Friends. We have been blessed to serve Christ this summer in many places and ways. Now we continue, on by readying ourselves for an exciting fall, always aware that our delight must be, first and forever, only in the LORD. (Psalm 37:4) Check out this latest video https://www.youtube.com/edit?o=U&video_id=HGaSj7vsfCQ Blessings, Sam
I arrived home at noon today - having started my journey from the state of Bahia, Brazil, 27 hours prior. Before coming home, on Sunday evening August 13, there was a final message for me to preach. The setting was a small church in a Barrio on the outskirts of Vitoria do Conquista. The crowd was small, not more than 70 including children, but the spirit was warm and inviting. From the moment I pulled up I could feel the glow of Christian fellowship and kindred spirit around the mission of Christ. Indeed, though small, this congregation was the place for a last 'burdening me' message there, one that had as much to do with my own country as as it did with them.
Now my 'burden' had come from me having just logged off my computer to witness the news from Charlottesville, VA. And though I was far away, my heart was broken by what I saw. The news reminded me of how things were back home, and gave me but one more example of what I believe has become the greatest period of civil, political and idealogical unrest I have ever witnessed in our country. I was torn, and thought - "What did this 'news' have to do with Brazil, or with the church I was to speak to tonight?" Yet, this was what was on my heart, and I knew it was exactly what I was to do - regardless.
My text was taken from Luke 10, concerning Jesus' encounter with a lawyer (a religious elite) in the crowd, who asked Him about eternal life.
And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?
And this is what I shared:
In my country we are struggling with racism. What people claim as a call for 'their right' is become nothing short of only their own, regardless of others. The new rule of tolerance is intolerance. And kindness and civil disobedience surrounding our rule of law is being replaced with mob violence by extremists groups who are not in keeping with what we believe, nor of who we are. Added to this is a political partisanship filled with deep division and gridlock, and a leadership base - on all sides - far too silent where it needs to speak out, and far too loud where it needs to be silent. Gone are men and women of great words and noble actions. Instead, they have been replaced with media tweets, responses, and viral videos too quickly composed, which only 'fan the flames' of fire rather than putting fires out.
Now sensibly we all may 'say' that any notion of superiority on the part of one ethnic group or race over another is but an example of the 'fall of man' at it’s worse. But, perhaps we should be reminded tonight of more; perhaps we need to be reminded that, as Christians, we have been given both a mandate by God's Word and the gift of grace in Christ to be otherwise. In short, we are called upon to expose this evil, to combat it with Christian charity and kindness, and to diligently work toward providing the only certain 'cure' with the gospel of Christ.
So how is this so? In a message by Pastor Ligon Duncan of First Presbyterian Church in Jackson MISS, http://ligonduncan.com he lists 3 Biblical teachings, or doctrines, on which both the church and us as individual Christians can stand against racism. I concur with each one of these, and here they are:
1. The doctrine that all men are created in the image of God God created our first parents in his own image (Genesis 1:26, 27, WCF 4.2), and therefore all human beings are of the same race. Scripture says: “The God who made the world and everything in it, . . . gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth” (Act 17:24-26). Because of this, Christians are to treat every human being with equal dignity as made in the image of God. So both the doctrine of creation and the biblical doctrine of man inform the Christian’s treatment of everyone, including people of other and minority ethnicities. 2. The doctrine of moral law from Moses, Jesus’ command to love our neighbors Both the Old Testament and the New Testament command love for our neighbor. Moses is very specific about what love of neighbor entails: “You shall not oppress your neighbor . . . . You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor. . . . You shall not hate your brother in your heart, . . . lest you incur sin because of him. . . . but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD” (Lev 19:13-18). Neighbor love, then, according to God’s moral law, exemplified in the fifth through tenth commandments, calls for impartial kindness and justice to be shown to all. Moses grounds this behavior in God’s character (Leviticus 19:3, 4, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18) and it is our responsibility as believers to imitate him “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2). And this neighbor love was not reserved for Israelites only. Moses extends it to foreigners: “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 19:33-34). Jesus reiterates this command in the New Testament (e.g., Mark 12:31, Luke 10:25-37). After summarizing the ethical requirements of the moral law of God for the believer’s life by saying: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27) Jesus is met with the self-justifying question: “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). In other words, the lawyer who queried Jesus was seeking a delimitation of the demands of neighbor love. Jesus answers with the story of the Good Samaritan, and makes it clear that the better question is “Am I a good neighbor?” Jesus’ application of the story shows that those who obey God’s command to love neighbor don’t attempt to delimit the obligation of neighbor love, but rather show mercy indiscriminately and even at significant personal cost (Luke 10:36-37) On this basis, Christians are enjoined by the moral law and by Jesus’ direct exhortation to show love, care, concern for the well-being of, justice, mercy and kindness to all people, with impartiality.
