Weekly Spiritual Digest: Who is the God of this World?

“The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever.” Rev. 11:15b

Gen. 1:1, John 1:3 and Col. 1:16 confirm that God, through Jesus Christ created the world and everything in it – the angels, Satan, demons, human beings, etc. Every creature does God’s will – yes, even Satan. At creation, God gave Adam and Eve the responsibility to rule over the earth and everything in it. Satan mischievously deceived Eve and brought Adam and Eve under his control thereby assuming the rulership of this world.

In Luke 4:6 Satan asked Jesus to worship him and he will give him the whole world since it has been given to him. Jesus did not call him out as a liar. Three times in John 12:31, 14:30 and 16:11 Jesus affirmed that Satan is the ruler of this world. Paul declared same in 2 Corinthian. 4:4. God owns the world, but Satan is the ruler currently as evidenced by the prevalence of sin. One encouraging note is that Satan cannot do anything outside what God allows him to do. God has boundaries for him as Job’s story confirms. We do not need to lose faith due to Satan’s misrule. The world is waiting for the day when it will be finally declared: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever.” Rev. 11:15b. Why not start the celebration now?

Rev. Sunday BwanhotRev. Sunday Bwanhot is EMS/SIM Missionary. He serves as Team leader of SIM Culture Connexions; Pastors of ECWA Chicago.



The Eastern Christian Churches

Jesus Christ Savior | Eastern Christians share many cultural traditions but not the same religious traditions, Christianity divided itself in the East during its early centuries both within and outside of the Roman Empire in disputes about Christology and fundamental theology, as well as national divisions (Roman, Persian, etc.). (Images of the Holy Sepulchre, detail of the dome over the Katholikon, Jerusalem by Berthold Werner).

Christianity spread throughout Asia, Europe, and Africa. The Eastern Christian Churches are characterized by a rich heritage with Apostolic origin, and are treasured by the universal Church, for the East was the home of Jesus Christ our Redeemer!

Jerusalem is the birthplace to all of Christianity throughout the world. The Levant, the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea, served as the cradle of Christianity. Antioch, Syria became an early center for Christianity, especially following the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Indeed, followers of Christ were first called Christians in Antioch (Acts 11:26). They also became known as Nazarenes (Acts 24:5), particularly in the East. St. Mark the Evangelist founded the Church of Alexandria, Egypt. Philip the Deacon introduced Christianity to a minister of Candace, Queen of the Ethiopians, on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza in Acts 8:27.

Detailed Jerusalem Holy Sepulchre

Detailed Jerusalem Holy Sepulchre

One of the earliest centers of Christianity was Edessa in the Kingdom of Osroene, located in Northern Syria and Mesopotamia across the Euphrates River. Eusebius of Caesarea in his Ecclesiastical History reported that King Abgar of Edessa was afflicted with illness and contacted Jesus in the hope of a cure. Upon his healing by St. Jude Thaddeus, King Abgar converted to Christianity.

Edessa became home to such writers as St. Ephrem of Syria (306-373 AD), a Father and Doctor of the Church. St. Ephrem wrote his beautiful hymns and religious poetry in Syriac, a dialect of the Semitic language of Aramaic, the language of Jesus. Syriac became the biblical and liturgical language of early Christian Churches in the East. The theology of Eastern Churches often developed independently, outside the sway of Roman and Byzantine thought. Syriac Christianity would expand throughout Asia, extending to Chaldea and Persia along the Silk Road all the way to India and the Far East, reaching China, Tibet, and Mongolia. The first nation to adopt Christianity as its state religion was Armenia under King Tiridates III in 301.

Eastern Christian Churches allow clerical marriage, for they accept the gift of human sexuality given by God, who said, “It is not good for the man to be alone”(Genesis 2:18). Those Eastern Churches that are in communion with Rome are known as the Eastern Catholic Churches. 8-16

Our anonymous author is a physician and a Masters graduate in Theology and Christian Ministry from Franciscan University, Steubenville, Ohio. He teaches Sunday Bible Class at St. James Catholic Church and serves both Pastoral Care and the Medical Staff at St. Joseph’s Hospital.



How to Re-Strategize for Reaching a Lost and Dying World with the Holistic Gospel of Our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ

by Rev. Stephen Panya Baba | “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.” Isaiah 43:19

Greetings to you all in the precious name of our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ. It is a very rare and a great privilege to be chosen by God through His servants and people, to lead ECWA at this critical time in its history.

I. ECWA History
ECWA History
ECWA has come a long way since the coming of the pioneer team of the then Sudan Interior Missions (SIM) Missionaries, our founding fathers and heroes of faith, Walter Gowans, Thomas Kent and Rowland Bingham, who arrived the shores of our land in Lagos on 4th December 1893.

1. Evangelical Missionary Society (EMS)
EMS of ECWAI remember when I was appointed Director of Evangelical Missionary Society (EMS). To find inspiration and get a ‘feel’ of what our pioneers went through, I decided to visit the grave of Walter Gowans at Girku. We had to drive, take a chance through the bush, go by foot through the water, enter a canoe and finally tread dangerously through the flowering shrubs before we could reach the lone grave of Walter Gowans in Girku. It is also worthy of mention that 125 years after the death of Walter Gowans, his grave is still not accessible except on foot. I wept bitterly that day beside his grave and asked God for the grace to re-intensify our effort, so that the vision He gave to our founding Fathers to reach the entire world with the gospel of our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ would not fade away during our time.

2. Build Befitting Memorials at Bida and Girku
To make matters more worrisome, I may say at a point in time, the grave of Thomas Kent at Bida had become a rubbish dump, until the ECWA Minna DCC and some visiting Western Missionaries

The grave of Thomas Kent at Bida had become a rubbish dump

The grave of Thomas Kent at Bida had become a rubbish dump

on a historical voyage and research gave some funds for the place to be cleared. There is definitely the need to build befitting memorials at Bida and Girku, where the graves of two of our founding fathers, Thomas Kent and Walter Gowans lay, to serve as memorials to ECWA’s Ministry Philosophy, so that like me, many more of this younger generations of ‘ECWANs’ can go and have their vision and passion to take the gospel to the lost and unsaved of this world renewed.

A family meeting of the brother’s of Alhaji Isah in Bida

A family meeting of the brother’s of Alhaji Isah in Bida

Since the time of arrival of our founding fathers and the evangelism and planting of their first church at Patigi, in the present Niger state, ECWA has made progress spiritually, physically, especially the increase in the number of worshippers and more visibly, materially and financially.

However, we must be very careful never to use human or any external or worldly parameters as criteria for accessing and evaluating the progress of our church. The biggest danger when we use worldly criteria to assess and evaluate our progress and standing as a Church is that we would easily suffer the Laodecian disease. When the Laodecian Church used this approach in evaluating their performance, God told them; “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm — neither hot nor cold — I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”

We must therefore use God’s criteria to assess and evaluate ourselves and using God’s criteria, the truth is that we are far below what God wants us to be in all respects and especially spirituality. Using God’s criteria, we stand fallen; terribly short.

II. Moving Forward
To move forward and scale greater heights and be the glorious Church that God wants it to be, especially spiritually, ECWA needs the kind of transformation that no one, no man can bring about, certainly, not I or the ECWA Executive, except God and God alone! Nothing short of a powerful supernatural move of God, resulting in revival, would bring about the needed transformation. The key to a glorious ECWA is Revival! For the avoidance of doubt, it is God and only God who can transform

What a Revival Generation Should Look Like

What a Revival Generation Should Look Like

ECWA into the glorious church that He wants it to be, without spots or wrinkle through a powerful supernatural move of the Holy Spirit. This must be our prayer and the prayer of all those who love ECWA and wish her well.

We have the promise of God in Psalm 110:3 to rely upon which says; “In that day of your power your people shall come to you willingly, dressed in holy altar robes. And your strength shall be renewed day by day like morning dew.” Another promise that the Holy Spirit has brought to my mind is Isaiah 43:18-19, which says; “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.

1. Prayer
Every one of us has a specific role to play in this end time powerful supernatural move of God in ECWA. However, one thing that God would have all of us do is to pray! In Isaiah 62:6-7, God said, I have posted watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem; they will never be silent day or night. You who call on the LORD, give yourselves no rest, and give him no rest till he establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of the earth.” And ECWA is our Jerusalem. We must never be silent day or night. We must never give ourselves any rest and give God no rest, until He establishes ECWA and makes her the glorious Church He desires it to be. I have consequently printed a thirty one day prayer program which would be distributed for use by all of us as a guide and aid for us to pray for ECWA. We shall also circulate it through other channels including internet and social media by God’s grace. It is hoped that it would be updated from time to time God willing.

EMS of ECWA: Praise & Prayer, January 2019

EMS of ECWA: Praise & Prayer, January 2019

We must pray for God’s powerful supernatural move of the Holy Spirit, to ignite fires that would be blown into flames of revival by the wind of His Spirit, in order to destroy and consume anything that is not of God in our lives, families, church and nation. We must pray for the Holy Fire to be closely followed by a mighty outflow of the River of God from His throne of grace, into our lives and families and churches and that as God showed the Prophet Ezekiel in a vision, as the mighty River of God, the River of the Holy Spirit, the River of Living Waters flows; it would give life to the dead spiritually and if it pleases Him physically; it would set the captives free from bondage to Sin and Satan, transform lives, heal the sick spiritually and physically and generally bless His beloved people spiritually, physically and materially/financially. God has promised that; “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14-15

2. Open to Guidance & Leading of the Holy Spirit

The Truth About the Holy Spirit and How I Can be Filled

The Truth About the Holy Spirit and How I Can be Filled

We must be all open to the work, guidance and leading of the Holy Spirit in our lives, families and churches and be absolutely surrendered to be used of the Lord Holy Spirit as God pleases. Those that surrender to the Holy Spirit for Him to use would have abundant joy and would be blessed here on earth and greatly rewarded when we shall all appear before the Lord on that day to receive our reward. Those that are indifferent would miss out in the joy, blessing here on earth and reward in eternity. Those that are opposed to the mighty move of the Holy Spirit would be overruled, set aside or removed out of the way as the case may be, but I pray that this fate would not befall any one of us in Jesus name.

