Gone are the days when society largely took for granted that the Christian Church was a necessary part of Western Culture. Long gone. This has become such a fact of life that the benefits of an organizational Christian presence in society should be re-examined. Studies of the behavior patterns of North Americans and Europeans in the early Twenty-first Century show that when making important decisions, most people think, not in terms of Christian values, but of personal fulfillment and well-being. This is a significant shift from much of the Twentieth Century, when a Christian decision-making grid was commonly accepted.
Believers may bemoan this trend as an abandonment of core Christian values, such as honoring God, obeying his will and serving others but, like it or not, it would appear that this trend will be around for the foreseeable future. So maybe Christianity ought to be evaluated from this new pragmatic perspective. What are the benefits of a significant Christian presence in society? Let me suggest a few of the positive outcomes of vibrant Christianity in a given community.
Better marriages. All things being equal, the presence of churches which teach biblical family values results in more couples staying together. I am not just referring to husbands and wives agreeing to remain married even though they have ceased to have affection for one another. I am talking about couples who discover a deeper and more lasting love for one another because of their relationship to God. It is a known fact among Christian people that a commitment to one’s spouse, a willingness to work though issues and a dependence upon God to cause positive change in both lives has saved many thousands of marriages which otherwise would have ended in divorce court.
Better family life. Along with husbands and wives staying together, there are fewer problems raising children when families are involved in churches. “Parents: don’t exasperate your children, but bring them up in the teaching and discipline of the Lord”, is a hugely valuable principle at a time when families are breaking down in record numbers. Churches which teach the Bible by precept and example tend to have a higher percentage of intact and reasonably healthy families.
Lasting relationships. We are moving so fast in these times that it is difficult to form deep, long-term friendships. Again, churches who teach the Bible’s perspective on relationships tend to produce people who know how to befriend others and work through issues which could otherwise cause separation. Churches also provide venues for meeting people who desire these kinds of friendships. In Christian circles it is a rather routine thing to meet people who have remained friends over many years through some pretty difficult circumstances.
Personalized care. One of the best kept secrets in most communities is the fact that churches regularly provide free counseling, not only to their members, but often to virtually anyone who desires it. Many churches have pastors or staff members who are trained and gifted in the art of listening to people, helping them understand the dynamics behind their situation and offering sound, practical and biblical advice toward a solution. Obviously the more people who receive this care, the healthier a community becomes. This is especially refreshing when people are sometimes seen as figures on a spread sheet rather than as valuable persons.
Character building. While it is not the only voice in society encouraging people to become more than they are, the Christian church performs this role as well. Not only does it encourage people to dream large dreams and achieve great things, but it also builds character in ways that the other voices seem to be neglecting: that of correction. How many places can you go in Twenty-first Century Western Culture and have someone tell you the painful truth about yourself? I understand that this sort of thing seems out of fashion. I also know full-well how abused this type of thing can be, with churches sometimes working people over in the most trivial and narrow-minded of ways. But when a person truly is involved in things which are harmful to others and ultimately self-destructive, isn’t it a good thing that there are places where people can be lovingly confronted and helped to find a new path in life?
Finding God. When people get tired of the materialism and the seemingly endless chasing of personal fulfillment, many crave something more substantial. Christianity promises that if anyone desires to find God, he is willing to be found. In fact the truth is quite a bit better than that. God has made himself very accessible by becoming one of us, living as we live and doing what was necessary for us to have full and abundant relationship with our Creator. Of course I am speaking of Jesus Christ.
I am well aware that some people take this basic Christian assertion to be narrow and exclusive. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Other religions teach that people must attain some ultimate spiritual goal through hidden knowledge, austere self-denial, or the offering of something precious to win the deities’ favor. The Christian gospel is so simple and so attainable that some people have found it almost too good to be true. A person may be welcomed into relationship with God simply by putting their trust in Jesus. This means believing that he is who he claimed to be: the Son of God; accepting his self-sacrifice in payment for your wrongdoing and embracing his offer to join with you in making you new from the inside out.
The irony in this is that in putting faith in Jesus, a person actually finds the personal fulfillment which has eluded them for so long. Far from being narrow, faith in Jesus is something a small child can do. It is something a mentally disabled person can exercise. The basic message of Christianity is truly trans-cultural, finding those in every people group who resonate with its good news. It embraces both men and women. It reaches every strata of society. It changes lives when nothing else can.
All this and more come with an active Christian presence in society. Those who are concerned with the welfare of their communities would do well to make certain that churches are free to do what they do so well: benefit people and change lives for the better.
