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Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’

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Silhouetted within the doorway was a group of street children drawn there by the pulsing music of the church’s young musicians and dancers. The sight of the children saddened me because they reminded me of the countless numbers of children I saw roaming the streets of Bunia and the countryside—victims of a corrupt government system that was robbing them of a proper education that could lift them out of their country’s poverty.

Watching them in that doorway, I wondered if there was any hope for the children of Bunia to have a better life.

By the time our mission trip ended, two things gave me hope.

The first is the way in which God is using the Bunia Francophone Evangelical Church and other churches in the area to bring healing, reconciliation, and positive change to the people in the region through evangelism, discipleship, education, and in challenging leaders in politics, business, and the armed forces to serve with justice and mercy. Transformation is happening, many people are coming to Christ, and the swelling ranks of children, teenagers, and young adults in the services and youth groups are strong indicators that lives are being changed.

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One of the many youth groups at the Bunia Francophone Evangelical Church

The second is the amazing story of one of our team members, Neema Paininye Banga, who started life in a tiny, remote Congolese village to very poor parents, yet, by the grace of God, she grew up to earn a Masters degree in psychology at an American university, and returns to the Congo each year to minister to the people of her village.

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Neemah Paininye Banga

Neema’s story began when her own mother, Julienne, was a child in the village of Gwane, and an American couple came to the neighboring village of Assa, and established a mission church where they taught the people to sew and crochet, and shared the Gospel. Curious about them, Julienne went to meet them in Assa and heard the stories of Jesus. Julienne accepted Jesus as her savior, then brought her mother, Ziana to hear the Gospel stories. She, too, became a Christian.

Ziana, who was one of the wives of the Gwane village chief, was ostracized by the chief and his other wives for converting to Christianity and forsaking their witchcraft practices and worship of dead ancestors. So she and Julienne fled to Assa and took refuge in the mission, where they stayed for many years, learning the various crafts of needlework. It was there at the mission that Julienne met and married one of the young men, Jean-Christophe. They had seven children, of which five survived, Neema being the fourth.

However, Jean-Christophe died of a lung disease when Neema was one year old, so Julienne stayed in the mission to mentor the other widows of Assa. To earn a living, she worked the fields of a farmer. The missionaries gave Neema and her sister school uniforms and allowed them to attended the mission school for free. After school, the sisters walked several miles to help their mother work on the farm until dark, after which they would return home to gather wood and fetch water before doing their homework. Neema was five years old at this point.

Neema’s 13-year-old sister, Eugenie, was sent to Bunia to stay with a family and attend high school. She finished high school and started college, but dropped out to marry Idi Taban, a business owner.

When Neema was ready for high school, Eugenie sent for her to come and live with her family in Bunia. Neema babysat, cooked, and did other household chores for the family, and Idi paid for her high school tuition.

In 1997, as the civil war was about to break out, Idi moved his entire family, including Neema, to Nairobi, Kenya. He paid for Neema to attend an English school, and she did so well in her studies there that he later paid for her to attend a Christian university in Nairobi.

Neema became close friends with her American roommate who was there on a study-abroad program. When the roommate returned to America, she persuaded Neema to transfer with her to the same university—Eastern University in Pennsylvania. Again, Idi paid for her travel, tuition, and board to attend Eastern University.

Still, Neema worked in the student cafeteria and as a nanny to earn extra money while carrying a full credit load, and earned a bachelor degree in psychology. She then enrolled at the University of Georgia in Atlanta to pursue a Master’s degree in psychology. It was there that she met and married Dhego Banga, a man from Bunia who was working on his Ph.D. Neema subsequently dropped out of her graduate program to have the first of their two children.

When Dhego finished his Ph.D., he moved the family to San Francisco to start a new job. Once they were settled, Neema resumed her studies and earned a Master’s degree in psychology at San Jose State University.

In 2013, Neema was burdened for the people of the Congo, especially those in the village of Ango where Julienne and many of the villagers had fled when rebels invaded Assa during the civil war. Neema realized that the necessities of life—clean water, affordable health care, and good nutrition—do not exist for the villagers of Ango, who live hopeless, helpless lives, and wake up in the morning not knowing when they will have their next meal.

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Neema traveling by canoe on her 4-day journey to Ango

So once or twice each year, she leaves San Francisco and flies to Bunia with basic supplies such as hygiene products, clothes, and nonperishable nutritional foods. She then travels for four days by bus, truck, and “budda-budda” taxi bikes over bone-wrenching dirt roads and in dug-out river canoes to reach Ango.