Every genuine revival must be followed by discipleship. As we trust the Lord for revival in ECWA, we intend to encourage and firm up the discipleship program of the Church whereby teaching and instruction on biblical truth will also be demonstrated practically in daily life, the ultimate goal being to engraft believers in Christ, the Vine, so that he can bring him to maturity in Christ and “bear much fruit” that will last (John 15: 1-16).

3. SIM Missionaries Contributions
We remain extremely grateful for the solid foundation laid by our founding Mission, the SIM Missionaries, and the subsequent building and reinforcements made over these many years by our

Twice Lily* found herself standing on the overpass, wondering what to do with her life and how to make ends meet, as busy city traffic whizzed underneath. But God was about to do something good in Lily's life through CUP (Children's Uplift Program). By the staff of Children's Uplift Programme (CUP), South Asia

Twice Lily* found herself standing on the overpass, wondering what to do with her life and how to make ends meet, as busy city traffic whizzed underneath. But God was about to do something good in Lily’s life through CUP (Children’s Uplift Program).By the staff of Children’s Uplift Program (CUP), South Asia

parents who passed on the baton to us. In the immediate period, my predecessor and the ECWA Executive under his leadership pursued a four point agenda of ‘connecting ECWA to God, ECWA to ECWA, ECWA to the World and Mobilizing Resources for the continual Propagation of the gospel’. We are grateful to God for all the progress made over all these years, but now, I believe is the time for us to re-strategize in order for ECWA to make greater impact, in empowering its members, (spiritually, physically, materially/ financially), to reach a lost and dying world, with holistic gospel of our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ.

All hands will need to be on deck in our effort of re-strategizing, in order to make greater impact in empowering ECWA members, to reach a lost and dying world with the holistic gospel of our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ.

4. Need Everyone’s Participation
Our re-strategizing for greater holistic impact of the gospel must encompass all and cover all the segments of ECWA including the Men, Women and especially the Youth and Children of the Church. We must intentionally plan to recapture especially our Youth back to the church and maintain our children as they grow and develop to spiritual and physical maturity.

As earlier noted, praying for the powerful supernatural move of the Holy Spirit for revival in ECWA by all, is the key to strengthening the critical fundamental spiritual bedrock needed, for the necessary structure to be further developed upon.

5. Ever Changing Culture & Persecution
Furthermore, the population of persecuted Christians, widows, orphans and vulnerable children and the poor generally in our churches and Mission fields has reached astronomical levels. Apart from natural causes and other socio – political factors like ethnic and tribal clashes, the murderous activities of radical Islamists like Boko Haram and some Fulani herdsmen who are Jihadists, have contributed very greatly to the rise in the number of widows and orphans in many of our churches today.

I must at this stage, call on the Federal Government and indeed all governing authorities at State and Local Government levels, to show greater resolve and take more concrete steps in stopping the evil carnage being perpetrated by Boko Haram and those that are Fulani Jihadist Herdsmen, otherwise, like our much respected and highly esteemed Elder Statesman Gen. T. Y. Danjuma rightly said, citizens are left with no option than to resort to self-defense. Self-defense is a constitutional and legal right to which every citizen is entitled.

Failure to rein in and prosecute these wicked men would only confirm the increasingly perceived notion that Boko Haram has rebranded themselves in form of the Fulani Jihadist herdsmen, and that they are carrying out their nefarious activities under the protection and covert support of Federal Government and its security agencies. Government must arise to the occasion and put an end to this wicked plan to annihilate Nigerians, especially Christians, in the Middle Belt Region and zones of Plateau, Benue, Taraba, Gongola, Sothern Bornu and Southern Kaduna and other parts of the North East because the corporate existence of our dear country Nigeria is being threatened.

World Watch Monitor | “It is important to put on record that the insecure situation we experience in Kafanchan and Southern Kaduna has not stopped despite the presence of Security Agents,” said Mgr. Bagobiri"

Violence in Southern Kaduna Fueled by Government Support for Fulani’s, says Bishop

We are also still calling for intensified action by the Federal Government to secure the release of the remaining Chibok girls and of recent, Leah Sharibu, who is being held captive by Boko Haram, for the singular reason that she has refused to deny her faith in our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ. Leah deserves a Nobel prize for her strength of spirit and courage in the midst of pain and suffering. We call on the international community to act on behalf of Leah Sharibu like they did Malala Yousfzai. Our prayers are with the many parents of the Chibok girls and the Sharibu family not only for the comfort of the Holy Spirit, but for their release from captivity in Jesus name.

ECWA in collaboration with other sister churches and adherents of other faiths, shall continue praying, working and doing all it can through dialogue and other means, for peace to reign on the Plateau and in Nigeria as a whole. While we pray for peace in our Land in obedience to Scriptural injunction as Christians, and also partner with Government, groups and well-meaning individuals towards the attainment of this most important value in every society, let us remember that peace is merely an illusion unless anchored on the bedrock of justice. Without justice in our society peace is a mirage, a fleeting shadow beyond grasp. It is for this reason that I call on governments and authorities at all levels to ensure that justice flows like a river in our Land by giving each citizen his or her due in spite of religion, tribe, creed or social standing. That is the real way to peace and progress. When this happens, the evils and wickedness that have plagued our country will be eliminated.

6. Immediate Need for Social Security Safety Net
As the consequence of the forgone, the number of persecuted Christians, widows, orphans and vulnerable children within our churches today has reached a crisis proportion. In Nigeria and Africa generally, there is no social security safety net that our many members in such situation can fall back on, therefore, ECWA Leadership at LCB, LCC, DCC and GCC levels, would be encouraged to develop means and ways of ensuring that Brethren reach out to each other, in a more holistic way, so that the church can be strengthened in order to be more effective in reaching out to a lost and dying world. ECWA can no longer continue responding to emergency or crisis relief and other such needs on ad hoc basis through a standing Committee. There is need to strengthen existing structures or consider establishing a unit, at least at Headquarters level and to recruit, train and deploy staff for that purpose, so that cases of granting emergency reliefs, which have now become a permanent feature of the church, and the spiritual care and the economic empowerment of our persecuted Brethren, widows, orphans and vulnerable children, the poor and needy generally, would be given more adequate attention on a continual basis.James 1:27, says, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. For this purpose therefore, we shall intensify effort for ECWA Rural Development (ERD) to be resuscitated.

The Plateau State Governor on his last visit to the ECWA General Church Council, recalled the glorious days of ERD with nostalgia. Now that he is a very close neighbor to ERD in the new Government house, our prayer is that you would be a good one, who loves your neighbor as yourself and be your neighbor’s keeper! As ECWA does its very best, we seize this opportunity to call on His Excellency to join in the ongoing effort to resuscitate ERD to serve the good people of Plateau State and Nigeria at large in Jesus name. The Peoples Oriented Development (POD) of ECWA will likewise also be strengthened. Other means of encouraging holistic ministry would be explored, so that as the scriptures say; ‘brotherly love would continue’. Hebrews 13:1

Your Excellency, the Governor of Plateau State, I must give credit to whom it is due. You have done excellently in taking care of the salaries of civil servants in the state and also paying Pensioners their due, at this twilight of their lives, when they are weak and helpless and in need of their pension payment most. I even heard you have been nicknamed the ‘Alert Governor!”, because of your prompt regular payment of salaries of civil servants. Please, keep it up and God bless you. May other governors and leaders emulate you in Jesus name. We also appreciate you for appointing many ECWA sons and daughters in your cabinet.

III. Key to the Lost and Dying World: Evangelism and Missions
As regards reaching the lost and dying world, Evangelism and Missions is the key. As we believe God for a special and mighty visitation, and powerful supernatural move for revival that would make us more effective witnesses in our various places of calling, there would be need for intensified effort in reaching out to the lost beyond our vicinity through missions, and different approaches would need to be adopted for different areas, especially in the following:

Plateau Massacre: Armed Fulani Herdsmen Attacks and Killings Targeted at Christians Across Nigeria

by Rev. Dr. Soja Bewarang | Chairman Denominational Heads Plateau and Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) Plateau State | Press Release By Church Denominational Heads in Plateau and Christian Association Of Nigeria (CAN) Plateau State Over The Renewed Armed Fulani Herdsmen Attacks and Killings Targeted at Christians Across Nigeria on June 28, 2018.

1. The Core North
The original vision of our SIM Founding Fathers was to reach the interior of Sudan, especially the core north, with the saving gospel of our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ. Incidentally, I was in Kano at the same time that the present S.I.M. Nigeria Director, Rev Tom Jessurun worshipped with us at ECWA Gospel Center Kano, where he challenged the church not to cower, in the face of opposition and persecution orchestrated by forces opposed to the gospel, but to forge ahead, because God’s promise that He would build His Church and the gates of hades shall not prevail against it, is not for a church that is complacent or stationary, but for an advancing church that is invading the kingdom of darkness to rescue the perishing. That made a great impression on me, especially as regards the core north mission field. We must push ahead with the gospel to the Core North and believe God to conquer as many with the message of love and bring them into the Kingdom of our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ. Much as God hates the wickedness of Boko Haram and some that are Fulani Jihadists Herdsmen, He takes no pleasure in the death of a sinner. God loves all the people on this earth because He has created us all, and this includes Boko Haram Members and the Fulani Jihadist Herdsmen, whom God desires that they should not die in their sins, but come to the saving knowledge of our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ. We must be ready to pay the price in taking the gospel to all the world, especially the Core North of Nigeria and other difficult areas, bearing in mind that God Himself, demonstrated His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8.