What is the hardest job in the world? This question is debated in workrooms, taverns and coffee shops around the world. One position which is usually overlooked but which should be considered as a serious contender for the honor is that of pastor’s wife. Living quietly in this world are a small company of women who are married to men in ministry of one type or another. They receive far too little credit for what they do. By the way, there are some men married to women in ministry who deserve some long-overdue recognition as well.
The pastor’s wife: you can often see her after worship, standing with her husband greeting people or sometimes visiting with scattered groups of folks. At other times these women are not seen because they are working in the nursery, recruiting volunteers or counseling privately with someone.
Wives of ministers come in all shapes and sizes: young and not-so-young; vivacious and reserved; creative and methodical, punctual or late; musical and tone-deaf. Some even play the piano. The proven truth is that a minister’s wife can make or break him. Men who survive in ministry almost always do so because their wives are supportive and regarded as an asset by the congregation.
So why do I insist that the job of a pastor’s wife is so hard? There is no labor union exposing the plight of these women; no news expose on the difficult life of a pastor’s wife. These women rarely complain. Most have achieved a level of excellence in which they go about their work with seeming effortlessness. So, most people never give their situation a second thought. That’s where I come in. I am married to a pastor’s wife, so I have special insight into what these dear women often must accomplish (pardon my excursions into exaggeration for effect).
First the pastor’s wife must maintain a level of spirituality at least equal with that of the most spiritual person in the congregation. She must be able to quote scripture with little hesitation on almost any subject. She must never have serious doubts about any article of faith cherished by her husband’s congregation. She must actually pray for the dozens of prayer requests she receives monthly. The ability to walk on water is helpful, but not required.
The pastor’s wife should be in reasonably good shape physically and should maintain a modestly attractive appearance. Her home must be neat and well-organized. Her cooking should be on a gourmet level with at least several dishes which are the favorites at church dinners. She must be cheerful about unexpected guests for dinner. She is to be an excellent manager of family finances, a smart shopper and able to hang pictures tastefully. At the same time she is never to draw attention to herself or her abilities. It is a good idea for Proverbs 31:10-31 to be prominently displayed somewhere in her house.
It goes without saying that she needs to raise near-perfect children. From her they should be learning respect, good manners, cleanliness, theology and perhaps even Hebrew and Greek. She should seriously consider homeschooling in order to ensure that her children are trained properly and not exposed to unduly harmful influences. The children should be able to sing or recite poetry to any group on short notice. They must earn excellent grades, never get in trouble, never bicker among themselves and never show disrespect to neighbors or members of the congregation.
The wife of a pastor often listens patiently to concerns and hurts of several people each week, while sharing her own inner life sparingly (if at all). She should be prepared to forego close friendships in the church for long periods. She should smile a lot. It is indespensible that she should know whose jokes to laugh at and whose humor to blush at. She must be willing to put in many hours of volunteer work in ministry only to have others get much of the credit. She has to be able to take constructive criticism with good humor, humility and a large grain of salt. She should never show anger; always be humble; never gossip. She should have the constitution of an ox, the hide of a rhinoceros and the disposition of a dove. She is to be the servant of all, yet find time to put her own life in perfect harmony—and maintain all of this over a lifetime.
Most importantly, this woman has to live with a very difficult man—the pastor. He is much in demand and often not home in the evenings or on weekends. She must be able to figure him out when he is unsure of himself and quietly support him when he is criticized or attacked. She must also tolerate him when his head is twice its normal size after a particularly good sermon. When he is tired or away, she is to keep the family together without a trace of bitterness.
Though not as extreme as this exaggerated description, the wife of a man in ministry is, without doubt, one tough job! My own marriage to one of these amazing women has given me some inside information on this unsung group of people. I thank God for my wife, Melinda. When she married me, she also married ministry. She is raising four amazing children, while serving alongside me. She is creative, attractive, intelligent, hard-working and the life of the party wherever she goes. Her singing is the envy of angels. I could not have done what I have been privileged to do without her. She makes me look very good. Thank you my dear.
I am confident that I speak for thousands of other men in ministry when I express my thanks to all these dear women who serve with us. As far as I am concerned, they deserve the award for the hardest job in the world!