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Neema meeting with Ango villagers

Once there, she meets with family members and villagers, provides them with needed supplies, and shares the Gospel with them, leading some to Christ. There is no longer a mission church for the people,  the missionaries having had to return to America when the civil war started. With no one left to carry on the ministry, the villagers slipped back into the old ways and beliefs in witchcraft and worshiping dead ancestors.

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Neema with some of the widows of Ango

So Neema fights back the darkness by teaching the villagers about Jesus, healthy living, and by starting a charity in America to benefit the people of Ango and the region of Bas-Uele. She knows that hers is presently a one-woman struggle to sow the seeds of progress in Ango, but she believes that this is a task that God has entrusted to her and that the harvest is in God’s hands and timing.

The image of the six silhouetted children is fixed in my mind, not with the sadness that I initially felt when I took pictures of them, but now I view them with hope—hope nurtured in prayer that, like Neema, God will lead them on their own redemptive journey in which they will grow up to serve his Kingdom and bring change to the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Please visit Neema’s website at www.achearts.com and support her ministry to bring relief to the people of her village. Thank you.

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The Conversion of Paul

The Conversion of Paul–by Luca Giordano (1690), Museum of Fine Arts of Nancy

Only someone who has personally experienced the powerful, life-transforming love, grace, and forgiveness of Jesus Christ can boldly claim that nothing compares to the priceless gain of knowing him. Such a person was Paul the apostle (Philippians 3:8)

In a society in which he had some of the highest and most impressive academic, professional, and religious credentials and achievements, along with an esteemed family pedigree going back thousands of years to the founding of the Jewish nation, Paul was a rising star that burned brightly in his zeal to uphold the laws of Judaism and to persecute the followers of Jesus Christ.

All that changed as he travelled on the road to Damascus to persecute Christians and he encountered the risen Jesus in a dazzling blaze of light from heaven (Acts 9). As a result of his decision to follow and serve Jesus, he lost everything, and gave up every thing that previously mattered to him—his high standing in Jewish religious and political society, his credentials, and his thoroughbred pedigree (Phil 3:4-9).

Even his immediate and extended family probably rejected him, and since he was a Pharisee, it is likely that he was once married, but his wife might have died by the time of his conversion to Christ, or left him after his conversion (see Creasy and Burk).

Paul realized that all the things that he thought were important in his life before Christ were powerless to save him and bring him into fellowship with God. So he dumped them all as utter rubbish—excrement! (Phil. 3:8)

It was only through his faith in Jesus Christ that saved him and offered him the priceless gift of knowing Christ, and he declared:

For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. As a result, I can really know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I can learn what it means to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that, somehow, I can experience the resurrection from the dead! (Phil. 3:9-11, NLT)

When Paul wrote about knowing Jesus Christ, he was not referring to intellectual knowledge alone; he meant the personal knowledge that comes from the most intimate relationship and union between two people—and he found that in Christ.

And as we, too, become one with Christ through faith and intimate knowledge of him, we experience the same power that raised Jesus from the dead, power that enables us to:

Screen Shot 2015-10-29 at 11.07.20 PM• Die to our sinful nature, so that we can live transformed for him and like him

• Share in his suffering and be comforted by him, so that we can comfort others in their sufferings

• Someday rise from the dead in new resurrected bodies, fit for eternity in God’s glorious Kingdom

And so like Paul, forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, we press on towards the goal of being all that Jesus Christ saved us for and wants us to be, and we strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God, through Jesus Christ, is calling us up to heaven. (Phil. 3:13-14)

Until that glorious Resurrection Morning, we who have experienced the grace and forgiveness of our sins through the sacrificial life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, must choose each day how to live in gratitude to our Lord.

Gloria Gaither

Gloria Gaither

In that vein, Gloria Gaither, my sister alum from Anderson University, penned these words as a prayer and a hymn that capture her commitment to live for Christ. As you listen to the words and music performed by the Gaither Vocal Band in the video below, I hope that you will be inspired to live each day experiencing that priceless gain of intimately knowing Christ Jesus our Lord.

I Then Shall Live

I then shall live as one who’s been forgiven;
I’ll walk with joy to know my debts are paid.
I know my name is clear before my Father;
I am his child, and I am not afraid.
So greatly pardoned, I’ll forgive another;
The law of love I gladly will obey.

I then shall live as one who’s learned compassion;
I’ve been so loved that I’ll risk loving too.
I know how fear builds walls instead of bridges;
I’ll dare to see another’s point of view.
And when relationships demand commitment,
Then I’ll be there to care and follow through.

