Contentment

“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13) Philippians 4:13 is a well-known and often quoted Bible verse, and with good reason. The verse is empowering and encouraging. I have heard it mentioned in association with many personal accomplishments related to professional goals, sports and physical fitness. Of course we hear the verse when talking about more spiritual matters, also, like overcoming addictions or sharing Christ with others in difficult situations. … [Continue Reading]

“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)

Philippians 4:13 is a well-known and often quoted Bible verse, and with good reason. The verse is empowering and encouraging. I have heard it mentioned in association with many personal accomplishments related to professional goals, sports and physical fitness. Of course we hear the verse when talking about more spiritual matters, also, like overcoming addictions or sharing Christ with others in difficult situations. We may also look to this verse in difficult times of hardship or persecution. It is good to thank and rely on God in these times, and to celebrate his love and mercy with thankfulness.

However, it seems that we rarely connect Philippians 4:13 with the very things that Paul mentioned right before writing this famous verse. It is one thing to cling to this verse when we are faced with hunger or need. But Paul seems to have taken this a step further. He says that he has learned in every situation to be content. Paul certainly looked to God to supply his needs when supplies were scarce; he was learning as well the secret of contentment in everything.

This is a great lesson for us in ministry. It is easy for us to pray together for God’s provision when supplies do not seem to meet our expectations, and then to rejoice with one another when God supplies what we believe we need. But maybe there is another appropriate response in times of need – contentment. I am not suggesting that financial shortfalls are always the will of God, but we should consider this as a possibility. It is possible that our own financial goals might not be in sync with God’s plans. This we have seen and accepted when financial provision is abundant – but it is more difficult when provision is lacking. If we fail to consider that God’s perfect provision is sometimes less than we anticipated, we can miss out on great ministry and learning opportunities. It is in times like these that we can more easily learn again to depend on the power of God rather than our own abilities. Any ministry we are involved in is ultimately God’s ministry and we can be sure that God knows the needs of his ministry. Neither abundance nor need should ultimately affect the ministry that God has called us to. Like Paul, we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.

In May we were able to pay all of our missionaries 100 percent of their target allowance. We used $39,712 from the General Fund to meet these needs, leaving a General Fund balance of $103,809 at the end of the month. Our Benefits Fund carried a balance of $29,341.

Thank you for your ongoing support!

Abu Ghosh Frescoe

Emmaus

Unlike many sites in the Holy Land, no one seems to know, precisely, where Emmaus might have been. This uncertainty surprised me, while visiting the Holy Land recently. Emmaus, I should have thought, is the sort of place you might want to keep track of: it figured rather famously, after all, once long ago. The Resurrected Lord of the Universe met a pair of dispirited disciples there, in the evening of the original Easter day. … [Continue Reading]

Abu Ghosh Cathedral

Abu Ghosh Cathedral

Unlike many sites in the Holy Land, no one seems to know, precisely, where Emmaus might have been. This uncertainty surprised me, while visiting the Holy Land recently. Emmaus, I should have thought, is the sort of place you might want to keep track of: it figured rather famously, after all, once long ago. The Resurrected Lord of the Universe met a pair of dispirited disciples there, in the evening of the original Easter day. He met them on the road, “going to a village called Emmaus” (Luke 24:13). Wherever it was.

Many put Emmaus in a place called Latrun, known as Nicopolis in ancient times. Others place it closer to Jerusalem – perhaps in Abu Ghosh, perhaps in a place called Qubeiba. New Testament manuscripts do not agree among themselves, as it turns out. Some manuscripts put the village at “sixty stadia” (about seven miles) distance from Jerusalem. Other ancient variations put it at “a hundred sixty stadia” (eighteen miles or so). None of the manuscripts give much sense of direction. Was the village 7 miles or 18 miles away from old Jerusalem? Did it lie to the north, south, east or west?