Using an English keyboard in symbol font, you can make a fairly accurate reproduction of a Koine (or Classical) Greek text. The following list of Greek letters can be typed using the symbol font. The line of phonetically spelled letters (below) are followed by the keys on an English keyboard which correspond to each symbol keystroke. Upper and lower case work in the same way as on an English keyboard.
alpha, beta, gamma, delta, epsilon, zeta, eta, theta, iota, kappa, lambda, mu, nu, xi, omicron, pi, rho, sigma, tau, upsilon, phi, chi, psi, omega
A, B, G, D, E, Z, H, Q, I, K, L, M, N, X, O, P, R, S, T, U, F, C, J, W
Notice that a final sigma must be keyed differently than a regular one. If you have taken Greek, you will remember that when a sigma occurs as the final letter in a word, it is written differently–it actually looks a bit more like an English “s”. A final sigma can be typed by keying a capital vee (V) while in the symbol font.
Aspiration marks can be made with single apostrophes (pointing the right direction) in whichever font suits the look you want. Happy writing!
April, 15, 2009 Dear friends,
This has been a very full spring so far. I am involved in my two half-time ministry positions (Director of the JARON Bible Institute and Associate Pastor at Campus Bible Church of Fresno, California). Beyond these responsiblities I will have taught five college and university courses by the time June 1 rolls around. So you can see that it was a nice break (and a very fulfilling experience) to interrupt the schedule and travel to Texas and northern Mexico to engage in a week of intensive ministry (March 6-15) with my cousin, Roger Tomlinson of Dayspring Outreach.
One of the personal benefits of this trip is the chance to take an extra couple of days and visit my brother, Marty Bogart and his family in south Texas. Marty, Roger and I usually spend time catching up and reminiscing about our childhood days in the 60s. For us, at least, it is a lot of fun.
On Sunday, Roger and his wife Carolyn and I drove across the border into Mexico, crossing a narrow arm of the state of Tamaulipas and pushing on into Nuevo Leon. Our destination is the village of La Haciendita, about ten miles outside Cadereyta, which in turn is 20 miles or so from the third-largest city in the country: Monterrey.
With all of the news about drug-related killings along the Mexican border, we were extra-watchful on our journey. The only signs of tension we saw during this week were beefed-up checkpoints of the Mexican Army along the route. This time about half of the soldiers were wearing ski masks to hide their identities against possible reprisals by the bad guys. It was a bit sobering, but as far as we were concerned, perfectly routine.
The week of teaching began on Monday with classes in apologetics for the mixed class of about 15 Mexicans and Americans. Apologetics is the reasoned defense and explanation of the Christian faith in response to various questions and attacks. I had to brush a bit of dust off my notes from the last time I taught this course at JARON BIble Institute and then reformat them in the weeks before the trip. It was a pleasure to review this information and interact with the students –all of whom are very bright and eager to learn. I became friends with nearly all of them.
The Americans come mostly from widely-scattered parts of the Midwest. Likewise, the Mexicans are from several different regions of that country. Though they come from diverse backgrounds, they all share the passion for ministry in the unchurched cities, villages and rural areas of Mexico. It was my privilege to take part in their training.
Dayspring Outreach has several facilities in the country–two in Nuevo Leon, one in Oaxaca and one in Vera Cruz— and there may also be others I am unaware of (For more informatiuon on Dayspring, check out the link on the homepage of this website). I was very impressed by the work Roger has been doing these past twenty years or so. He is obviously very committed to the spread of the gospel in Mexico and shows a high degree of innovative ability and persistence to accomplish what he has.
After the return to yet another Dayspring base, this time in south Texas, my brother Marty scheduled a venue at his office for me to present a basic seminar on the background, teachings and goals of Islam. I developed this workshop out of my 17 years of teaching courses in world religion as an adjunct professor in various colleges and universities in central California. I have enjoyed presenting it dozens of times in a variety of formats and venues–sometimes presenting the basic facts of the subject and other times contrasting it with Christian faith.
This gathering turned out to be rather small–only a few of us around a conference table in my brother’s accounting office, but I found the more informal setting very refreshing. The next day, Marty dropped my off at the local airport and I flew home through Dallas to resume my spring schedule.
Let me describe one incident that really stuck out during that week of ministry. Imagine wanting to call your family from a rural area in a foreign country a couple of thousand miles away from home. So, after dinner, one evening I borrow one of Roger’s cell phones and take a stroll . It is dark and chilly and the rain is coming down in a fine mist. With flashlight in hand, I climb to the unfinished top floor of a small apartment block being built in the Dayspring compound for the permanent staff. No roof or walls have gone up yet on this upper storey, so I stand there savoring the damp darkness in this far-away corner of the world. I dial the access code for the US and then my home number. The call goes through and I am talking to Melinda as clearly as if I were next door. Then the signal is lost for a moment, so I dial again, this time standing in a different corner of the roof-top where the signal is stronger. The conversation continues, this time with no interruptions. After checking in and sharing about my day, I sign off, climb down and head for my room to prepare for the next day’s classes.