Your Kingdom come around and through and in me,
Your power and glory, let them shine through me;
Your hallowed name, O may I bear with honor,
And may your living Kingdom come in me.
The Bread of Life, O may I share with honor,
And may you feed a hungry world through me.

Amen. Amen. Amen.

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Please note: If you cannot open the video, click the title of the post to go to the actual blog site.

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Trouble was brewing at the wedding. A very embarrassing and humiliating situation was about to shatter the joyful celebration of the bride and groom and their families. And since the wedding arrangements were the responsibility of the groom’s family, it could result in the bride’s family suing the groom and his family.

The cause? A sacred hospitality duty was about to be broken by the groom’s family—they had just run out of a crucial item in the nuptial celebration—wine! (John 2:1-12)

Before the wedding guests could become aware of the wine shortage, Jesus’ mother, Mary, told him about the problem. The Gospel of John tells us that she, Jesus, and five of his disciples were guests at the wedding—which raises the question as to how or why she knew about the problem.

New Testament commentator William Barclay points out that one of the Coptic gospels from Egypt states that Mary was a sister of the groom’s mother, and that other early sources identify the groom as the disciple John, whose mother was Salome, the sister of Mary. Such family ties and threat to the family’s reputation would undoubtedly give Mary reason to seek the help of Jesus in solving the problem.

Jesus’ response to his mother, “Woman, what concern is that to you and me? My hour has not yet come,” though seemingly rude to our modern ear, is not necessarily so. It was more a way of distancing himself from Mary as her son (Mt. 12:48; Mark 3:33), for he was about to embark on his journey towards the “hour” of his death, resurrection, and ascension as the Messiah.

Not put off by his reply, Mary told the servers, “Do whatever he tells you.” She most likely did not have any idea what he would do or how he would solve the problem, but she was confident that he would.

And so he did—quietly and miraculously, turning nearly 180 gallons of water into such exquisite tasting wine that the master of ceremony, not knowing where it had come from, gushed to the bridegroom, “You have kept the best wine until now!”

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This miracle at the wedding in Cana speaks to us in several ways:

  • Jesus’ presence in the midst of the wedding festivity reminds us that he wants to share in our happy occasions; he was not a killjoy or sourpuss, and neither should we be. We should always celebrate life in a way that reflects his joyful presence.
  • Mary’s willingness to bring her problem to Jesus without knowing how he would solve it reminds us that we, too, should come boldly and confidently to him in prayer, yet without any preconceived notion as to how he will answer our prayers.
  • The enormous amount of wine is more than could be drunk at a wedding, and must be seen, not simply as a miracle of water being turned to wine, but as Jesus’ superabundant, extravagant, inexhaustible grace that meets our deepest needs and transforms our lives—“for from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” (John. 1:16, ESV).
  • This grace must also be seen in the context of verse 11 that tells us that this miracle was the first sign of his coming glory, a term that John uses in reference to the life and ministry of Jesus (John. 1:14; 11:4; 17:22, 24), and to his death, resurrection, and ascension (John. 13:31, 32; 17:5) in order that he might save all who believe in him.

As with his transformation of water into wine, so can his superabundant, extravagant, inexhaustible grace transform each of us from perishing to saved, from sinner to saint, from ordinary to extraordinary, from pedestrian to remarkable, from uninspired to inspired and inspiring!

The question that we each must answer for ourselves, whether believer or unbeliever, is:

Will I allow Jesus to continue his transforming work of grace . . . in me?”

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That is the question that the apostle Paul asks in 1 Corinthians 2:16, paraphrasing the prophet Isaiah who concluded that the thoughts of God are so amazing that they are beyond our comprehension (Isa 40:12-13).

While admitting that it’s impossible for anyone to understand God’s decisions and methods (Rom. 11:33), Paul declares that God has given us access to God’s “secret wisdom” or “secret plan,” and allowed us to know what the Lord is thinking—for we have the mind of Christ! (1 Cor. 2:16)

In letters to both the Corinthian and Ephesian churches, Paul explains that the secret wisdom or secret plan of God was made before the world began, and was hidden from mankind throughout human history until it was revealed at the right time—first to Paul and later to the other apostles and prophets. (1 Cor. 2:7; Eph. 3:3-5)