2. Remembering Our Past and Empowering the Future Generation
Again our daughter Leah Sharibu’s unflinching stand as a witness for Christ Jesus in this context is a current testimony that God’s grace would always be sufficient for us no matter the danger, even to our lives. Towards re-intensifying our focus on this vision, we shall by God’s grace, in conjunction with Call of Hope, S.I.M. and other partners, hold a special ‘Core North Gospel Summit’, an idea conceived by the late Trustee, Dr. Philip Usman, in conjunction with Elder Dele Onamusi, as soon as possible. The mention of late Trustee Dr. Philip Usman brings to mind also one of our gallant Church leaders, Rev. Dr. Musa Asake, who also recently passed on to glory. Please pray for the comfort of the Holy Spirit for their immediate families, the ECWA family and the entire Nigerian Christendom (A one minute silence in honor of late Trustee Dr. Philip Usman and Rev Dr. Musa Asake).

3. The South
As regards the Southern part of Nigeria generally and the South-South region in particular, the greatest challenge is the battle for the truth. ECWA over the years has been known for, as our learned colleagues would assert, ‘preaching the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth’ of the gospel. ECWA Television which had its debut yesterday on the cable shall play a key role in complementing our outreach effort to this region.

ECWA TV: Reaching out to the world through media by preaching, teaching and inspiring, winning all for Christ Jesus and raising a godly generation.

ECWA TV: Reaching out to the world through media by preaching, teaching and inspiring, winning all for Christ Jesus and raising a godly generation.

Please, tune in always and encourage others to tune in to watch ECWA TV using any ‘free to air decoder’. You can also download ECWA TV Mobile App on your android phone. We shall re-intensify our efforts for urban church planting, in order to establish and increase platforms for preaching the true gospel as opposed to the very prevalent ‘different gospel’ being preached and which Paul in Galatians 1:6 condemned as no gospel at all. Also, these established urban churches would be used as bases to lunch out to other less reached groups, especially in the creeks. I look forward to hearing testimonies of special EMS missions work in the Niger Creeks, just as we have been doing in the mountains of the Core and Far North Regions of Nigeria.

4. Cross Borders Missions
With respect to Cross Borders Missions, there is need to mobilize resources in order to push the work to the next phase and greater height in the various world missions fields that we have opened. EMS of ECWA right now needs a minimum of N1billion towards this purpose. As at the present, all the support that is coming in for EMS including the two Missions Week Collections, barely cover the Home Missions needs. The amount left is able to meet only some critical needs on the Cross Borders fields. We thank God for ECWA Portfolio Management Ltd which has been making yearly contribution to this great need and I pray that other strategic Business Units will emulate EPML. We encourage our members, friends and supporters alike to invest generously in this Kingdom’s work. We remain opened to ideas as to how we can raise and fund this very urgent and critical Kingdom’s need, in order to greatly boost our effort to win souls for Christ all over the world.

5. ECWA Education & Future Ministry

Bingham University, Karu was established by the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA)

Ag. Vice Chancellor, Prof. William B. Qurix, OFR, FNIA | Undisputed events testify, from those who conceived, designed, developed and even those that are operating Bingham University that God Himself is solidly building Bingham University. This is even more so as movement to …

Bingham University is the new face in ECWA of the present and futuristic ministry in ECWA and World Missions. There is increasing need in the world of today and the future, of Missionary teachers, nurses, doctors, engineers, lawyers and other such tent making professionals. Many of us, including myself are products of Graduates and Professionals, including Nigerian and Western Missionaries, who sacrificed and came as Missionary Teachers. In my own case, I was taught in ECWA Secondary School Miango, which gave me a sound grounding and equipped me spiritually and intellectually to minister to my own generation. Therefore, we shall work very closely through ECWA Education Department and seek the support and collaboration of our founding Mission, SIM and relevant governing authorities, to establish a Department of Theology with great emphasis on World Missions and Urban Ministry in Bingham University, so that, our graduates, Pastors and Members alike, will not be very sound professionally, but would be best equipped spiritually and all round, to more effectively serve as Ministers of God in urban settings as well as Cross –cultural Missionaries all over the world. As we encourage lay ministry by our spiritually matured professionals in the church, Bingham University must now set the pace and make training of our Pastors who are equipped all round, spiritually, intellectually and professionally, its top and urgent priority.

EMS of ECWA shall remain our primary agent for driving the mission vision, I however call on the entire church to see Evangelism and Missions as our fundamental mandate, and to do all we can to be fully involved, by way of being powerful witnesses for the Lord Jesus in the various places of our callings, and by praying, giving and supporting Missions.

Conclusion
We thank God once again for the legacy we inherited from our SIM founding fathers of a lifestyle of godly simplicity and servant leadership, transparency and accountability. I will implore all ECWA Church Leaders and members, to do our best to imbue and perpetuate this legacy in our lives and ministry and to bequeath it to future generations. Let us remember that most of our operations are being supported by very sacrificial and generous offerings, tithes and donations by members, many of whom are persecuted Christians, widows, orphans, petty traders and the poor, whom Jesus said, we would always have among us. Some others are blind, lame, dumb or crippled. We must therefore administer these financial resources with the fear of God, to whom we are accountable, especially in view of the great judgment day, that we all shall appear before the judgment throne of God to give account of our stewardship.

Understanding What the Prosperity and Health Gospel is all About

by Dr. Mrs. Eunice Abogunrin | On one hand, Prosperity Gospel is about getting the abundance from the benevolent God, while on the other hand, it is about fighting against the antonyms of prosperity from malevolent gods, spirits, people and circumstances.

To all ECWA Staff and workers managing these resources, starting from myself, we must realize first and foremost that we are children of `God. We should remember always that it is God who has called us and given us the privilege of serving Him in our various capacities and so as a staff of ECWA, God is our direct ‘Boss’ who knows and sees everything that we are doing, including our very inner motives. This comes with great privileges as well as very serious responsibilities. As our ‘Boss’, God never owes anyone, and in fact He pays very generously. The old hymn, a favorite of my father’s, Rev. (Dr.) Panya Baba, says it very well: “It pays to serve Jesus.” However, God blesses the worker according to his or her motive and faithfulness to his or her calling. More importantly, as we serve Him, we should remember the eternal rewards kept in heaven for us. Motive and faithfulness are key in pleasing our ‘Boss’ and Master. Towards this end, staff welfare would remain our priority; however, we shall review our accounting systems and operations to enhance transparency, accountability, faithfulness and prudence, in order to aid us in more faithfully serving the Lord.

I will once more conclude with the scriptural promise of Isaiah 43:19; “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.”

Finally, I ask this of you, every member of ECWA and the Church of God universal: Pray for me and the ECWA Executive that God will fulfill His divine will and purpose for ECWA. May the Good Lord spare our lives to witness and partake in the joy of celebrating His new and mighty works in and through ECWA. May He lift up His countenance upon His people and prosper His work in ECWA and beyond in Jesus’ precious Name!

Long live ECWA,
Long Live Plateau State
Long Live Nigeria

Thank you and God bless you all in Jesus name.

The ECWA Headquarter Christmas Carol (image, Romanus Ebenwokodi (Okwute)

The ECWA Headquarter Christmas Carol Celebration. image, Romanus Ebenwokodi (Okwute)

Inaugural speech delivered by Rev. Stephen Panya Baba on the occasion of his installation as president of the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) on Saturday, 2nd June 2018 at ECWA Headquarters, Jos.



How St. John the Evangelist and Apostle Speaks To Us Today

Jonathan B. Coe | Both John the Baptist and our Lord spent long periods of time in the desert fasting and praying before commencing their ministries. Jesus was known to regularly retreat to the deserted places during his earthly ministry to pray to the Father and replenish his inner resources.

While today’s orthodox Catholic in the West complains about a virulent secular culture outside of the Church and scandal and crisis within the pillar and ground of the truth, the apostle whom Jesus loved had his own formidable challenges. While we legitimately complain about the erosion of religious liberties in the U.S., he dealt with persecution, especially during the reigns of Nero and Domitian.

While we have grave concerns about the present scandal and crisis in the Church worldwide, John confronted his share of enemies of the gospel. Though the enemies that surface in his First Epistle are difficult to specifically identify, the apostle called them antichrists, liars, deceivers, and false prophets who denied that Jesus was “the Christ” (2:22; 5:1) and “the Son of God” (2:23; 5:5) who had truly “come in the flesh” (4:2).

In the biblical narrative, there is definitely a rhythm and relationship between the servant of God’s private and public ministry. Moses spent 40 days and 40 nights on Mt. Sinai (in private ministry), then came down off the mountain to, among other things, administer punishment (in public ministry) to the Israelites whom he found dancing around the golden calf.

Both John the Baptist and our Lord spent long periods of time in the desert fasting and praying before commencing their ministries. Jesus was known to regularly retreat to the deserted places during his earthly ministry to pray to the Father and replenish his inner resources.

Our own public ministry, which often involves marriage, family, friendships, work, local church involvement, etc., is like the house that is framed on a concrete foundation (which is our private ministry to God). Christians of all persuasions may find themselves cranky when the house they are building on the concrete foundation is twice as big as the foundation itself.

A common mistake in our day is to spend an inordinate amount of time in a prophetic mode criticizing the Church and not nearly enough time being refreshed internally by her immense resources. Some practicing Catholics do have a unique call and vocation to be in a prophetic mode much of the time, but unless this is counter-balanced by a devotional mode, they will eventually burn out.

Most of us cannot be in the prophetic mode 24/7. We put the prophetic mantle on when we are having coffee with friends and discussing the most recent revelation of corruption and depravity in a particular diocese, but then take it off when we go to Confession to confess our sins and get right with God.

This assertion is coming from someone who has recently written four articles in this magazine excoriating prelates and priests, especially in the U.S., who have wandered far from the sacred deposit of the faith, in both their teaching and behavior. There’s undoubtedly more where that came from, but, without a life of retreat and renewal, I am a man most miserable.

