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TEL International

Author: Reginald Harris

Serve Willingly

Serve Willingly

Luke 1:26-42 is a very interesting account of a women who willingly rendered herself to God’s service, to God’s plan, to God’s program, and to God’s proposal. It challenges me when I read Mary’s humble response to the Angel Gabriel; “Behold the handmaid (bondslave) of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.”

These are the words of a servant, They reflect the attitude of a person bound to God. The words reveal the disposition of someone who is willing and ready to make personal sacrifices for God, for His plan and His program, regardless of the outcome. Like Mary, most people in God’s service at one time or another have made a similar response to God. This certainly is true of missionaries. Like Mary missionaries are self-denying, self-giving, and self sacrificing. It is not unusual for missionaries to deny themselves the rights and privileges of their native country in order to spread the gospel in another country. Since many countries prohibit foreigners to possess land, it is not unusual for missionaries to give up the luxury of owning their own homes; nor is it unusual for missionaries to sacrifice the celebration of holidays with extended families. In fact, some people who serve in tropical climates or in Africa  even in many third-world countries sacrifice their own personal health and perhaps their lives to spread the gospel. Missionaries who rightly serve our Lord and Saviour have the same humble response as Mary did: “Behold the [bondslave] of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38). In fact, we are to serve the Lord in our mission fields with a like attitude.

Jim Elliot wrote, “As your life is in His hands, so are the days of your life. But don’t let the sands of time get into the eye of your vision to reach those who sit in darkness. They simply must hear” (Elliott). “I know that my hopes and plans for myself could not be any better than He has arranged and fulfilled them. Thus may we all find it, and know the truth of the word which says, ‘He will be our Guide even until death.”

Lord, as You lead us from day to day, help us have the same attitude as Mary. Help us be able to say, “Behold the [bondslave] of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38). Amen.

Godly Discipline

Godly Discipline

When we see parents permitting their child to stage a temper tantrum, we are witnessing a failure of love. True love restrains the child because he has not learned to restrain himself. When, on the other hand, parents employ godly discipline, they are teaching their children to please God.

In a self-indulgent society, godly discipline is sometimes labeled “child abuse.” It is no wonder, that there is so little understanding of a heavenly Father who also disciplines His children. If God is both loving and just, how could He act otherwise? Justice requires that punishment be meted out when sin is committed, while love uses every stratagem possible to dissuade us from sinning. It is an awful thing to think that people in other countries are bound for hell unless they hear and respond to the gospel; but how sad it will be for those who know the gospel and do nothing about it. Jesus said, “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required” (Like 12:48). This verse has a powerful application to the work of missions. How can we enjoy freedom and comfort at home, while showing no regard for millions who are perishing in other regions of the world?

The missionary must go out in response to such needs in obedience to the command of the Saviour. “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). When missionaries stop going and when believers at home stop supporting the men and women who are laboring in those distant fields, the church itself will be in a state of disobedience. It is a fearful thing to contemplate the church itself ripe for God’s judgment.

God’s Grace In Action

God’s Grace In Action

Barnabas, “son of consolation” (Acts 4:36)., a person Luke described as “a good man” (11:24), was chosen and sent by the Jerusalem church to investigate the mixed congregation of Jews and Gentiles in Syrian Antioch. Were the happenings in Syrian Antioch of God? These were some of the Jerusalem church’s concerns.

As a result, the church sent Barnabas. Barnabas was a man who had distinguished himself as one who had a generous spirit (Acts 4:36-37). He was a man who was understanding and compassionate (9:27; 15:37-39). He was a man who was an encourager. When Barnabas arrived in Syrian Antioch, he saw God’s grace operating among the Jews and Gentiles alike. In fact, the entire book of acts points out that God’s grace in action transcends all people groups and cultures. God’s grace looks beyond race, color, and creed. Given what Barnabas witnessed in Antioch, he “exhorted (encouraged) them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord” (Acts 11:23). The church at Antioch had obviously begun well. They merely needed encouragement in the Lord. They merely needed someone to urge them to carry on in their loyal service to Jesus Christ and to exhort them to continue in their obedience to their Lord.

God’s grace abounds all over the world. Perhaps you can give testimony to God’s saving grace in the world today. Perhaps you recently received a prayer letter from a missionary that reflects God’s saving grace, or perhaps you have experienced first-hand God’s saving grace in a person’s life. God’s saving grace permeates the globe. Today more than ever, churches are needed to send people who are like Barnabas – people who are understanding of other people’s cultures and not judgemental. Missionaries are needed who dwell on biblical issues. The proclamation of the gospel suffers when people advance Western cultural ideas as biblical mandates. Condemning amoral issues will not win targeted souls to Jesus Christ.

More than ever churches are needed to send men and women who are understanding and compassionate, not insensitive to new believers and the struggles they face. For instance, for many Ghanaians, baptism equals the relinquishing of all family ties. We need to be sensitive to such realities. The church needs to send people who are able to urge other believers to carry on in loyal service for the Lord Jesus Christ. Churches need to send people who are able to encourage believers to continue in their obedience to Jesus Christ. More important, the church needs to be about the business of sending.