God’s secret plan was to save all people from sin and eternal death, not just people from the nation of Israel as the Jews believed. It was to be a salvation through the virgin birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ who would save all people who believe in him. Jesus has power over sin and death, a power that he offers to all who believe in him. (Jn. 3:16; Rom. 16:25-26; 1 Tim. 2:3-7)

This revelation, Paul says, came through the Holy Spirit who searches out everything and shows us even God’s deepest secrets, so that we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us. (1 Cor. 2:10, 12)

Acknowledging that there are many skeptics to these truths, Paul adds:

“But people who aren’t Christians can’t understand these truths from God’s Spirit. It all sounds foolish to them because only those who have the Spirit can understand what the Spirit means. We who have the Spirit understand these things, but others can’t understand us at all.” (1 Cor. 2:14-15, NLT)

While Paul and the apostles, led by the Holy Spirit, used their preaching, teaching, and writing to reveal the good news that all sinners can find forgiveness and have a new and abundant life in Jesus Christ, those of us who follow Jesus also have the privilege and responsibility in sharing this good news of God’s love and salvation to our generation.

And since we, too, have the Holy Spirit living with us—from the very moment that we believed in Christ as our savior—we have been given access to the mind of Christ through the Spirit who leads us to all truth (Jn. 14:17), never leaves us (Jn. 14:16), teaches us (Jn. 14:26), reminds us of Jesus’ words (Jn. 14:26; 15:26), quickens our conscience regarding sin and righteousness (Jn. 16:8), gives us insight into future events (Jn. 16:13), and glorifies Christ by revealing to us what the Spirit receives from Christ (Jn. 16:14).

The Holy Spirit has not only given us access to the mind of Christ for our personal spiritual development and enrichment, but has endowed each of us with various spiritual gifts with which to serve our Christian brothers and sisters in the church, and to take the Gospel to the rest of the world.

So, as we seek to live in tune with the mind of Jesus Christ, may the following advice from Paul to the Colossian church inspire and encourage us:

“Let the words of Christ, in all their richness, live in your hearts and make you wise. Use his words to teach and counsel each other. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. And whatever you do or say, let it be as a representative of the Lord Jesus, all the while giving thanks through him to God the Father.” (Col. 3:16-17, NLT)

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As we prepare to celebrate Christmas amid the rampant commercialism, hectic shopping, decorating, wrapping, cooking, and frayed nerves, may we pause to reflect on the significance of John. 1:14 to our celebration.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. — John 1:14, NRSV

Here in this text, the Apostle John distils the entire message of the Bible and declares that the Word—the eternal God who existed before time and history, who spoke into existence the universe and all living things—became flesh and appeared among us as a human baby! The invisible, infinite, supernatural Creator became the visible, finite, flesh-and-blood Jesus of Nazareth! In one sentence, John covers the 33-year life span of Jesus and reminds us that we actually saw the glory of God in Jesus.

Just as the Shechinah—the glory and presence of God—appeared among the Israelites in the wilderness (Ex. 16:10; 24:16; 40:34), so was God’s glory revealed in Jesus at his birth (Lk. 2:14, 30-32), transfiguration (Mt. 17:2; Mk. 9:3), death, resurrection, and ascension (Jn. 7:39; 12:16, 23, 28; 13:31,32).

The glory seen in Jesus came from the unique Father-Son relationship that he had with God before the universe was created (Jn. 17:5), and permeated his earthly life and ministry. We not only saw the glory of God in Jesus, but also the fullness of God’s grace—the limitless mercy, kindness, and love of God for sinners—and the embodiment of the truth of God’s nature and characteristics.

And as Jesus prepared to return to his Father, he promised that he would not leave us alone, but that his Holy Spirit of truth would be with us to teach, guide, comfort, and help us.

So as we gather with our families and friends this Christmas, may we find time to give thanks to God that he did not stay remote and aloof from us in his heavenly realm, but, through Jesus, identified with our humanity, loved us, suffered for us, and ultimately died for our sins in order to redeem us and give us fullness of life—now and for all eternity.

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As a young American Muslim, Dr. Nabeel Qureshi was very knowledgeable about the Quran and was trained to defend the Islam religion against Christians. Yet, in his search to know God more personally and deeply, he went on a search to critique both the Christian Bible and the Quran. The result was that he became disillusioned about what he found in the Quran and Islam, and became convinced that the claims of Christianity and the Bible were true.

In this interview, he tells how a college friend and a series of dreams from God became the major influences in his conversion to Jesus Christ, and how his conversion cost him the loss of his family:

In this next video, which was recorded at Biola University were he was teaching a course on Christian apologetics and Islam, Nabeel goes more in depth about his journey from Islam to Christianity, especially the differences between Islam and Christianity, and how to communicate correctly, confidently, and respectfully the Christian Gospel to Muslims.