With today’s practicing Catholic facing opposition and turbulence from both without and within the Church, the life and writings of John the Evangelist can be a good place to retreat to, along with other devotional practices, as we finish one year and look with vigilance to the next. For example, in times of affliction, when there is a confusing cacophony of voices, I’ve never failed to be instructed and edified by reading the First Letter of St. John in one sitting—a time investment of about 30 minutes.

The theological left and other sophisticates, who are in love with moral ambiguity and shades of grey, would undoubtedly find the epistle “simplistic” and “binary,” but, for the earnest and faithful Catholic, it is instead profoundly simple and renders one with a new clarity of vision and purpose. Such reading can be like hearing the still, small voice, the wisdom of God that is almost completely absent in our institutions of higher learning and in some of our local parishes where heterodox priests reach into their groovy grab bag of social justice bromides and feel-good theology for their latest homily.

Immersion into the life and writings of St. John is a journey into the mind and heart of the apostle that Jesus loved (21:20, 24). Such a distinction leads one to ask, “Does God play favorites?” The well-taught Catholic might smile in response and answer, “Why, of course he does; we call them saints.”

Cain was the first radical egalitarian and proto-social justice warrior. He and Abel made decidedly different offerings to God and yet he demanded an equal outcome from the Almighty (Gen. 4:1-13).

Yahweh played favorites under the old covenant. Corruption and depravity were so rampant in Israel during the time of the Babylonian exile that he told Ezekiel that even if Noah, Daniel, and Job lived in the land, he would still judge the nation severely though these three luminaries would save their own lives by their righteousness (Ezek. 14:20).

One cannot help but notice that our Lord kept some of his followers at arm’s length (e.g., those who followed him for the loaves and fishes) while others he pulled especially close to himself. Peter, James, and John were in his inner circle.

At the Last Supper, John sat in the place of honor next to Christ (Jn. 13:23, 25). Such passages lead us to ask how one becomes like the apostle that Christ loved.

The answer to this question is certainly not that we need to already be a saint or close to perfection. The Gospels make it clear that both John and his brother James struggled with selfish ambition and anger.

The sons of Zebedee asked to be seated on his left and right when Christ would come into the full glory of his kingdom (Mk. 10:35-37) and they wanted to call fire down on a village of Samaritans when it did not receive Christ (Lk. 9:51-56). This should be encouraging to practicing Catholics who are fighting various sins and question if God is interested in intimacy with them or using them to advance his kingdom.

What God is looking for most of all is what Fr. Jacques Philippe calls “good faith.” Put another way, God is not only calling those to his inner circle who are already saints but also those who want to be saints.

I recently heard a practicing Catholic say, “I’m not entirely sure I’m on the straight and narrow, in comparison with the saints throughout Church history, but I want to be.” These Catholics may have their ups and downs but they are pursuing a single-minded devotion to Christ exemplified by the apostles who left family, homes, businesses, and friends to follow Christ.

Like John, they are pursuing Christ as an end in himself and not a means to an end (e.g., the loaves and fishes). They may get distracted now and then as John did but their modus operandi is characterized by pursuing the One Thing that is crystallized in Holy Writ:

King David only wanted one thing: “…that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple” (Ps. 27: 4b). Jesus told Martha that only one thing was needful and Mary had chosen it: to sit at his feet, listen to his voice and bask in his presence (Lk. 10:38-42).

The apostle Paul counted all things as rubbish except for one thing: an intimate knowledge of Christ characterized by knowing him in the power of his resurrection, the fellowship of his suffering, and an identification with his death (Phil. 3:10). Like John, as practicing Catholics, we must not lose sight of the Forest (i.e., Christ) for the trees (i.e., the particulars of our faith).

The truth of our mission is captured in the title of a book by Søren Kierkegaard, Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing, and summarized in John’s final directive to the audience of his First Letter: “Little children keep yourselves from idols” (5:21). Idols become like adulterous lovers who defile our marriage bed with Christ our Bridegroom.

Someone might ask, “Is a utilitarian relationship with Christ really such a bad thing? Doesn’t he do things for us? Isn’t he our Savior, Sanctifier, Healer, Provider, etc.?”

This is an excellent question, and, yes, we no doubt receive the benefits of availing ourselves of a full sacramental life in Christ. However, this isn’t the whole picture.

The earnest, practicing Catholic is like a woman from an economically deprived background who marries a virtuous man who is well-off. She is grateful for her newfound financial security but her favorite part of the marriage is being with him.

Another important way to imitate the apostle whom Jesus loved is in his relationship to the Mother of God: “When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home” (Jn. 19:26-27).

Recently, on December 12, we celebrated the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe where we see this same mutual affection between Juan Diego and Our Lady. She met his needs for nurturing maternal care:

Listen, and let it penetrate into your heart, my dear little son, do not be troubled or weighed down with grief. Do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety or pain. Am I not your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not your Fountain of Life? Are you not in the folds of my mantle? In the crossing of my arms? Is there anything else you need?

He, in turn, gave her the tender affection of a son and in aligning his life with her request—to build a shrine in her honor where she could “show him [Christ] … exalt him … make him manifest … give him to the people”—Juan Diego humbly participated in her work as Unifier in bringing the indigenous people and Spaniards together.

The Mother of God’s work was to help bring heaven to earth. This is what the apostle John, as an elderly man, saw in his heavenly vision in the Apocalypse: “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands” (Rev. 7:9; emphasis mine).

Few of us are called to such a spectacular or consequential mission as Juan Diego or John, but we all are called, as St. Thérèse of Lisieux declared, to do small things with great love. This may mean, without sacrificing truth or integrity, bringing people together in small ways, whether it be at home, at work, in our local churches, or in the public square.

Jonathan B. CoeJonathan B. Coe is a graduate of Bethel Theological Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. Before being received into the Catholic Church in 2004, he served in pastoral ministry in rural Alaska, and in campus ministry at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. He has written for Catholic Exchange and The Imaginative Conservative. He is the author of Letters from Fawn Creek, a volume of spiritual direction, and lives in the Pacific Northwest.



The Apostolic Age

“by Bible Scripture | But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts of the Apostles 1:8 (image: YouTube)

Jesus named the Apostles, often called the Twelve (John 6:67), to be with him and carry on his ministry: Simon Peter and his brother Andrew; James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Nathaniel Bartholomew, Thomas and Matthew, James the son of Alpheus, Jude Thaddeus, Simon the Zealot; and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him (Mark 3:14-19). Following the Resurrection, Matthias was chosen to replace Judas Iscariot. The period of these Twelve Apostles, dating from the Great Commission of 33 AD until the death of the last Apostle in Anatolia c. 100 is refereed to as the Apostolic Age.

Prior to his Ascension, Jesus commissioned his disciples to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). The Holy Spirit descended at Pentecost on about 120 Apostles, Mary the mother of Jesus, and disciples in the Upper Room (Acts 1:15, 2:1-4). This strengthened the Apostles to spread the word of Christ Jesus. The Acts of the Apostles describes the infancy period of the Church, a time following the Pentecost when Christianity spread like wildfire. The Apostles all gathered in Jerusalem (Acts 15) to discuss whether Gentiles who had been converted to Christianity had to observe all the ceremonial precepts of the Mosaic Law. This gathering of the Apostles became known as the Council of Jerusalem, and set the pattern of future Councils to resolve issues that arose within the Church.

To the question of Jesus, “Who do you say that I am?” it was Peter the fisherman that answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:15-16). Whereupon Jesus responded, “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:18-19). Peter became the first Patriarch of Antioch and ultimately Bishop of Rome.

The Conversion of Paul occurred on the road to Damascus, Syria (Acts 9:1-9). Saul persecuted the Church and consented to the death of the first martyr Stephen. He had men and women who lived the Way thrown into prison. But while going to Damascus, Saul was struck from his horse by a great light and a voice asked “Why do you persecute me?” Saul asked who spoke. Christ identified himself with his Church: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” Saul experienced the grace of conversion and first preached in Damascus. Paul, as Apostle to the Gentiles, became just as passionate spreading Christianity as he was in persecuting Christians before his conversion.

Saints Peter and Paul were both martyred in Rome during the persecution of Christians by Nero, Emperor of the Roman Empire. St. Peter was crucified upside down and St. Paul was beheaded, both probably in 64-68 AD. In fact, all of the Apostles were martyred for having preached the Gospel, except for St. John the Evangelist.

Heeding the message of Jesus Christ to Go therefore and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20), the Apostles traveled East and West to all parts of the known world to spread Christianity. Andrew, Peter’s brother, was the first to be called to follow Jesus, and is called by the Byzantine Church the Protoclete, meaning the first called. Andrew evangelized Byzantium, appointed Stachys (Romans 16:9) the first Bishop there, and was crucified in Patras, Greece. James, the son of Zebedee and brother of John, is believed to have preached in Spain; he is the only Apostle to have his martyrdom recorded in the Bible (Acts 12:2). John, the son of Zebedee and the brother of James, was the “one Jesus loved.” He is called the Theologian for his mystical writings – the Gospel of John and three Letters. Christ on the Cross entrusted his mother Mary to John (19:26-27), who took her with him to Ephesus; he was later exiled to the island of Patmos, where he wrote the Book of Revelation in his elderly years (Revelation 1:9).