The historical cry for people to go is superseded today by people who wait. People wait for churches to send them. Today a missionary waits an average of two and a half years before he is actually able to go. Many Barnabases are waiting. They need only a church to send them.

More Than A Prophet

More Than A Prophet

Jesus once asked his disciples, “Whom do men say that I the Son of man am” (Matt 16:13)? Who was Jesus anyway? Most people of His day viewed Him as some sort of prophet (John the Baptist, Elijah, or Jeremiah, for example).

Islam, a state religion in some twenty-five countries and professed religion to over 1 billion individuals, continues to consider Jesus to be a great prophet. In fact, according to the Koran, Muhammad, founder of Islam (A.D. 570-632), was convinced that Jesus was Allah’s prophet who prepared the way for his arrival. Muhammad viewed himself to be a prophet to the Arabs in much the same way that Jesus was a prophet. In fact, Muhammad taught that when Jesus was born, it was foretold that Jesus would be someone who would be noble, live a righteous life, and be favored by Allah. In the Koran, Jesus has the highest ranking among the prophets. He has special abilities to further proclaim Allah’s message. In fact, His abilities prepare for the grand finale of the prophet Muhammad himself. Despite His prominence in the Koran, Jesus’ position there is less than what Peter said about Jesus. Peter said, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16). Peter’s confession occurred just prior to Jesus’ teaching to His disciples on humility, love, and forgiveness (Matt. 18). Since Jesus, in His first advent, appeared not as the majestic Ruler but as a suffering Messiah who would take away the sins of the world, the disciples had to learn how to love and forgive one another. Jesus thus began to prepare His disciples for His departure – His death and resurrection.

Islam, like many religions throughout the world today, has an elevated view of Jesus. Jesus, however, is not the Messiah who suffered death and resurrection for the sins of the world. In fact, the Koran denies the crucifixion of the Messiah. In Islam, salvation does not come through Jesus Christ; it comes through the Koran.

Missionaries who minister to Muslims have a difficult task because Jesus is highly venerated as a great prophet. He is, however, more than a great prophet, a moral teacher, or a good example. Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16). He came and took away the sin of the world, and He provides salvation to those who trust in Him alone.

Putting God First

Putting God First

Most of us live hurried lives. We are hard pressed at work, at home, and at church to accomplish more than a twenty-four hour day seems to allow. The demands are overwhelming. In fact, full schedules cause many people to depend on a scheduler to stay organized and productive. The scheduler helps busy people plan their day, stay on top of events, boost their productivity, and find more time for family and leisure.

Most importantly a scheduler helps busy people prioritize – weigh the importance of each task for long-term as well as short-term goals. Some things are high on the priority list; other things must wait. Sometimes priorities shift at the last minute to meet highly important and urgent needs; nevertheless, prioritizing is paramount. The account of Mary and Martha is about priorities. Jesus said to Martha, “Martha thou art careful and troubled about many things: but one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42). “But one thing is needful” is a statement that sets priorities. Jesus commended Mary for taking time to sit and listen to Him. Regular listening to Jesus through Bible study is a priority. Another priority set by Jesus is found in Matthew. Jesus said, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (28:19-20).

Sadly, the importance and urgency of missions across the street and around the world are no longer important and urgent priorities in many churches today. Some churches view missions as highly important but not urgent. They invite missionaries who are raising support to visit and present their programs. They express an interest in supporting the missionary but withhold any decision for a year. The missionary cannot advance but is left in a holding pattern. Missions is important but not urgent.

Other churches view missions as urgent but not important. They too invite missionaries to visit and present their programs. They too express an interest in supporting the missionary. They however, provide the missionary fifteen dollars a month support. As gracious as that fifteen dollars might appear, it is not in keeping with today’s cost of living. An urgency exists, but missions is not important.

Many churches need a scheduler. They need help in prioritizing the important and urgent matters. Many people are willing, ready, and waiting to go. They just need a church to send them. Jesus said that He came to this world to seek and to save the lost. When He returned to heaven, He left us with that task. Let us not be Marthas, “troubled about many things” (Luke 10:41). Let us be Marys. Let us prioritize and focus on what is important and urgent.

True Worship Matters

True Worship Matters

I went to church service recently in which a powerful and emotional solo called “I Feel Like Moving On” was sung. The more I listened, however, the more disturbed I became by the emphasis on feeling. In my heart I made a decision. By His grace I am going to move on in my service to God regardless of how I feel. The worship of God by His people is such a sacred and intimate experience that we should not be surprised how often the enemy tries to pervert it.

Missionaries are constantly under attack for trying to “subvert” the culture and traditions of indigenous peoples. Unfortunately there are times compromises are made to avoid conflict, and the result is a worship that is a mixture of Christianity and paganism. Not surprisingly, this satisfies no one. How could it be otherwise? If it is true that a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways and cannot hope to receive anything from the Lord (Jas. 1:6-8), how stable and blessed can an institution be that is double-minded? Some churches that I’ve visited in Sub Saharan African countries offer the spectacle of religion that blends Christian elements with paganism. The amalgamation that has resulted has almost always turned out to be an enemy of Christianity, with persecution of believers not too far behind. There is nothing in the church that we should be more careful about than our worship. It must be “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). lest we come under the same judgment.