I know that in the Twenty-first Century, calling someone long distance sounds pretty normal. At home, I use a cell phone regularly to call all sorts of people. Yet it struck me, standing in the rain on that dark roof in rural Mexico, how interconnected the world has become and how relatively convenient it is to do business or missions work almost anywhere on the face of the globe. It is truly a pleasure to serve Jesus Christ and his coming kingdom in these very interesting times of ours.
Thanks for listening,
Report on Grace Baptist Church’s Mexican Border Mission. Spring, 1999.
A group of fourteen of us from Grace Baptist Church of Lemoore, California set aside Holy Week (March 26 through April 2) 1999 to embark on the first ever short term-missions experience for the church. Team members included Tom, Andrew and Ben Baker, Mike, Melinda, Andrea, Hannah, Joe and Danny Bogart, Amy Gaussoin, Robin and Synthia Pruitt and Paul and David Stanfield.
The group made a commitment to attend three lengthy training sessions during the early spring to prepare for this cross-cultural experience. The training included an introduction to Mexican culture, familiarity with the goals, procedures and rules of the Conservative Baptist Association of Northern California (the group sponsoring the trip), some Spanish words and phrases, evangelism training, as well as learning the specific games and ministries we were scheduled to do.
After gathering for prayer early on the morning of March 26, the group drove the approximately four hundred miles in personal vehicles from Lemoore, California to Yuma, Arizona where we crossed the border and met up with several other U.S. church teams in a make-shift camp a few miles into the Mexican state of Baja California, Norte.
Meals were cooked communally and the group members slept in tents. We awoke each morning to roosters crowing and the smell of breakfast cooking. After devotions and breakfast, we received our assignments and drove into the nearby Mexican state of Sonora to the city of San Luis Colorado.
Our assignment was to work with the Iglesia Bautista Conservadora. The teams spend five days holding a vacation Bible school-type of program. This involved games, Bible stories, crafts, snacks and prizes. During the afternoons, the men in the group repaired or improved various facilities of the church.
After working each day the group drove back to base camp and shared stories of the day around dinner. A thank you service was held at the church the last day of the trip. Many new friends were made and the farewells were a bit hard at the end of the week.
The results: a Mexican church was assisted, kids and adults were exposed to Christ and the message of the Bible, Americans were trained in cross-cultural ministry and the Mexican culture was appreciated.
Thanks for your prayers while we were engaged in this ministry!
Pastor Mike for the Team
The New Age Movement is a grab-bag of many sub-groups and organizations who share common goals and concepts. The recurring link between these groups is their commitment to working for a “new age” in which spiritual consciousness and harmony will come to planet earth. Though some would take pride in using the term “new age” to describe themselves, others might use such descriptive terms as human potential, aquarian, cosmic consciousness or various types spiritualities (such as native American spirituality, feminist spirituality, etc). Certain buzz words are commonly used among New Age groups, such as: holistic, synergy, unity, oneness, global, awakening, self-actualization, networking, energy, etc.
New Agers tend to be very syncretistic, in that they adopt ideas and practices from many sources. However there are various common characteristics, including:
Open-Ended Revelation. Various books (including the Bible) may be honored and used by groups within the movement. Divine revelation is seen as personally perceived and on-going. God (or the Ultimate) may manifest itself to or through anyone. There is no single truth because truth is personal and experiential.
God. The concept of deity is much more nebulous than in Judeo-Christianity. Groups tend to see the Ultimate as an impersonal life-force, rather than as a personal being. Deity can neither be analyzed nor systematized — because God is all. As in the Star Wars Epic, the Ultimate has a “light” and a “dark” side. In other words, the New Age concept of deity is often dualistic (including both good and evil).
The Cosmos. The universe itself is a form of God. This can either mean that everything shares in the divine being, or that the universe is not fully real, existing only as a shadow of the Ultimate.
Humanity. It will be no surprise, then, that people are also seen an emanation of God. As such, people have infinite potential if they will draw on their inner divine nature and seek consciousness of union with the Ultimate.