As for our little study group, we visited a lovely cathedral in the village of Abu Ghosh, built in Crusader times to honor the memory of Emmaus. The Crusaders, anyway, thought this may have been the original site, referenced in Luke 24. They measured a radius of sixty stadia around the old city of Jerusalem (cf. 24:13), found Abu Ghosh lying there, discovered a well in the middle of town (a likely meeting place for visitors passing through) and erected a church over the site. Why not?

This was a perfect way to identify Emmaus, I have since concluded. Of all the famous New Testament places, “Emmaus” could be anywhere. It should be anywhere, in fact. “Emmaus,” in a way, is an arbitrary waypoint along the pathway of our lives. It is not a distinctive destination – as you would say of Disneyland or the National Mall, for example. People pass through Emmaus, for the most part (Lk. 24:28). They stop, sometimes, only if “urged strongly” (Lk. 24:29).

No one seems to know who the two disciples were, either. One was named Cleopas, whoever that was. (Some think that he was the brother-in-law of Mary of Nazareth; some do not.) The other disciple isn’t identified at all. (Some think that she was the wife of Cleopas, whatever her name; some do not.) They are anonymous believers, more or less, on their way to an unidentified Emmaus.

Abu Ghosh Frescoe

Abu Ghosh Frescoe

The cathedral in Abu Ghosh continues the theme of anonymity. Its ceiling and walls must have taken your breath away, once upon a time: you can appreciate the vestiges of many colorful frescoes, depicting elaborate biblical scenes and mighty heroes of the faith. But their faces have been rubbed out, every one of them. The depictions offended Islamic sensibilities when Abu Ghosh was ruled by the Ottoman Empire. Its Ottoman stewards cleansed the images by rubbing out their faces. The heroes have become anonymous, every single one.

For Emmaus, in particular – this is perfect, I think.

Emmaus is anywhere. The disciples are any pair of believers. It is not latitude and longitude, or names and coordinates that put Emmaus on the map. It is Jesus. He meets his disciples – any one of us, anywhere we are – as we journey our way through life. Why, you still might expect to meet him along the road. Wherever you are. Maybe even today.

Two things happen in this encounter. The Lord reveals himself to the disciples: he creates in them the miracle of faith. And the disciples reveal the encounter to others: the Lord enlists them in his mission. This is the prototypical experience of our Christian faith: Jesus meets us; Jesus enlists us. And you don’t have to be “somebody” for this to be your own experience. You don’t have to be “somewhere” other than where you are, or in “some time” other than today.

You are on your own “road to Emmaus,” you see – and no scholar can prove to you otherwise. Jesus intends to meet you there. You may expect him to lead you into the Scriptures (Lk. 24:27). He may set your heart on fire (Lk. 24:32). And when you meet him, when he opens your heart in faith, you will find that he gives you something to share, as well – a Sure Truth to proclaim, a Gospel Story to tell, and a Mission to make disciples of all the peoples of the world.

Focus on the Unreached: “The Islands”

Imagine… hundreds of tiny islands with lush tropical vegetation; pristine white coral sand beaches lined by swaying coconut palms; turquoise lagoons with warm, crystal clear water; beautiful, hospitable people. Sound like paradise? Now imagine… 120,000 people and the institutions to run an entire nation packed onto an island smaller than threequarters of a square mile; so little cultivatable land that nearly all food must be imported; limited, uncertain fresh water sources; one of the highest … [Continue Reading]

Imagine… hundreds of tiny islands with lush tropical vegetation; pristine white coral sand beaches lined by swaying coconut palms; turquoise lagoons with warm, crystal clear water; beautiful, hospitable people. Sound like paradise?

Now imagine… 120,000 people and the institutions to run an entire nation packed onto an island smaller than threequarters of a square mile; so little cultivatable land that nearly all food must be imported; limited, uncertain fresh water sources; one of the highest divorce rates in the world; a society dominated by fear and distrust.