The other James, son of Alphaeus, is sometimes called James the Less, to distinguish him from James the Son of Zebedee. He played an important role as head of the Church of Jerusalem, and writer of the Letter of James in the Bible. According to the historian Flavius Josephus, he was stoned to death in 62 AD. Tradition has it that Matthewpreached among the Hebrews and wrote his Gospel in Hebrew or Aramaic. Philip preached the Gospel in Phrygia, Asia Minor and was martyred in Hierapolis. Nathaniel, Son of Talmay, or in Aramaic Nathaniel Bartholomew, taught the Way in Armenia. Jude Thaddeus, the author of the Letter of Jude, spread the faith to Edessa, Syria and then evangelized Armenia. Thomas Didymus, or Thomas the Twin, is known as Doubting Thomas, for questioning the Lord’s Resurrection. But when he put his hand in the Lord’s side, he reacted with a beautiful profession of faith: “My Lord and My God” (John 20:28). Thomas traveled through Chaldea and Persia all the way to India! Little is known about Simon the Zealot or Matthias. 7-12

Our anonymous author is a physician and a Masters graduate in Theology and Christian Ministry from Franciscan University, Steubenville, Ohio. He teaches Sunday Bible Class at St. James Catholic Church and serves both Pastoral Care and the Medical Staff at St. Joseph’s Hospital.



The Early Christian Church

by Bible Scripture | Traditions in the Early Christian Church included the Memorial of the Last Supper – the celebration of the Liturgy of the Eucharist and reception of Communion, on Sunday the Lord’s Day (Revelation 1:10), and Prayer, such as the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles’ Creed, a profession of faith during Baptism. (image: Coliseum – biblescripture.net)

The early Christian Church was faced with spreading the teachings of Jesus Christ throughout the world, often during a time of martyrdom and intense persecution.

Traditions in the Early Christian Church included the Memorial of the Last Supper – the celebration of the Liturgy of the Eucharist and reception of Communion, on Sunday the Lord’s Day (Revelation 1:10), and Prayer, such as the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles’ Creed, a profession of faith during Baptism.

The Apostolic Fathers were a group of early Christian writers who knew one of the Apostles and lived about 75-150 AD, and sought to define, organize, and defend the faith, such as Ignatius of Antioch, Clement of Rome, Polycarp of Smyrna, and the author(s) of the Didache. St. Ignatius of Antioch was designated Bishop of Syria by St. Peter on his trip to Antioch to meet St. Paul. St. Ignatius was the first to use the term Catholic Church in his Letter to the Smyrnaeans.

The word catholic means universal and refers to the universal Church of Jesus Christ.

Ignatius of Antioch would not worship the Emperor Trajan, and thus was placed in chains and martyred in Rome when thrown to the lions in the Coliseum. He wrote seven letters on his trip to Rome, which proved to be a unifying event for all of the early Churches. He established the Church hierarchy of bishop, priest, and deacon for the early Churches, the pattern which still exists today.

St. Justin Martyr (110-165 AD) was the first Apologist or Defender of the Faith. In his First Apology written in 155, he described the Memorial of the Last Supper on Sunday, one that would be called the Divine Liturgy in the East and the Mass in the West, an event which has remained essentially the same for nearly 2000 years. “And this food is called among us eucharistia…For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these, but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Savior, having been made flesh by the Word of God…is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.” St. Justin was martyred in Rome for preaching Christianity to the Romans in 165 AD. 8-13

Our anonymous author is a physician and a Masters graduate in Theology and Christian Ministry from Franciscan University, Steubenville, Ohio. He teaches Sunday Bible Class at St. James Catholic Church and serves both Pastoral Care and the Medical Staff at St. Joseph’s Hospital.



Ministry on the River

by Bill Mintz | Tom Rhoades, a river chaplain with the Seamen’s Church Institute, drives a boat in the Baton Rouge Harbor. Rhoades, a former Methodist pastor transitioning to the ELCA roster, ministers to crews who work on vessels on the Lower Mississippi, Intracoastal Canal and Houston Ship Canal.

Much of the nation’s commerce is transported to markets through a fleet of barges and 5,000 towboats and tugboats traversing the mighty Mississippi and Ohio rivers and the 3,000-mile Intracoastal Waterway.

Yet the public knows little about the men and women—“brown water mariners”—who spend half their lives on the river, separated from their families during 28-day rotations and relying on their crewmates for companionship and to make it through often dangerous situations.

The river is where Tom Rhoades found his call. One of two paid river chaplains with the New York-based Seamen’s Church Institute, Rhoades lives in Baton Rouge, La., and visits the crews of towing vessels and tugs on the Lower Mississippi, Intracoastal Canal and Houston Ship Channel.

Rhoades, a former Methodist pastor who is transitioning to the ELCA roster, has a background that gives him a strong connection with those to whom he ministers: he spent 10 years on the river, first as a deckhand and then as a cook.

“People who work on the river are invisible to the rest of us,” he said. “It’s a hard life—28 days away from their families. Normal pressures are magnified; heart attacks and suicides are more frequent.”

Rhoades (right) on the MV Mississippi with some of the crew.
Prior to being called as chaplain, he worked as a deckhand
and cook on riverboats, which helps him connect with the
crews he visits.

The work is demanding and dangerous. “If you make a mistake, it can cost someone their life,” he said. “It’s no small thing to go through two pillars of a bridge. When you go through a lock and dam, you have to break the tow apart. It’s called ‘stopping the cut,’ one man with one rope stops nine barges.”

Rhoades has responded to critical incidents onboard towboats. His training includes critical incident stress management, an intervention technique that he put to work when a mariner committed suicide on Easter Sunday and again when a crew was shaken after recovering the body of a sailor who drowned in Mobile Bay after he went overboard from another vessel.

“When a mariner has his worst day, that’s when we want to be there,” Rhoades said.

Chris Christopher, pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in New Orleans, is working toward becoming an unpaid associate river chaplain after being recruited by Rhoades. He said Rhoades is “completely at home” when he walks onto a boat.

“That’s priceless when it comes to his approachability,” Christopher said. “Sailors know who belongs on their boat, and that enables him to walk into their lives. They know he knows their life.”

Rhoades’ journey to the river began when he concluded he was burned out after nine years as a senior pastor of a rural Arkansas Methodist church. His wife, Stacey, suggested he would probably be a good cook on one of the towboats they saw navigating the Mississippi.

“In 2011, I was the cook on the MV Cooperative Spirit when a guy with a white hard hat with “Chaplain” on it came on board,” Rhoades said. “I didn’t want him to know my background. He introduced himself and asked me if he could bring communion. That started a life-changing relationship that saved my soul.”

That visitor, Kempton Baldridge, an Episcopal chaplain, began a persistent campaign to draw Rhoades out and employ his gifts.

“In 2014, Kempton called and said a mariner had died and asked me, ‘Could you do a funeral?’ ” Rhoades said. “I talked my way into it, and it was a blessing to me. I knew the industry, knew what [the mariner] did, and I could tell his people.”

Baldridge said, “Because of his background on the river, Tom has the ability to speak into the mariners’ experiences with understanding. I marvel at his vulnerability and availability.”

Rhoades has returned to visit the crew that recovered the man overboard and spent five hours with them. “I don’t hop on and off a boat,” he said. “Relationships f low when I tell them that I’m a mariner and we share our stories. Sometimes I get on a boat and cook for them.”

Baldridge said this is part of Rhoades’ ministry: “The table fellowship has allowed needed conversa tions to take place. There was one tough captain who would never make an appointment to visit a chaplain, but he talked to Tom over a meal. It was an unexpected blessing.”

Rhoades said he was drawn to the Lutheran tradition by the liturgy and the tradition of bi-vocational clergy that enables him to be on the river.

“River mariners can’t get off the boat and go to church,” he said. “We don’t build a house; we take the church to the mariner.”

 

Bill Mintz, a member of Christ the King Lutheran Church in Houston, has focused much of his service on supporting institutions in the Texas- Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod that will ensure the vitality of the church in the years and decades to come. He was on the founding board of Houston Lutheran Campus Ministry, which called the first ELCA campus pastor at the University of Houston in more than 20 years and also has presence at Rice University and the Texas Medical Center. He also served on the board of Lutherhill Ministries for eight years—a time of expansion of the camp’s core facility in La Grange as well as development of the Zion Retreat Center in Galveston. If you have questions, you can leave a message for Bill Mintz.



The Life and Teachings Of Jesus Christ

by Bible Scripture | “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Gospel of John 1:14 (Image of Raphael of Urbino, Italy – St. Paul preaching in Athens at the Areopagus before – biblescripture.net)

The point of origin and central figure of the Christian faith is our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem (Luke 2), in fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures such as Isaiah 7:14 and Micah 5:2. St. Joseph took his wife Mary and the infant Jesus on the Flight to Egypt to avoid Herod and the Slaughter of the Innocents (Matthew 2). Upon their return, the Holy Family settled in Nazareth, where Jesus grew and spent his childhood and early years as an adult. Hardly anything is known of his life at that time except that he was called a Nazarene (Matthew 2:23) and that at age 12 he was found teaching in the Temple in Jerusalem (Luke 2:46).  

The life of Jesus is best described in the Four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, while his teachings are presented by all the writers of the New Testament of the Bible. 

Jesus of Nazareth began his public ministry when he was about thirty years old. In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Jesus gave us the Eight Beatitudes, affirmed the Ten Commandments of God, and taught us the Lord’s Prayer and the Golden Rule. He spent much of his ministry by the Sea of Galilee, preaching in such towns as Capernaum (John 6:59), Bethsaida (Mark 8:22), and Magdala (Matthew 15:39), and surrounding places such as Cana (John 2:1-11) and Tyre (Mark 7:24-30). He revealed to us the mystery of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19-20), known as the Holy Trinity in the Church. When his hour came near, he headed toward Jerusalem (Luke 9:51).  

Jesus often taught in parables, an ancient Eastern literary genre. A parable is a narrative that presents comparisons to teach an important moral lesson. The Parables are recorded in the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Some parables are common to all three Synoptic Gospels, such as the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:3-23, Mark 4:2-20, and Luke 8:4-15). Examples of parables unique to each Gospel are the Weeds Among the Wheat (Matthew 13:24-30) and the Laborers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16); the Growing Seed (Mark 4:26-29); the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), Lazarus and the Rich Man (Luke 16:19-31), and the Pharisee and the Publican (Luke 18:9-14). 

