homes and lives.

After the election violence, cholera came and claimed even more lives. One of our orphans died and five were admitted to the hospital. The hospitals have almost all closed now. Many women are dying giving birth. My wife Lucia gave birth to our fourth child on December 23rd. The private clinics are charging $650 for a normal delivery and $2000 for Caesarian. This is a sum that is out of the reach of 99% of the population. They are then forced to give birth at home and many of the women and the babies die. In our church, we have started a program to train midwives.

Schools have now been closed since October. There are a few private schools open, but the cost is incredible. We are now looking for land to start our own school.

There is an acute food shortage throughout the country. Food is only available in the large towns. It is VERY expensive and only sold in US Dollars. In fact, everything in Zimbabwe is now being sold in US Dollars, however, the rural people do not have access to foreign currency, so people are forced to use counterfeit money and to sell their cattle for a pittance for a sack of grain. They are literally being robbed. Some are even forcing their young daughters into marriage for the dowry money so they can buy food. It is heartbreaking to see. Orphans are being abused for food and prostitution.

Despite all of this, we planted churches in the most dangerous areas. Our goal is to plant 90 more churches in 2009. Please pray for us and help us if you can.

It was a joy to have the EPI team with us in December. Thank you so much for sending them and for the financial support that they brought to us. God Bless You, Tatenda Gunguwo

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Psalms Project Update

The Psalms Project got started in a wonderful way with Dr. John Witvliet yesterday. The audio should be available soon (you can check here). Dr. Witvliet made the point that the Psalms teach us the language we need to relate with God much as parents do as we teach oru children to say “Thank you,” “Please,” “Excuse me,” and “I am sorry.” We must learn to say these basic things (and they don’t come naturally!) in order to have decent human relationships. We also need to learn to say these things to God and the Psalms give us language for this. I really encourage you to listen to the audio.

Then, tomorrow, Dr. Craig Blaising will continue the discussion with a talk titled, “The Psalms in Early Christian Worship”. Drawing from his work on the recent Ancient Christian Commentary Series volume on Psalms 1-50 he will discuss how early church leaders taught their people to pray the Psalms.

Update: the Witvliet audio is now available.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Founders’ Day, Charles Williams

My Founders’ Day address on Charles Williams is now available online. I was challenged and encouraged by studying him, so I hope others will be by this attempt to summarize his life and work.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Psalms Project Underway

The Psalms Project here at Union (mentioned previously) gets underway this week with chapel this Wednesday (Feb18) with Dr. John Witvliet. Dr. Witvliet is the Director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, whose Worship Renewal Grant is funding this project. Dr. Witvliet has written extensively on worship and particularly on the Psalms.
Chapel is free and open to the public.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Charles Williams on Pastoral Ministry

I am currently preparing for the Founders’ Day Address at Union this Friday where my topic will be Charles Bray Williams who taught at Union from 1926 to 1939. He had previously served as founding professor of Biblical Greek at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (1905-1919), President of Howard College (now Samford; 1919-1921) and Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Mercer University (1921-25). He is best known for his translation of the New Testament, The New Testament Translation in the Language of the People (1937).

I have enjoyed deeply learning more about this fascinating man and all his labors. He was a good example of the combination of scholar and pastor. For now, I simply want to point out one comment from his daughter’s biography of him. She states that he,

believed strongly in a pastor’s knowing personally every member in his church, and he had a very active plan of visitation of every family in their home every few weeks.
People often say no one has ever followed Baxter in systematic visitation of his members. This is simply not true (as a variety of historical examples show). And here is one example from the 1940’s in Southern Baptist life even!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A Sermon Listener’s Guide

Eric Smith at Shepherd of the Sheep has recently posted a Sermon Listener’s Guide he prepared for his people. I think this is a very valuable tool so I have pasted in his questions here. I encourage you to read his full post on how he has been talking to his people about the place of preaching in the life of a Christian. He also has a link to this guide in form ready for printing.

I hope to make use of this guide with my family.

A Sermon Listener’s Guide

What was the biblical text of the sermon?

Do I better understand this passage now than I did before?

What was the main point or main points of the sermon?