3. The doctrine of the communion of the saints Jesus commissioned his church to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). The language of “all nations” (πάντα τὰ ἔθνη [panta ta ethnē]) highlights the connection of Jesus’ great commission to the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant (Genesis 12:3; 18:18; 22:18; 26:4) and the Gentile mission of the church. The command to make disciples from “all nations” indicates that Jesus intended us to go to all the peoples of earth with the Gospel, and that he intended his church to include disciples from all peoples. “Don’t just go to the Jewish people, but to all the Gentile peoples,” Jesus is saying. He reiterates this in Acts 1:8 when he tells his disciples that they will be his witnesses “to the end of the earth.” The New Testament repeatedly celebrates the fact that Jesus’ redemptive work has brought believing Jews and Gentiles, once separated by the ceremonial law, into one body, the church. No passage states this more clearly than Ephesians 2:11-22
There was so much more that I shared on this night, but any thought that this was not what was needed in Brazil was dispelled as I gazed on the faces of these dear brothers and sisters nodding their heads. Clearly, the teaching of Christ and call of the gospel and the church was as evident and necessary to them as it was to me. But what else?
Well, as I was preaching my message this is what else happened. It was Father's Day in Brazil - Dia do Pai - and God laid on my heart - right at the end of the message - to ask each of the fathers in the congregation to stand and face me. As they did, I challenged them to stop this evil by combating it in their own homes. To dispel racism in every way possible by what they did (their actions) and by what they taught (their words). I was intentional in speaking of actions first and words second. As well, at the same time I was asking them to teach to their charges in every conceivable and measurable way possible the truth that all men are created equal, that all are to be shown charity, and that all are called to the table of Christ as brothers and equals. As I faced these brothers in Christ, one grandfather - about my age - had his arms about his two grandchildren. His hands were gnarled with the work of his days and his brow curled deep by the sun. Yet, his eyes were clear and strong as they gazed steadily into mine. I could tell he was listening, and that he was willing to do whatever it took to make this so in his own home. As he did this he reached down to hold his two grandchildren by the hand, his eyes filled with resolve. Then, as I looked upon the faces of these two children myself, I saw something that was very moving to me. The man's grandchildren were not looking at me at all. Instead, they looked only at their Avô, their grandfather, and the look they gave him was enough for me to know that my burden had found a proper voice this night. For though on this night I could not be in Charlottesville, I could be - and was - in Brazil. And for me, witnessing this scene, that was quite, quite enough!
I returned to the city of Montes Claros, MG - having completed a 5 day trip to the southernmost region of North Minas Gerais. Minas Gerais (MG) is a very large state - almost the size of Texas - and my travel into the southern region of just the northern part of this large state exposed me to the grandness and scope of the P70 Church Planting vision. Their vision, which is great, addresses a need - it is to create and provide quality seminary training for new pastors being called to plant churches here. However, it is also a unique vision because it also addresses the challenge they have of distance and difficulty of travel, which makes a traditional approach of 1 seminary in 1 locale a difficult and unnecessary hardship. The answer? A model whereby we bring a quality seminary program to strategic areas of this state, which will be accessible for each of the pastors being called.