Jesus performs many miracles, demonstrating his power over nature and spirits, and thus confirming that the Kingdom of God is at hand (Mark 1:15). In a physical miracle, such as making the blind see, or walking on water, or calming a storm, the laws of the universe are suspended through divine intervention. In a moral miracle, such as forgiveness of sins or driving out demons, the blessing of Jesus purifies the spirit. In Mark 2:1-12, Jesus performed a physical miracle, healing the paralytic, to demonstrate a moral miracle, the forgiveness of sins. Only three miracles appear in all four Gospels – his own Resurrection, the greatest miracle of them all, the healing of the blind, and the feeding of the 5000 through the multiplication of the loaves.  

His public ministry lasted about three years, prior to his Passion, Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension. Jesus taught transformation of the inner person. His mission was one of love, mercy, and peace (John 15:12-13). 

Christ Jesus is the fulfillment of salvation history and the mediator and fullness of all revelation. See our home page Jesus Christ for further discussion. 1-10

Our anonymous author is a physician and a Masters graduate in Theology and Christian Ministry from Franciscan University, Steubenville, Ohio. He teaches Sunday Bible Class at St. James Catholic Church and serves both Pastoral Care and the Medical Staff at St. Joseph’s Hospital.



Are We Prepared to Tell God’s Story?

by Regis Nicoll | Each year Advent draws the world’s attention afresh to God’s story. It’s a story that Christians should be telling “in season and out of season,” through their words and their lives.

It seems peculiar that the gospel reading for the first Sunday of Advent centers not on Christ’s first coming, but his second. In all three liturgical years, the gospel passage is taken from the Olivet Discourse—Jesus’s lengthy response to the eschatological curiosities of the disciples. But maybe this is not as peculiar as it seems.

In arresting prose, the synoptic writers report the Creator of all things privileging the disciples with secrets about last things. Interweaving predictions about the destruction of Jerusalem and his future return to earth, Jesus tells them of wars, famines, false Christs, and more. His purpose was not to shock or frighten them, but to prepare them—and not just for the far off events that had provoked their curiosity.

Punctuating his revelations are warnings to be watchful, ready, and engaged in faithful service—imperatives for God’s people in every age. But for the disciples those warnings had immediate relevance which, as many times before, went unheeded.

For, in a matter of hours, Jesus would be prostrate in the garden praying, while his disciples slept; he would be hauled away by an angry mob, while his disciples fled in panic; he would be brought before a kangaroo court to be ridiculed, spat upon, and struck, while one of his closest intimates vehemently and repeatedly denied him; and he would be scourged, marched to Golgotha, and nailed to the cross, while men who had been his constant companions cowered in an upper room, abandoning him to his persecutors.

Incredibly, after three years at the feet of their master, the disciples were no better prepared for the unfolding of prophetic history than they were at the beginning of their tutelage. This should trigger questions in us: Are we prepared? Situated in history between the Incarnation and the Parousia, are we advancing his kingdom as we watch for his return?

More to the point, are we even expecting his return? Given the 2,000 year lapse, have his warnings slipped into the cluttered closets of our memory or, worse, has the delay eroded our confidence in his prophesy or, for that matter, in him?

If those questions cause hesitation, it signals the need to revisit God’s story—the biblical record of divine activity throughout the course of human history. The historical record of what God has done provides a rational basis for confidence in what he has said he will do.

Playing Back God’s Story
Reading the history of Israel is like listening to a CD stuck on “repeat.” Over and over again, widespread apostasy led to divine discipline, provoking national repentance followed by a brief period of revival.

Despite the withering warnings of prophets, the Israelites repeatedly succumbed to pagan influences when they should have been attending to God’s word, they adopted pagan practices when they should have been transforming pagan culture, and they became a stumbling block to their pagan neighbors when they should have been a blessing to them.

To break the cycle, Israel’s leaders continually played back God’s story, reminding the people of God’s benevolence toward the nation: the parting of the Red Sea, the pillars of cloud and fire, water from the rock, manna from heaven, deliverance from their enemies, and the conquest of the Promised Land, to name just a few.

The leaders also proclaimed prophesies, hundreds of them, among the people. Some were given as warnings about the consequences of disobedience while others were given as assurances of God’s ultimate plan for restoring all things.

Two things are extraordinary about the latter: first, they were made far in advance of the events they described; and, second, many of the fulfillments of prophecy—including dozens concerning the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus—were recorded and passed on to people contemporary to those events.

From Public to Personal
God’s story is more than a record of past and future works on behalf of mankind; it includes personal testimonies of his working in the lives of individuals in the present.

Daniel, who prophesied about events in the near and far future, gave witness to God’s faithfulness in the present—answering his prayers and delivering him and his friends from capital punishment. In the Psalms, David repeatedly praises God for guiding, protecting, and strengthening him. Jeremiah’s lamentations over the sins of Judah and the destruction of Jerusalem include praises to God for comforting him during imprisonment and rescuing him from his enemies.

Nevertheless, spiritual vacillation produced a generation that was ill-prepared for the coming Messiah. Instead of watching for the Lamb of God who would deliver them from sin, first-century Jews were expecting a conquering King who would deliver them from Gentile subjugation.

A generation later, eyewitnesses to the life and ministry of Jesus Christ detailed, in four independent narratives, how he fulfilled the promises in Scripture from Genesis 3:15 to Malachi 3:1. And for those who failed to notice, Paul explained how the fulfillments of prophecy occurred among individuals, still living, who could contest any fictions or correct any errors.

Like the Old Testament writers, Paul also shared how God’s story had played out in his own life. In his letter to the Romans, Paul gives witness to Jesus for freeing him from the law of sin and death. He told the Corinthian church how God had encouraged and strengthened him during a time of personal torment. And to the Philippians, Paul testifies to his Source of contentment and efficacy in all things.

The gospel readings for the first Sunday of Advent remind us that God’s story did not end at Golgotha, the death of the apostles, or the completion of Scripture, but continues on the cosmic stage.

They also remind us that Christians are to be an expectant people, living in the sure hope that as God “showed up” once, he will show up again. Until then, he is active in the lives of individuals who are waiting, watching, and working to establish his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

A Personal Testimony
Most Christians can point to times in their lives when God “showed up”—maybe in an answered prayer, a healing, an encouraging word, or a needed revelation. Throughout my Christian life, I have had a number of such occurrences, of which I’ll share one.

I had been diagnosed with a terminal cancer. My timeline, according to the oncologist, was three weeks. But three weeks turned into three months, then three years, and now, ten years after being declared in clinical remission, I remain cancer-free.

Prior to that declaration, however, two questions hung in the air like the scent of decaying flesh: “Why did this happen?” and “How will it turn out?” I had a strong inkling as to the “why” (as I’ll explain in a moment), but the uncertainty of “how” lingered. Then, one night, both questions were answered for me along with a room full of people.

Joanne and I had joined a group of twenty or so intercessors for an evening of prayer. As we got ready to pray, someone suggested, off the cuff, that we read Psalm 118, which in my NIV Bible has the rather inviting heading, “The loving kindness of God.” It was further suggested that each person read a verse, in succession, according to how they were seated. Since our seating was not prearranged, neither was the verse individuals would read.

As it so happened, my turn fell on verse 18: “The Lord has chastened me severely, but he has not given me over to death.” The words left my lips and, for a moment, failed to register in my brain. When the next person seated failed to continue, I looked around. It was as if all the oxygen had been sucked from the room: mouths were agape, chests were clutched, eyes were tearing, and praises were going up. Then, I, too, was undone.

Earlier in the year, I had confessed to a church class that the greatest obstacle to my spiritual growth was overconfidence in myself. Less than one month later, I was lying in a hospital bed tethered to IVs, listening to an oncologist talk around the hopelessness of my condition, and coming to the realization that this “thorn” was beyond my ability and that of medical science to remove.

The shock of my utter helplessness was met, almost instantly, by a comforting word: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Privately, the message was clear: God was addressing my greatest need—total dependence on him—with his limitless love. Publicly, this message was confirmed to a small gathering of individuals who were watching and waiting for God to “show up.”

Each year Advent draws the world’s attention afresh to God’s story. It’s a story that Christians should be telling “in season and out of season,” through their words and their lives.

Regis NicollRegis Nicoll is a retired nuclear engineer and a fellow of the Colson Center who writes commentary on faith and culture. His new book is titled Why There Is a God: And Why It Matters.

 



As Thrones Before Him Fall: Christ Is Our King

by Claire Dwyer | There is no middle ground. “No one can serve two masters” (Matthew 6:24). Meditating on the readings for this solemnity provides a powerful opportunity to re-examine our own allegiance to the King of Glory: “Choose this day whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15).

Crown him with many crowns,
The Lamb upon his throne.
Hark! How the heavenly anthem drowns
All music but its own.
Awake, my soul, and sing,
Of him who died for thee,
And hail him as thy matchless king
Through all eternity. — Crown Him With Many Crowns hymn

This Sunday sends off Ordinary Time with a solemn celebration of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. Established by Pope Pius XI in 1925, it was meant to counter secularism as a denial of Christ’s kingship.

The first two readings and the Psalm are thus rich in royal imagery: visions of the Son of Man coming on clouds and receiving everlasting dominion, glory and kingship, and the service of all the nations; robed in splendor, enthroned, the Alpha and Omega.

The Gospel, however, shows us this King in a different light, as a lamb being led to the slaughter. But then Pilate is let in on the secret: This kingship is not contained in the earthly realm. Rather, it is a powerful but hidden one, veiled in the temporal order. His angelic army of attendants holds back and watches with the rest of us the drama of salvation unfold as a kingdom is established that shall not be taken away or destroyed. Pilate cannot comprehend this, yet he unwittingly proclaims it: “Then you are a king” (John 18:37). And he will later have this inscribed above the cross, to the chagrin of the Pharisees. Jesus’ cross becomes the throne from which he rules and the banner under which we battle.