How did this message teach me about Christ and the Gospel?

What truths do I need to believe because of this sermon?

What application points were made in this sermon?

What further personal application can I make for myself?

What actions am I called to take this week because of this sermon?

How did this sermon rebuke me or convict me of sin?

How did this sermon bring me joy and hope?

What questions do I still have about the biblical text or the sermon?

How will this message impact my praying this week?

Was I able to receive this word with gladness and a clear conscience, or is there some sin or distraction in my life that robbed me of the joy of hearing God speak to me?

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Questionnaire for Pastoral Candidates

When working with churches that are looking for a pastor I encourage them to prepare a list of key questions for any candidate. Few churches, in my experience, are prepared with good, thoughtful questions that will get to the heart of key issues.

Recently, a friend shared with me the following questionnaire which comes from a church I know almost nothing about. I am sharing it here because it is a good example of questions to pose to a pastoral candidate. Anyone looking to serve as a pastor should be prepared to answer these questions well. The first 13 questions cover key theological, moral and practical issues. Question 14 is well-worded, getting to the heart of how one understands ministry. Any pastor would do well to contemplate carefully how this question should be answered.

Then, the last question is a very important one that should always be addressed (and the candidate should ask why the previous pastor left this church).

Question # 1: What are the qualifications for a pastor/elder and how well do you meet them?
Question # 2: What is your view of church government? How do you view the roles of elders/deacons/pastors?
Question # 3: How do you explain the first chapter of Genesis?
Question # 4: How should the church minister to their children and youth, and what role do children/youth play in the church?
Question # 5: Explain the difference between Arminianism and Calvinism. Briefly defend and Biblically support the position you hold.
Question # 6: How would you describe an effective worship service? What do you see as the role of music in worship and what range of styles do you think are appropriate? What style of music do you prefer?
Question # 7: How would you describe your preaching style? (topical, expository, narrative, etc?). In a typical week how much time do you spend in sermon preparation?
Question # 8: What is your favorite Bible translation? Why?
Question # 9: What is your view on divorce in the body and in leadership?
Question # 10: On what social and moral issues do you feel the church should take a stand? How should this be done?
Question # 11: What guidelines do you use when deciding to perform a marriage ceremony?
Question # 12: What do you believe and practice in regard to spiritual gifts such as tongues, interpretation of tongues, prophecy and healing?
Question # 13: What is your view of end-times or eschatological issues?
Question # 14: What criteria do you use to evaluate an effective ministry?
Question # 15: Why are you leaving your current church?

Monday, February 02, 2009

Favorite Exodus Commentary

As I focused on Exodus all last week I realized even more how much I like James Bruckner’s new Exodus commentary in the NIBC series. I commented positively on this commentary earlier in Preaching Magazine’s Annual Bible and Bible Reference Survey article. As I spent more time in Exodus this week my appreciation of this little commentary just grew. It is now my favorite commentary on Exodus, one that not only helps me in preaching but causes me to long to preach- not a common trait in commentaries.

At just under 350 pages it is short for a commentary on Exodus. It does not deal with all the critical and technical issues. He admirably focuses on the text as we have it. Then in a manner reminiscent of Derek Kidner (see commentaries on Genesis and Psalms especially) Bruckner gets to the theological heart of passages bringing out in striking prose the key concerns.
You will need other commentaries to chase down more detailed items, but for thinking about the message of the book, Bruckner is my choice.

It is hard to get the feel for a commentary just from quotes, but I finally decided to include one to try to give you the flavor. On the difficult passage 4:24-26 Bruckner writes:

“The rhetorical effect of the text is to unsettle the reader. Just when Moses was finally on his way to Egypt (because God told him it was safe), we encounter God’s complete freedom to act in what seems to us a crazy way. If we could edit this account today we would not doubt leave this story out (perhaps also we might like to omit Acts 5:1-11). The text does not apologize, however, nor does it give rationalizations for the Creator’s willingness to take back the life God gives. Even Moses cannot presume upon God.” (54-55)

If you peruse the book I would recommend also reading through the treatment of chapters 32-33. This is soul stirring stuff.