Salvation. Though the term “salvation” is sometimes used among New Age groups it is almost never used in the gospel sense of the word: new life and cleansing through faith in Jesus. It usually carries the same significance as the term “enlightenment”, “inner awareness” or “cosmic consciousness”. The goal is to seek a profound and intuitive understanding of the “divine nature within” as the outer, unreal self is stripped away.
Jesus is usually seen as an insightful teacher or spiritual master similar to those in Hinduism, Buddhism or the ancient mystery cults. He is deity only in the sense that anyone is connected to the divine. Many of Jesus teachings are re-interpreted to fit with New Age ideas.
The Coming New Age. As the 1960s musical group, The Fifth Dimension, sang way back in the day, there is a new age coming with the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. The old Age of Pices (the fish) was the Christian era of religious doctrines which stifled true spirituality. By contrast, the new age will be one of spiritual energy and fulfilling personal experience. Linear thinking (typical of both Christianity and Modernism) is a hindrance to enlightenment. The new era will be one of intuitive thinking and freedom.
Self-Actualization. Eastern wisdom, tribal ceremony, feminine perspectives and occult practices are often the preferred methods to foster spiritual awareness. Magic, astrology, crystals, cosmic energy, etc. are used as a means to self-understanding and the releasing of potential. Reincarnation and karma are incorporated because they allow multiple opportunities to achieve these goals.
Tolerance. There is a widespread belief that all religions, philosophies and cultures are equally valid. People ought to accept and tolerate almost any concept, lifestyle or practice. The odd thing is that there are certain exceptions to this general rule. Often it is Christianity which is the target of scorn, dislike and discrimination because Christians are seen as the major obstacle to new age goals.
Dealing With the New Age. A Christian approach to dialog with people from New Age groups should focus on the core truths of the gospel, such as:
The Bible is God’s complete revelation (Hebrews 1:1-2). It is God’s loving communication with us through those he inspired to write it (2 Peter 1:20-21). Its purpose is to introduce and explain God’s perspective on the world and his plan for redeeming it. With the coming of Jesus, that plan is fulfilled and no further revelation is required.
God is a personal being who is both holy and merciful (Isaiah 6:3, Psalm 25:6). The fact that he is both holy and merciful is truly good news because he is in no way tainted with the evil and ugliness in the Cosmos, while at the same time he is willing and able to save those who are caught in the dreary and horrifying web of sin. He is also omni (all) powerful, knowing and present (Isaiah 55:9), which means he is strong enough to intervene, wise enough to be trusted and completely accessible. The best part is that he actually desires relationship with us.
The Cosmos is God’s creation, distinct from him, but certainly showing evidence of being designed and made by him (Romans 1:20). It is the perfect venue for the utter defeat of evil (Revelation 21:4).
People are made in God’s image, which means we are eternal beings, sharing a certain similarity of self-consciousness and creativity with him. Though we are not ourselves divine, people may become his children through a reversal of the faithlessness of the Garden. This happens when people trust in Jesus’ atonement and are forgiven and reconciled to God (John 1:12). The redeemed will eventually be glorified because of our union with Christ (Psalm 8:4-5).
Jesus is the business-end of the Father’s redemption. As the Second Person of the Trinity, he is divine (John 1:1-4). He is also fully human (Romans 5:17). This too is good news because his deity assures his ability to atone for the sin of the entire world while his humanity allows him to die on behalf of human beings. As a true man, he is also able to relate to our limitations (Hebrews 2:18).
A sticking point for new age people is the New Testament claim that salvation is through Jesus alone (John 14:6). They take this truth as excluding other religions. Sadly, this is exactly backwards because Jesus as the sole source of eternal life is actually tremendously good news. None of the things offered in other religions really leads to any eternal resolution of the fundamental human problem. Not everyone can attain the esoteric wisdom of Eastern philosophies. Few can devote the time to the study of rituals and incantations. Most people are stuck in whatever routines and ruts their birth and culture dictate. The New Testament gospel is simple enough for a child to grasp, yet profound enough to satisfy the most philosophic intellect. It is trans-cultural (Galatians 3:28). It is accessible to male and female. It transcends all classes and backgrounds. The practice of Christian faith can be adapted to any society or culture (Acts 10:34-35).
There is more good news because there is indeed a new age coming when Jesus returns and judges evil and the demonic powers behind it. He will set up a kingdom of truth and righteousness and peace (2 Pet 3:11-13).
The big picture is actually very simple: if the gospel is truly good news, perhaps the best approach is to simply let it be what it is: good news. We Christians may need to learn to give up our own need to prove our faith with the very kind of linear thinking many new age people find so unappealing. Letting the gospel be good news and living the good news in everyday life can be a compelling testimony to the truth we have found!