“The Islands” is an Islamic country – practice of no other religion is allowed, and any “materials contrary to Islam” are banned from entering the nation. Here, however, Islam mixes easily with traditional folk beliefs about the spirit world. Spirit beings from sea or land may interact with humans in helpful or harmful ways, but most Islanders live in fear of the power they are presumed to wield.

The current population is approximately 394,000 with about 30% of people living in the capital. An average household might include six or seven people – more in the capital. The country enjoys a high rate of literacy (93-96%) among both males and females in their national language. English is spoken by most government officials and is the medium of education in most schools. Islander economy is based largely on fishing and tourism. Unemployment among youth ages 15-24 is slightly higher than 22%.

  • Ask God to deliver those who are tormented by fear and restore those who have been broken by divorce.
  • Pray that Islanders will have a hunger to know God, and that they would have access to his Word and other resources in their language.
  • Pray for more intercessors who will faithfully stand in the gap for “The Islands,” and that more workers will be sent out.

[Jesus answered] “… whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst.” (John 4:14, NIV)

Bread

Feeding the Hungry

“I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry…’” (Matthew 15:32) The gospels tell us of two occasions in which Jesus provides food for large crowds. On one occasion a crowd of 5,000 was fed with five loaves and two fish. Then a crowd of 4,000 was fed with seven loaves and a few fish. … [Continue Reading]

“I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry…’” (Matthew 15:32)

The gospels tell us of two occasions in which Jesus provides food for large crowds. On one occasion a crowd of 5,000 was fed with five loaves and two fish. Then a crowd of 4,000 was fed with seven loaves and a few fish. Jesus’ disciples did not seem to have any idea what he was about to do before either of these miracles. I have thought in the past that the disciples should have exhibited more faith by the time this happened a second time, but after a closer reading my thoughts have changed.

BreadJust a few minutes separate these two miracles as you read through the book of Matthew, but for those who lived these stories a lot of time and many experiences separated the events. In my own life I have experienced God’s provision with joy – then, given the same set of circumstances sometime down the road, I have wondered if God would provide again. Part of the reason is that faith tends to fade with the passing of time. This is why we need to continually work at strengthening our faith by staying constant in God’s Word, remaining in relationship with other believers, and living out our faith.

But maybe the faith of the disciples did not waiver at all. The reality is that God often does not provide for our needs in the same way time after time. Even in this case, in which the provision is so similar, there are differences. On one occasion the crowd had been with Jesus for three days. This means that Jesus did not miraculously feed them at the end of the first day or the second day, though they may have been hungry. And the Bible does not say that the disciples doubted that Jesus could do this miracle again. They only said, “Where are we to get enough bread in such a desolate place?” (Matthew 15:33) It could be that they remembered well what Jesus did previously and were now asking him indirectly to do it again.

Regardless of the mind-set of the disciples, we know that God did provide for the disciples and the crowds. As we walk through a life of Christian faith and service, we also experience the provision of God and our faith is strengthened along the way. We do not know when or how God will provide, but we can be certain that those who follow him will not go away hungry.

In April we were able to pay all of our missionaries 100 percent of their target allowance. We used $35,502 from the General Fund to meet these needs, leaving a balance of $111,765 at the end of the month. Our Benefits Fund carried a balance of $30,367. Thank you for your ongoing support!

Caesarea Philippi

I have recently had the spectacular privilege of visiting the Holy Land. On one fine day our pilgrim group journeyed to the ruins of Caesarea Philippi, once the administrative center of Philip the Tetrarch. Philip was the son of Herod the Great, who ordered the massacre of Bethlehem’s innocents, and half-brother to Herod Antipas, who presided over the crucifixion of Jesus and the martyrdom of John – an illustrious family. Here, in Caesarea Philippi, Jesus … [Continue Reading]

I have recently had the spectacular privilege of visiting the Holy Land. On one fine day our pilgrim group journeyed to the ruins of Caesarea Philippi, once the administrative center of Philip the Tetrarch. Philip was the son of Herod the Great, who ordered the massacre of Bethlehem’s innocents, and half-brother to Herod Antipas, who presided over the crucifixion of Jesus and the martyrdom of John – an illustrious family.