To the rest of the world, the paradox of a King who reigns from a cross is an insurmountable scandal. But to everyone who “belongs to the truth,” this reality is already established in their hearts. Growing in secret, putting down roots and laying foundations in the faith of believers, this kingdom is made manifest in the lives of those who have already found the beginnings of heaven even here, as they serve the King of Glory and enthrone him in their lives.

We wait for heaven to fully enter in the Kingdom of God, but the reality is that it is here now, and we are a part of it to the degree we allow it to rule in our hearts.

How much are we part of God’s kingdom? Is Christ our king? Which means, really, are we under his authority? Are we obedient to his commands? Have we subjected everything — everything — to him: family, home, health, finances and time, and especially our wills?

Are we willing to die the little layers of “death” each day that being in his service requires? Are we willing to have him overturn the tables in our inner temples? To smash the little idols that litter our interior lives? To submit to the destruction of every dream that is not the one he wills for us?

There is no middle ground. “No one can serve two masters” (Matthew 6:24). Meditating on the readings for this solemnity provides a powerful opportunity to re-examine our own allegiance to the King of Glory: “Choose this day whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15).

Crown him the Lord of heaven,
Enthroned in worlds above;
Crown him the king, to whom is given,
The wondrous name of Love.
Crown him with many crowns,
As thrones before him fall.
Crown him, ye kings, with many crowns,
For he is King of all.

Claire Dwyer blogs about saints, motherhood, spirituality and the sacred every day at EventheSparrow.com and contributes regularly to WomenofGrace.com, CatholicMom.com and EndowGroups.org. She is editor of SpiritualDirection.com and coordinates adult faith formation at her parish in Phoenix, where she lives with her husband and their six children.



Does Hell Play a Role in Evangelization?

by Deacon John Beagan | The crux of our problem, and the reason our Church is in such decline, is we have lost sight of the daily drama for eternal salvation. Without people’s need to be saved, the Church is just another feel-good club competing against all the others (images: William Booth preaching).
Does hell play a role in evangelization? If it does, then when and how? Catholics take many positions on this topic and they all impact the effectiveness of evangelization.

To begin, let me situate this analysis by raising three relevant points. First, discussing hell can be emotional and difficult to face for obvious reasons, such as hell’s forever state. Merely considering its possibility and reality causes anxiety. This affects people’s ability and desire to deal with it.

Second, most people leave the Church because they no longer believe its teaching. Similarly, the level of participation and enthusiasm among those who still consider themselves Catholic is reduced by various doubts and disbeliefs. The Church’s teaching on hell is one of these difficult beliefs because many people can’t reconcile it with a loving God. Thus, if we want to win them back to the Church and help strengthen their faith, we must address this subject, especially given the many references to hell and Satan in Scripture and other parts of the liturgy.

Third, it is extremely challenging to sell the Church to people who don’t need God. In this prosperous and relatively safe country, most people do not need the Lord in this life, except perhaps for an occasional funeral. Moreover, people do not need him to enter the next life either; in every eulogy I hear, the deceased has gone to a “better place.” It seems everyone believes there is a warm bright light at the end of the tunnel regardless of whether or not they ever knew Jesus.

In my lifetime, I have seen many things tried to make people feel good about coming to church, such as placing a resurrected Jesus on the large sanctuary cross, shaking hands at Mass, welcoming people at the church doors, hosting parish socials, appealing to people intellectually, adopting sound business practices, showing folks the beauty of the Church, and on and on. While all this has its place (except for removing the crucified corpus), it won’t work in a widespread sustained way until people begin to feel a need for God. In lieu of a national or global catastrophe, the only option left is to challenge people’s presumption about eternal life.

The position of preachers, teachers, and believers regarding the risk of hell varies considerably. For instance, Pew Research noted that 50 percent of college-educated Catholics do not believe hell exists.

Another popular position is that hell exists, but that it’s reasonable to hope that no one is in it. To the average listener in the pews, who is not used to theological musing and nuance, this is tantamount to saying it doesn’t exist.

A similar position refrains from discussing hell except as a topic for advanced Catholics. Within this position are two camps. The first, like the latter, believes very few people are in hell. This would explain, for instance, why sin and judgment are rarely discussed and why Confession is so infrequent. In other words, why arouse negative feelings in people and spend more time in the confessional, if everyone eventually goes to heaven?

What intrigues me most, however, is the second camp. They believe in the risk of hell, but somehow it still takes a back seat in their preaching and is reserved for advanced Catholics. This is a tactical mistake because few in the pews will take the time to consider Jesus and become advanced Catholics. To someone who believes in the existence of hell, all these positions will leave people ignorant of vital spiritual knowledge.

As a Church, we are competing against the world for people’s attention and time. Persevering in prayer cannot compete with the pleasures of the world, unless there is a compelling reason to do so. If all we do are the good and kind things mentioned above, like welcoming people and showing them the beauty of the Church, we will continue to lose Catholics at a rate of 6 or more for every 1 entering.

The crux of our problem, and the reason our Church is in such decline, is we have lost sight of the daily drama for eternal salvation. Without people’s need to be saved, the Church is just another feel-good club competing against all the others.

When I ponder how to guide my three young-adult sons, I choose to follow Jesus’s words and official Church teaching instead of accepting the complacency around me or the wishful imagining of a bishop or theologian, because the downside of ignoring God’s words is too dreadful. Furthermore, as a deacon who must preach and teach, I need to listen to my conscience and address the people as I do my own family.

Speaking the Truth Works
Several years ago, not long after my ordination, I attended my first funeral Mass as a deacon, and it was for my mother. Since much of my extended family probably didn’t attend Mass regularly, I prepared a challenging homily. As I walked down the center aisle to the front of the church, I was surprised to see my boss and Jewish colleague—two people I wasn’t expecting to preach to.

During the sermon, I emphasized the shortness of life using examples from my chaplaincy experience on a hospital cancer floor and how one particular patient was afraid to die. I finished by saying that we are on the conveyor belt of life, and that we won’t need to be scared when we reach the end, if we first get to know Jesus.

The next morning, I went to work and my boss immediately called me into her office. She started to tell me that she was Catholic, and hadn’t been to church much, but now that her children had finished youth sports, she could start going again. Smiling, I told her I hadn’t known she was Catholic until I gave her Communion.

Since then, I have become more direct in expressing concern for people’s salvation. At Baptism, for instance, families and their friends come to church expecting to celebrate the joy of a new baby. Statistically speaking, they probably don’t go to Mass regularly and yet expect to go to heaven. After acknowledging the joyful occasion, I try to pull them into the eternal drama of this Sacrament and explain how the Church anticipates the baby’s entire life by using symbols also used in a funeral Mass. At Baptism, I say, all the angels and saints are sitting on the edge of their seats wondering if the child will grow up to love God and neighbor.

Then I heighten the drama and pose a series of questions: Why did God the Father send his only beloved Son to us knowing full well he would be crucified? What could be so urgent and dire that a parent would do such a thing? From what and whom is Jesus saving us?

I mention how many no longer believe in Satan and hell, and ask: then where does the inspiration for man’s evil ingenuity come from? Can it all be explained by survival of the fittest or psychological problems?

Then I speak frankly about the fact that Catholic families have drifted away from practicing the faith and ask two more questions: If someone lives a life ignoring the crucifixion of Jesus, how is that face-to-face encounter with God his Father going to go? And how can we expect to jump into intimate union with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit having never spent time getting to know members of our own parish?

Finally, I counsel them not to follow the crowd. I conclude my remarks by saying these are exciting times, a period when God is raising real Saints, and a time when, as Saint Paul says, “grace abounds all the more.”

Even though I do my best to meet them where they are then ramp up, I can see surprise and seriousness in their faces. But I cannot simply laugh, bless them and send them on their way. If I believe salvation is at stake, which I do, I must find a way to get their attention and alert them. Thus, instead of keeping hell in reserve as a topic for advanced Catholics, I bring it forward. At the climax of my Baptism homily, I lead with the crucifixion followed by speaking of the implicit risk of hell.

We live in a time when people must be convinced about Jesus and his Church. In a previous Crisis article, I discussed the need for a presentation that would promote all God’s words and invisible realities, reconcile them with a loving God, and address people’s doubts, confusion, and moral challenges. If we allow folks to believe unchallenged that the Church can be wrong about one teaching, then we clear a path for more doubts and disbelief regarding other doctrines.

Some time ago, I presented my case at my brother’s parish. It began with film clips from The Passion followed by interview clips with Exorcist director William Friedkin and an old Jesuit priest who had been featured in the docudrama, In the Grip of Evil, which tells the true story that inspired The Exorcist (as a young Jesuit, the priest had assisted at that exorcism). As with the Baptism homily, I led with the crucifixion followed by an implicit risk of hell.

My brother attended both sessions, parts one and two, over two nights. I had to twist his arm, though, because he rarely went to Mass and his children had not received all the sacraments. The following weekend, while on a ski trip with his family, he sent me this text:

So here’s the funny thing. I was thinking about going to Mass the night before but I forgot to set my alarm. I ended up waking up early and checked to see the Mass times and location. I was still laying in bed listening to Spotify off the iPad and what literally comes on is… “Take Me to Church.” I figured that was a pretty good sign to get my butt out of bed. 🙂

Then he sent me pictures of himself in front of the church.

Broaching the Topic of Hell
You might wonder why I “imply” the risk of hell instead of directly threatening people with it (another common tactic). We live in a free world where people will not tolerate being threatened; it will push them away. Moreover, if we were to succeed at terrorizing people, how could they ever freely come to know God as their loving Father, as in the story of the Prodigal Son? That said, on occasion, its shock value might be warranted.

I am under no illusion about being a talented homilist or possessing the secret sauce for evangelization. But I am very clear about two things.

First, if we want to get people’s attention and loosen their soil to be able to receive Christ’s words, we must undermine their presumption of eternal life. That is, we must appeal to self-preservation and their desire to save loved ones, and not to guilt.