People are attracted to authenticity. Few people can resist the joy or peace or true self- acceptance that come with new life in Christ. If followers of Christ were to actually seek these qualities and learn to live in the promises of the new life they already possess, perhaps we might experience a breakthrough with those desiring a new age.
Meeting God in the Midst of Regular Life
Have you noticed that the word “routine” has a bad rap? We sometimes use the word as though it means “boring” “unimaginative” or “mindless”. We associate the idea of routine with an unpleasant job that a person must go to in order to earn a living or a relationship which has lost the excitement and romance. But though we often complain about routine, in a way it is a relief to be under the security of a schedule rather than living in the relative open-endedness of holiday breaks or vacations.
Even if they won’t admit it, kids sense this in their suppressed excitement when classes resume after a lengthy break. The truth is, schedules provide a wholesome channel into which we can funnel our energy and time.
I have sometimes heard people object to church attendance for the same reason that students gripe about going back to school: its routine nature. The fact is, regular participation in church life can indeed be pretty routine. Who hasn’t yawned their way through church on occasion? Yet perhaps this very fact is a point in favor of regular church attendance: life itself is pretty mundane most of the time too. So why not meet God in a routine?
One of the myths of our age is that life should be exciting. The television sit-coms and soaps portray make-believe people whose lives are always full of happenings. People who are regular watchers (because its part of their routine) come to expect thrilling lives as well. Of course, reality is not that way at all. Real life is full of Monday mornings and rather short Saturday afternoons. My point is that since life contains a heavy dose of the routine, one of the best ways to cope with living is a consistent involvement in church because it gives us the perspective and the tools to live the rest of the week. This is not to suggest that its OK if church is boring. As a pastor and church leader, I am committed to the kind of ministry which reveals the fulfillment and joy and peace that come with following Christ. We often do God a disservice when we portray him as bland and humdrum. I have personally attended services which couldn’t end soon enough. I would like to think I haven’t designed too many that way myself.
But the very act of hearing God’s word taught and being with his people on Sunday equips us to face the world on Monday. The very routine-ness of church life can be a strength in disguise because we learn to meet God in the routine. After all, it was the Creator who commanded Israel to build their lives around a very simple routine: six days of work and a day of rest.
So why not put regular worship into your routine schedule? For some, the adjustment will be relatively minor. For others it may mean a more thorough reworking of priorities. Either way, it will bring order and regularity to life which at times can seem out of control.
Tehuacan, Puebla, Mexico. January 9-18, 2009.
This trip was a continuation of the JARON Bible Institute Extension in southeastern Mexico. It was a special bonus that Melinda was able to go with me this time to mentor, counsel and teach women. Accompanying us were Steve and Carla Belmont, friends from our home church, Campus Bible in Fresno. Carla went to work with women as well and to be the speaker for a women’s event the Tehuacan churches were sponsoring. Steve went as team organizer, photographer and general evangelist.
We arrived after a long trip (3:00 am to 11:00 pm). Drive to Los Angeles; fly to Mexico City; bus trip to Puebla and then a ride in a personal van to Tehuacan. Needless to say we were pretty tired. Our hosts, Memo and Betty Lagunes gave us the next day to unwind and solrt things out. Here is how the rest of the 10 day trip unfolded:
Sunday evening the combined churches met at Oasis 1 Church for a time of questions and answers about ministry and Christian living. The four of us participated in this and the occasion broke the ice a bit for the three who had not met these people before. Monday began five days of teaching at the JBI extension.
As before there were both morning and evening classes (6:30-8:30 am and 7:30-9:30 pm). I taught Old Testament Survey. You can imagine that we moved along pretty briskly in that short amount of time.
Sunday morning we had preached in the nearby community of Coapan before participating in worship at Manada Pequena Church later in the morning. On Tuesday, we visited the large local jail, where Melinda and Carla spoke to a group of maybe 15 women about new life in Christ. The time in the jail was part of the ministry of by Enrique and Carmen Gutierrez, some of the key Christian leaders who host our ministry in that city.
Thursday was the women’s conference on Spiritual Maturity. Carla spoke to the approximately 50 women and girls assembled and Melinda led a craft session afterward in which women made a set of note cards. Other activities included sharing our personal faith stories with various groups, counseling various people and just enjoying the gracious people in that place.