Here, in Caesarea Philippi, Jesus made Peter the Rock. Here he promised “the keys of the kingdom,” connecting gospel pronouncements on earth with gospel guarantees in heaven. Here Jesus promised to build his church. The apostolic mission of God was envisioned in Caesarea Philippi, the mission that carries us into the world still today: Jesus will build his church; he will enlist his disciples in the task; he will make the authority of heaven stand behind them. And the powers of death, all hell itself, cannot undo the endeavor (Matthew 16:13-20; cf. Mark 8:27-30, Luke 9:18-21).

Caesarea Philippi by seetheholyland.net • CC BY-SA 2.0

Caesarea Philippi by seetheholyland.net • CC BY-SA 2.0

Why here? I wondered.

Caesarea Philippi is the site of a geological curiosity that has attracted visitors for centuries – a remarkable cave in a sheer rock wall that is considered the source of the River Jordan. The place is positively dripping with significance for the people of Israel. No river is more important for the imagination of the Jewish nation.

Here is the site of an ancient temple dedicated to the Greek god, Pan – the god of victory in battle, hunting, herding, music, and related activities. It was said that Pan himself was born in that remarkable cave. Few places were as significant for enthusiasts of the Greek pantheon.

Ba’al was worshiped here before the Greeks arrived on the scene. Archeologists have identified 14 pagan temples, I am told, in the immediate area. Ba’al worshippers were impressed with the cave and its waters, too.

And here Herod the Great worshipped Caesar the Emperor. Herod erected a temple dedicated to his lord, demonstrating his personal devotion. He called the place Caesarea. His son Philip beautified the temple further, and in a sign of devotion added his name to the place, as well.

The Holy Land is full of holy places of many kinds and varieties, that’s for sure. But there are few places with more layers of religiosity than Caesarea Philippi. So why here? Precisely because of this multi-layered, highly-charged religious backdrop, I suppose.

It was precisely here that Jesus queried his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15) – and here that Peter famously replied, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Mt. 16:16). Jesus stood his disciples over and against this specific backdrop and asked them, in a sense, to pronounce themselves. What did they see in Jesus? Was he their Sovereign? Was he King?

The apostolic mission of God – building the church with “rocks” like Peter – gets real against the contrasting backdrop of Ba’al and Pan, or our favorite cultural icons and national deities. Jesus gathered his disciples here, not in some quiet classroom or vacation spot. Peter is no “rock” – until he finds in Jesus his King. God is our rock, after all (2 Samuel 22:3, 32, 47) – not any human being. Peter becomes building material when he rests on the Rock who is Jesus (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:4).

In this month’s issue of Together in Prayer you will find stories from Mongolia and The Islands, and prayer requests from here and there around the world. In places like these, you might find backdrops similar to the holy places of Caesarea Philippi. I have seen them: shrine places festooned with colorful amulets and offerings, dedicated to the powerful “spirits” of the land; holy places dedicated to saints and miracle workers, and so on. You can imagine Jesus standing before places like these, looking us in the eye, and asking, “Who do you say that I am?”

But you don’t need to travel to the steppes of Mongolia to find backdrops similar to Pan’s holy cave. In every human heart there is a “Caesarea Philippi” and an altar to some old Pan. It may be a pet ideology, some personal bandwagon – or wealth, prestige, comfort, security, or the path to upward mobility. It may be our children. It may be our careers. These are the reasons the ancients were attracted to places like Caesarea Philippi and their “gods.” They still attract our homage.

In the grotto of every human heart a decision will be faced. What will we make of Jesus? Will we see in him our King?

Who is Jesus for you?