In I Peter 3:15, Peter admonishes us to always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks us to give the reason for the hope that we have in Christ. However, Nabeel found that very few Christians could give a reasonable and informed response in defense of their Christian faith. Can you?

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While Scripture passages such as Romans 8:31-39 assure us that nothing can separate us from God’s love, there is always the temptation for us to accept God’s eternal salvation in which our sins are forgiven and we are assured a place in heaven, yet be reluctant to go deeper in our walk with Jesus because he might demand too much of us in this life.

We enjoy the benefits of our Christian faith and participate occasionally in church events—Sunday services, Easter and Christmas celebrations, weddings, baptisms, funerals or memorials—but often avoid commitments that demand more of us than we are willing to give.

Unwilling to move out of our comfort zone, we give minimally of our time, our resources, and ourselves to God, the church, and to others, leaving the bulk of God’s Kingdom work to the very few dedicated souls among us.

To all of us who claim to be followers of Jesus, he says, as he did to his disciples:

“So why do you keep calling me ‘Lord, Lord!’ when you don’t do what I say? I will show you what it’s like when someone comes to me, listens to my teaching, and then follows it. It is like a person building a house who digs deep and lays the foundation on solid rock. When the floodwaters rise and break against that house, it stands firm because it is well built. But anyone who hears and doesn’t obey is like a person who builds a house without a foundation. When the floods sweep down against that house, it will collapse into a heap of ruins.” (Luke 6:46-49; see also Matt. 7:24-27)

Jesus is not comparing Christians and unbelievers, but two types of Christians—those who listen to his teachings and obey them, and those who listen to his teachings but do not obey them.

What we do with the words of Jesus—especially his Sermon on the Mount teachings about the characteristics of being his disciples (Matthew 5-7)—determines how we respond to life’s hurricanes of crises:

• Obedience to Christ’s teachings creates a strong foundation that will withstand life’s crises.

• Disobedience to Christ’s teachings inevitably leads to major collapses amid life’s crises.

While life’s storms and hurricanes are sure to strike every one of us at some time or another, obedience leads to protection in the midst of these crises. Disobedience doesn’t.

When we read Matthew 5-7 and understand what Jesus teaches and what he calls us to become and to do as his followers, we soon realize that he is calling us to be a unique people whose values are a complete reversal of the world’s value systems.

For example:

• Jesus calls us to both care for people who are poor in spirit, heartbroken, and powerless, and be willing ourselves to be poor in spirit, heartbroken, and powerless, for to such belong the kingdom of God. However, those who are not poor in spirit—the proud, the self-assured, the powerful, the arrogant—are not in God’s kingdom.

• Jesus blesses those who are gentle, meek, and lowly. But the world rejects such qualities as weakness, and places no value on such people.

• Jesus teaches us to seek God’s praise. The world teaches to seek its praise.

• Jesus calls us to seek the Father’s eternal treasures. The world entices us with money, fame, and earthly success that soon fade.

• Jesus calls us to purity of heart and truth. The world persecutes the pure of heart and opposes the truth.

How seriously do we consider such teachings of Jesus? Do we see them as impractical in today’s fast-paced, complex, and sophisticated world? Do we see them as unrealistic? Irrelevant? Too hard?

Or do we, like Peter, consider Jesus’ teachings and respond, “Lord, you alone have the words that give eternal life.” (John 6:68)

Yes, through the love, grace, and mercy of God as expressed through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Savior, we have eternal life—now and forever. And yes, we have Jesus’ assurance that no one can snatch us out of his hands (John 10:28).

But we must never forget that not only do the words of Jesus give eternal life, they also contain many warnings to those of us who are prone to ignore them.

There is grace in “once saved always saved,” but there is also the caveat: “…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.

The Christian journey, therefore, involves the duality of living with both certainty and caution; assurance of eternal salvation and warnings; balancing God’s gift of grace with our individual responsibility to live obediently in response to that grace.

This duality is expressed beautifully by the New Living Translation of Philippians 2:12-13 where Paul writes:

“Dearest friends, you were always so careful to follow my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away you must be even more careful to put into action God’s saving work in your lives, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire to obey him and the power to do what pleases him.”

May we embrace the duality of following Jesus as today’s disciples—assured of our salvation but always careful to live obediently with deep reverence and fear.

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