On the second Saturday our hosts took us to see Cholula, which is the largest pyramid in the world (the base of the ruined structure is larger that the pyramids of Egypt). We enjoyed seeing that city and walking around the great Zolcalo in nearby Puebla. I was astounded when we visited the baroque-style cathedral in Puebla and we had a fun last evening in Mexico enjoying the festival atmosphere, which we were told is a common occurrence in central Puebla.
The next day we took the bus to Mexico City and after seemingly unending delays, flew to Los Angeles and then drove on home arriving around 2:00 am. Though we were exhausted, it was a fabulous and very memorable trip.
Thanks for your prayers, Mike and Melinda Bogart
Here are a few of the friends we made during this memorable and strategic trip:
Jesus of Nazareth has been hanging on the cross for approximately three hours. Ever since he was nailed to the rough wood at around 9:00 am he has been suffering pain of the most intense kind. Aside from the actual nail wounds in his hands and feet, the seven-inch spikes have crushed the main nerves in his wrists and ankles. This is causing stabbing, burning pain to shoot up his limbs. The two criminals crucified with him are also writhing in agony, increasing the stress and chaos of the scene.
Before Jesus had even reached the cross, Roman soldiers had flogged him with a metal tipped whip until his back was laid open and oozing with blood. The soldiers had mocked him as they forced a crown of thorns onto his head, causing deep puncture wounds. Jesus had then been forced to carry the heavy crossbeam of the crucifix through the twisting streets of Jerusalem. Part of the way to the place of execution he stumbled, unable to carry the load any further. No doubt, he was in the advanced stages of what is medically called hypovolemic shock. The blood loss was robbing him of most of his strength, causing him raging thirst and the swelling of his tongue.
Now on the cross, Jesus’ most pressing problem was not the pain, the thirst, or the exhaustion, but the inability to breathe. In order to exhale or to speak, he would be forced to push himself up with his legs, causing an even greater degree of pain. Soon he would run out of strength in his legs and sag down until stopped by the spikes holding his wrists.
However, to this point, Jesus had suffered no more than many thousands of others whom the Romans had executed in this manner. Crucifixion was an unimaginably horrible way to die. The Romans knew this and used it as an object lesson for any who might wish to defy their rule. Then, about noon (what the New Testament calls the sixth hour of the day), what Jesus had dreaded in the Garden of Gethsemane came upon him. The real suffering took place in this three hour period from noon to 3:00, during which God the Father somehow put our sins upon him and judged him in the full fury of divine wrath.
Matthew, Mark and Luke record that a deep and eerie darkness spread over the land during this second three hour period. This event was much noted in the ancient world and was evidently discussed in various writings for years afterward. A Greek author named Phlegon, writing around 137 AD reports that in the 202nd Olympiad (that is, 33 AD) there was “….the greatest eclipse of the sun (ever recorded). It became night in the sixth hour of the day, so that the stars even appeared in the sky.” He further states that there was a great earthquake, felt as far north as the Black Sea coast of what is now Turkey.
A writer named Thallus, whose original work (around 52 AD) is now lost, was quoted by a later author named Julius Africanus, who wrote in AD 221. In reference to this unusual darkness of 33 AD, he says, “Thallus in the third book of his histories explains away the darkness as an eclipse of the sun—unreasonably as it seems to me.” The early church leader Tertullian (215 AD) says that this darkness was widely observed in such cities as Rome and Athens, and calls it “a cosmic event”.
What was the significance of these three hours of darkness, with its accompanying earthquake? Let me suggest several things:
It was the time of God’s judgment on the world’s sin. In essence, God the Father identified his Son Jesus with our sins, turned his back on him and caused him to suffer our judgment. The Bible has many references to God being full of light. If the presence of God the Father was removed from Jesus, it would explain the darkness.
It was the time of Satan’s short-lived triumph. Satan is described as the Prince of Darkness in the Scriptures. For three hours Satan could abuse and torture Jesus spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically as he gloated over the apparent failure of God’s Kingdom. The concentration of evil into that focal point also explains the darkness.
The earthquake is explained in Matthew 27:51, where it tells us that along with the violent shaking of the earth, the curtain in the Jewish Temple (which separated the holy presence of God from sinners) was torn in two from top to bottom. Clearly the New Testament is teaching that complete and final atonement for sin had been made. To put it simply, that earthquake tore the curtain separating us from God. Now the way to God’s presence is open for any who come through faith in Christ’s atonement.