So check out my video https://youtu.be/D2ZrUlhMRww (either here are on FB) which is a greeting from some of the pastors in Montes Claros. This is both to you and to seminary educators like my friend, Dr. Gene Wilkes, the President of B.H. Carroll Seminary. Then, join me in prayer that God might open for them partnerships designed to provide guidance, encouragement - and perhaps even the resource of professors - who can help meet this need. Indeed, Jesus said 'the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few.' Therefore, we must 'pray to the LORD of the harvestfor laborer's' - and, may I add, for those who will help as persons willing to provide the training and mentorship they need. Indeed, Christianity at its core is bothrelational (us to God) and missional (us to others), and the mission from Christ is clear.
The last days have found me quite busy here in Montes Claros, yet not so much to keep me from enjoying the beautiful weather. Today I spent time walking through the Central Market, and, as always, enjoyed the diversity of people I passed along the way. Brazilians love being outside and there is never a 'spot' without the sounds of music, an open cafe, and people enjoying their mild winter season.
For the next 2 weeks Jairo and the P70 leadership are between mission trips, so this means we are able - and will - spend our days visiting the various outposts of churches and missions within a 200 kilometer radius of our base at Montes Claros. In point, tonight we visited the city of Francisco Dumont, a place I first encountered years ago when on mission trip with ParkwayHills. Now it is a flourishing new church with its own building. This church is a product of our work and support, and it is so good to see what God has done through the faithfulness of these people and the support we were able to provide.
Tomorrow I will travel again - staying out for four nights - in order to visit several municipalities further to the south. This will give me opportunity to visit many other new churches and their support networks. At each of these cities I will meet with pastors, and in many instances hold services. In all cases I will be able to bring them good fellowship and encouragement as we pray, and I assure them of our support and love for them back in the US.
So please continue to pray for these outings, as well as these churches and pastors I will be able to see. Also, pray for my Portuguese, which is coming along well as I am now, more often than not, forcing myself into conversation without depending on the aid of a translator. (Yikes!)
"I thank my God in all my remembrance of you all for your partnership in the gospel"
2017 – Day One, 07.15- “Small World, Big God”
Arriving safely at Confins Airport in Belo
Horizonte at 8:00 a.m. today, I went straightway to catch my breath
over a cup of strong coffee (Brasilians know no other kind) and wait for my connecting
flight to Montes Claros After checking for an earlier flight and finding none, I spent my next 4 hours stepping back into Brazilian culture and the beautiful Portuguese language once more. I was pleased when at the coffee bar I was mistaken for a Brasilian – albeit if but a moment - but this soon passed as my attempt at conversation continued. :-)
Once in Montes Claros, I took the remainder of my day settling into the hotel and awaiting arrival of Jairo Campos, the Executive Director of the P70 Church Planting Mission. He and a
team from Shady Oaks Baptist of Hurst, TX, led by Pastor Brad Martin, are
returning from the last leg of their mission, so I enjoyed time with Pastor Junior
Figueiredo of our ParkwayHills mission plant, which is now a growing, major church, and the Fróes family, including daughter, Juliana, 1 year from
finishing her degree as a doctor of family medicine. Indeed, it was good to be back in this
beautiful area of the world with its wonderfully mild weather at this season, and people who are passionate and happy by nature.At least that is what I sensed from those of Belo Horizonte and Montes
Claros, who seemed less anxious to me than the rest of Brasil over their country’s current politics.
And... oh yes, speaking of politics, perhaps some distance from my own might help this suffering, overexposed American, too. For it seems I just cannot get away from our 'not so newsy', talking heads sharing 'expert' opinions on – well…we all know what. So much so I’d recently commented to Belinda that with all
our political conversation of late my world seemed over exposed and grossly enlarged. The effect being, that God, well,... wasn’t so much.At least
that’s what I’d been feeling up until boarding my small plane headed to Montes
Claros. For… as I looked out my window I could only see beautiful clouds capped
by the bluest of sky.And at
that moment my world, even me, became small once again - and… God? Well, He became bigger! Which was not a bad beginning for this preacher embarking upon 30 days of ministry and mission. Yes, a small world (as in less important) and a big God. Not a cop out! Certainly not escapism! But... worship, ushering in a reality check sorely needed.
O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Psalm 8: 1, 3 - 4