The worst damage is the damage we inflict on ourselves by offering people a cheap grace, or easy believism. We give them membership and baptism and important roles in the church without requiring repentance and confession and true discipleship. We do not call on people to count the cost for following Christ because we have removed the cost. Apart from commitment and obedience to the Lord, acts of worship are not just empty and meaningless: they are an offense to God.

Faith and Wisdom

Faith and Wisdom

In his writings, James spoke of subjects that are of vital importance in the lives of believers. As a missionary, I have had the privilege to hear and witness many examples that illustrate biblical truth. One such example was the matter of the tongue. My African pastor friends used many illustrations in their sermons. One such example had to do with the annual fires that swept across rural countryside of the Brong Ahafo Region of Ghana, Africa.

The Apostle James wrote, “And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell” (Jas. 3:6). The tongue of a Christian is a potential instrument of blessings, or it can be used to dishonor the Lord. James spoke of this when he wrote, “Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be” (vss. 9-10). He then went on to pose the question as to whether a fountain sends forth from the same place both sweet and bitter water. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers, “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (II Cor. 5:17). The results of the new birth will have a definite positive affect on a person’s speech if he allows the Lord to have control of his tongue. The mind controls man’s actions, including his words. In proverbs we read, “For as he thinketh in his heart, think pure things, and do good in all his ways. That, however, is not the usual behavior of all believers.

Some of my most interesting times on the mission field involved listening to the wisdom of the older African believers. Those who had grown up in an atmosphere of witchcraft and worship of all kinds of gods could speak from experience of the satanic powers that had once bound them in fear and superstition. They spoke with confidence and assurance of God’s love for them and of the joy and peace they possessed. Their wisdom in certain spiritual areas far surpassed that of their missionary friends.

James wrote, “Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? Let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom” (Jas. 3:13). Wisdom from the Lord does not cause a person to consider himself superior to others. A man with wisdom from the Lord will be identified by the works it produces. Faith and true wisdom walk together.

Discipline and Restoration

Discipline and Restoration

Paul urged the Corinthian church to restore people under discipline as quickly as possible to fellowship in the Christian community. He firmly stated that sin should not be tolerated, and he insisted that the church discipline those  who refused to repent; however, he looked forward to the time when these people would come back to the Lord and again become a part of the Christian community. Such a time had come for the man referred to in this post. It was time to forgive this man and help him move from his state of separation to full membership in the church. In dealing with believers who back-slide, one extreme is to tolerate the sin and say nothing. The other extreme is to put someone out of the church and abandon him.

A missionary in Africa thought it was time to talk to a certain chief about his relationship to Christ. When the missionary questioned this man, the chief answered that he had received the Lord as his Saviour twenty-two years before. He said, “For years I was a Christian in good standing in the church; then I became sick. I had swellings all over my body. The people in the village made medicine from the bark of a tree. I took the medicine. For days I did not know whether I would live or die. Finally, I recovered. I think the medicine helped me. “Some people, however, reported to church leaders that I had taken medicine prepared by a witch doctor. For this I was put out of the church. I became embittered against the church and other Christians.

This story is sad because the church leaders had not thoroughly investigated the man’s situation when he was disciplined. Even more serious, they had abandoned the chief. They had not expressed their love for him and their concern that he return to the church. Whether a church practices discipline or not, it is important to follow those who once claimed to be believers but who have dropped out of the Christian community. God loves them, and we should love them too.

Christians should, in Paul’s words, be a sweet “savour of life” (II Cor. 2:16). We should announce to those who have fallen that God still loves them and that His grace can bring them home to Him.

Sharing God’s Grace

Sharing God’s Grace

It is difficult to capture the essence of a book of the Bible in one word. However, this can be done with the book of Philippians, for the heart of this epistle is “joy”. It is quite intriguing to me that an epistle with the theme of joy, the Apostle Paul took the opportunity to reveal a personal dilemma that he faced.

When Paul thought about his death, the thought did not depress him. Paul really believed that dying and being in the presence of his Savior would be gain (phil. 1:21). On the  other hand, Paul had a great desire to remain alive and continue this ministry to the Philippians. Paul’s personal dilemma teaches us that serving Jesus Christ is often dangerous. This is especially true when it comes to missionary activity. The purpose of this entry is to emphasize the dangerous nature of world missions. There is no doubt that their is an increasing danger to missionaries throughout the world. Two major factors that contribute to the increasing danger are the destabilization and instability in many regions that followed the end of the two superpower era . . . and the increasing missions push into areas dominated by other religious systems.

In many instances, the missionary faces the realistic truth that spreading God’s Word to further His kingdom is not safe. In order to accomplish his calling, therefore, it is imperative for a missionary to develop a heart of love fixed on Jesus Christ in faith. Since 9/11, we all live in a more dangerous world. We all must address whether or under what circumstances a ransom will be paid; whether, when and how to evacuate missions personnel; and how to plan missions operations and provide adequate security. May Paul’s personal dilemma concerning life and death motivate us to serve Christ with joy.