At 3:00 pm, just before the earthquake, Jesus raised himself on his mangled legs one final time to proclaim, “It is finished. Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” As the dust from the quake settled and the darkness dispersed, Jesus’ friends took his body from the cross and put it in a tomb donated by a wealthy follower. There it lay as night came. A day and another night came and went.
Then, at dawn on Sunday morning, Jesus rose from the dead in victory over sin and death. Light from the rising sun supplemented light from the heavenly messengers in confirmation that atonement was complete. The rule of darkness was broken. The Kingdom of light and peace and joy was assured.
“So what?” you ask. Here’s the point. It is your choice whether to remain in the darkness or come into the light. John 3:19 speaks of those who refuse Christ’s light, preferring the darkness because their deeds are evil. Colossians 1:13 describes those who have put their faith in Jesus as being transferred from darkness into light. Jesus has paid for your sins and made eternal life available. Now the choice is yours: to go your own way, or to follow him!
It has been said that the Bible is merely an ancient set of writings which may contain noble ideas, but that it is not inspired by God in any special sense. This type of statement has been made so confidently and so often that many people have come to believe it without ever studying the issue or reading the book itself.
The fact is, the Bible makes specific claims to be inspired by God. Let’s see if there is any evidence to support its claim.
Here are just a couple of examples from the Old Testament. Referring to the Law of Moses (Genesis through Deuteronomy), Psalm 19:7-11 consistently calls it, not the words of Moses, but God’s word. Jeremiah 1:1-2 claims that this book is the result of the word of the Lord coming to Jeremiah. This is typical of the prophetic writings and is found throughout both major and minor prophets.
In the New Testament, 2 Timothy 3:15-17 tells us that all scripture is inspired by God (literally “God-breathed”). Even more specifically, 2 Peter 1:19-21 tells us that the inspired words of the prophets have been confirmed (made more certain) in the New Testament. This short passage goes on to say that scripture did not originate in the mind of any man, but originated with the Holy Spirit who moved men to speak (or write).
Perhaps the greatest evidence of the inspired nature of the Bible comes from Jesus Christ himself in Matthew 5:18: “For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.(NKJV)”. In this verse, Jesus most solemnly affirms not only the general inspiration of the message of Scripture (speaking here of the Old Testament) but explicitly of the words and letters, down to the smallest strokes of the pen which distinguish letter from letter (the tittle is the little overhang which makes the difference between the Hebrew “he” ה and the “chet” ח). In other words, Jesus is saying that the scriptures are inspired and unfailing in their divine purpose.
In addition to its own claims, consider some of the following facts which show the Bible to be absolutely unique:
It consists of 66 books, some of which are further divided into sub-books and sections. It was composed over a period of some 1,500 years. The Bible’s human writers number at least 40. They came from all walks of life and lived under widely differing circumstances. Some where highly educated; others came from a relatively humble background. Some were people of great influence, while others were oppressed by the powerful. These writers had highly diverse personalities and backgrounds.
The Bible contains several distinct types of literature, including poetry, proverbial wisdom, philosophy, love songs, genealogical lists, creation accounts, historical sagas, apocalypse (vivid prophetic imagery), as well as straight narrative prose.
The original text of the Bible was written in three different languages: Hebrew Aramaic and Koine Greek. Its subject matter includes dozens of highly controversial topics that people throughout history have struggled with. Yet despite these huge obstacles to its cohesion, the Bible flows as a single work, retaining amazing unity of purpose, consistency of ideas, and continuity of theme.
Here are some other facts worth considering: The Bible is the most published book ever. It is the most translated book of all time. In fact, the Old Testament was the first major book ever to be translated (around 200 BC from its original languages into Greek).
The Bible has had an amazing ability to survive the rigors of history. For example:
It has survived the tendency of time to corrupt its text. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls has shown that the copying process of the Old Testament has remained accurate in the extreme over many hundreds of years. Likewise the reliability of the New Testament’s manuscripts is shown through exacting comparison of hundreds of ancient copies.
The Bible has survived repeated attempts to destroy it by various enemies. Roman emperors, pagan rulers and communist governments have done their best to burn, confiscate and limit its availability—all to no avail. It has also survived more than 2,000 years of attacks aimed at discrediting and disproving it. The dozens of theories “disproving the Bible” can be read about in history books, but the Bible still remains a living and relevant book today. If anything, as a result of the probing of its critics, it has shown itself to be more reliable not less.
So, there is plenty of evidence that the Bible is truly what it claims to be: God’s inspired word. Such a book deserves our study, our respect and our willing cooperation with its teachings and discipline.