Second, we need to address people’s doubts and lack of faith in a systematic way. We cannot let our brothers and sisters live burdened with disbelief without providing help.

If Catholic priests, teachers, and believers in our country rallied around the need to save souls and taught all God’s words, then the Devil would be in for a true fight. Until then, it’s up to the often-isolated faithful to help others believe and appreciate the daily drama for eternal salvation—an extra difficult challenge for those who rarely get this message.

Deacon John Beagan is an information systems developer. He lives in Watertown, MA, with his wife, Marita, a hospital floor nurse, and serves his local parishes of Sacred Heart and Saint Patrick in the Archdiocese of Boston. He can be reached at DeaconJohnBeagan@gmail.com.



The Glorious Gospel of the Blessed God

The theme, or contents, or the purpose of the whole Gospel, is to set forth and make manifest to men the Glory of God (Bible Study Tools)

Two remarks of an expository character will prepare the way for our consideration of this text. The first is that the proper rendering is that which is given in the Revised Version,—” the gospel of the glory,” not the “glorious gospel.” The Apostle is not telling us what kind of thing the Gospel is, but what it is about. He is dealing not with its quality but with its contents. It is a Gospel which reveals, has to do with, is the manifestation of, the glory of God.

Then the other remark is with reference to the meaning of the word “blessed.” There are two Greek words which are both translated “blessed” in the New Testament. One of them, the more common, literally means “well spoken of“, and points to the action of praise or benediction; describes what a man is when men speak well of him, or what God is when men praise and magnify His name. But the other word, which is used here, and is only applied to God once more in Scripture, has no reference to the human attribution of blessing and praise to Him, but describes Him altogether apart from what men say of him but what He is in Himself, the “blessed,” or, as we might almost say, the “happy” God. If the word happy seems too trivial, suggesting ideas of levity, of turbulence, of possible change, then I do not know that we can find any better word than that which is already employed in my text, if only we remember that it means the solemn, calm, restful, perpetual gladness that fills the heart of God.

So much, then, being premised, there are three points that seem to me to come out of this remarkable expression of my text. First, the revelation of God in Christ of which the Gospel is the record, is the glory of God. Second, that revelation is, in a very profound sense, the blessedness of God. And, lastly, that revelation is the good news for men. Let us look at these three points, then, in succession.

I. Take, first, that striking thought that the revelation of God in Jesus Christ is the glory of God.

The theme, or contents, or the purpose of the whole Gospel, is to set forth and make manifest to men the Glory of God.

Now what do we mean by “the glory“? I think, perhaps, that question may be most simply answered by remembering the definite meaning of the word in the Old Testament. There it designates, usually, that supernatural and lustrous light which dwelt between the cherubim, the symbol of the presence and of the self-manifestation of God. So that we may say, in brief, that the glory of God is the sum-total of the light that streams from His self-revelation, considered as being the object of adoration and praise by a world that gazes upon Him.

And if this be the notion of the glory of God, is it not a startling contrast which is suggested between the apparent contents and the real substance of that Gospel? Suppose a man, for instance, who had no previous knowledge of Christianity, being told that in it he would find the highest revelation of the glory of God. He comes to the Book, and finds that the very heart of it is not about God, but about a man; that this revelation of the glory of God Is the biography of a man; and more than that, that the larger portion of that biography is the story of the humiliations, and the sufferings, and the death of the man. Would it not strike him as a strange paradox that the history of a man’s life was the shining apex of all revelations of the glory of God? And yet so it is, and the Apostle, just because to him the Gospel was the story of the Christ Who lived and died, declares that in this story of a human life, patient, meek, limited, despised, rejected, and at last crucified, lies, brighter than all other flashings of the Divine light, the very heart of the lustre and palpitating center and remarkable source of all the radiance with which God has flooded the world. The history of Jesus Christ is the glory of God. And that involves two or three considerations on which I dwell briefly.

One of them is this: Christ, then, is the self-revelation of God. If, when we deal with the story of His life and death, we are dealing simply with the biography of a man, however pure, lofty, inspired he may be, then I ask what sort of connection there is between that biography which the four Gospels gives us, and what my text says is the substance of the Gospel? What force of logic is there in the Apostle’s words: “God commendeth His love toward us in that whilst we were yet sinners Christ died for us,” unless there is some altogether different connection between the God Who commends His love and the Christ who dies to commend it, than exists between a mere man and God? Brethren! to deliver my text and a hundred other passages of Scripture from the charge of being extravagant nonsense and clear, illogical non sequiturs, you must believe that in that Man Christ Jesus ” we behold His glory—the glory of the only begotten of the Father“; and that when we look—haply not without some touch of tenderness and awed admiration in our hearts—upon His gentleness we have to say, “the patient God” ; when we look upon His tears we have to say, “the pitying God“; when we look upon His cross we have to say, “the redeeming God“; and gazing upon the Man, see in Him the manifest Divinity. Oh! listen to that voice, “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father,” and bow before the story of the human life as being the revelation of the indwelling God.

And then, still further, my text suggests that this self-revelation of God in Jesus Christ is the very climax and highest point of all God’s revelations to men. I believe that the loftiest exhibition and conception of the Divine character which is possible to us must be made to us in the form of a man. I believe that the law of humanity, for ever, in Heaven as on earth, is this, that the Son is the Revealer of God ; and that no loftier—yea, at bottom, no other—communication of the Divine nature can be made to man than is made in Jesus Christ.

But be that as it may, let me urge upon you this thought, that in that wondrous story of the life and death of our Lord Jesus Christ the very high-water mark of Divine self-communication has been touched and reached. All the energies of the Divine nature are embodied there. The “riches, both of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God,” are in the Cross and Passion of our Savior. “To declare at this time his righteousness” Jesus Christ came to die. The Cross is “the power of God unto salvation.” Or, to put it into other words, and avail oneself of an illustration, we know the old story of the queen who, for the love of an unworthy human heart, dissolved pearls in the cup and gave them to him to drink. We may say that God comes to us, and for the love of us, reprobate and unworthy, has melted all the jewels of His nature into that cup of blessing which He demonstrated to us, saying : ” Drink ye all of it.” The whole God-head, so to speak, is smelted down to make that rushing river of molten love which flows from the Cross of Christ into the hearts of men. Here is the highest point of God’s revelation of Himself.

And my text implies, still further, that the true living, flashing center of the glory of God is the love of God. Christendom is more than half heathen yet, and it betrays its heathenism not least in its vulgar conceptions of the Divine nature and its glory. The majestic attributes which separate God from man, and make Him unlike His creatures, are the ones which people too often fancy belong to the glorious side of His character. They draw distinctions between “grace” and “glory,” and think that the latter applies mainly to what I might call the physical and the metaphysical, and less to the moral, attributes of the Divine nature. We adore power, and when it is expanded to infinity we think that it is the glory of God. But my text delivers us from all such misconceptions. If we rightly understand it, then we learn this, that the true heart of the glory is tenderness and love. Of power that weak Man hanging on the cross is a strange embodiment; but if we learn that there is something more godlike in God than power, then we can say, as we look upon Jesus Christ: “Lo ! this is our God. We have waited for Him, and He will save us.” Not in the wisdom that knows no growth, not in the knowledge which has no border-land of ignorance ringing it round about, not in the unwearied might of His arm, not in that awful Presence wheresoever creatures are, not in any or in all of these lies the glory of God, but in His love. These are the fringes of the brightness ; this is the central blaze. The Gospel is the Gospel of the glory of God, because it is all summed up in the one word,—” God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.”

II. Now, in the next place, the revelation of God in Christ is the blessedness of God.

We are come here into places where we see but very dimly, and it becomes us to speak very cautiously. Only as we are led by the Divine teaching may we affirm at all. But it cannot be unwise to accept in simple literality utterances of Scripture, however they may seem to strike us as strange. And so I would say—the philosopher’s God may be all-sufficient and unemotional, the Bible’s God ” delighteth in mercy,” rejoiceth in His gifts, and is glad when men accept them. It is something, surely, amid all the griefs and sorrows of this sorrow-haunted and devil-hunted world, to rise to this lofty region and to feel that there is a living personal Joy at the heart of the universe. If we went no further, to me there is infinite beauty and mighty consolation and strength in that one thought—the happy God. He is not, as some ways of representing Him figure Him to be, what the older astronomers thought the sun was, a great cold orb, black and frigid at the heart, though the source and centre of light and warmth to the system. But He Himself is Joy, or if we dare not venture on that word, which brings with it earthly associations, and suggests the possibility of alteration—He is the blessed God. And the Psalmist saw deeply into the Divine nature, who, not contented with hymning His praise as the Possessor of the fountain of life, and the Light whereby we see light, exclaimed in an ecstasy of anticipation, “Thou makest us to drink of the rivers of Thy pleasures.

there is a great deal more than that here, if not in the word itself, at least in its connection, which connection seems to suggest that howsoever the Divine nature must be supposed to be blessed in its own absolute and boundless perfectness, an element in the blessedness of God Himself arises from His self-communication through the Gospel to the world. All love delights in imparting. Why should not God’s? On the lower level of human affection we know that it is so, and on the highest level we may with all reverence venture to say, The quality of that mercy …. “is twice blest,” and that Divine love “blesseth Him that gives and them that take.

He created a universe because He delights in His works and in having creatures on whom He can lavish Himself. He “rests in His love, and rejoices over us with singing” when we open our hearts to the reception of His light, and learn to know Him as He has declared Himself in His Christ. The blessed God is blessed because He is God. But He is blessed too because He is the loving and therefore the giving God.

What a rock-firmness such a thought as this gives to the mercy and the love that He pours out upon us! If they were evoked by our worthiness we might well tremble, but when we know, according to the grand words familiar to many of us, that it is His nature and property to be merciful, and that He is far gladder in giving than we can be in receiving, then we may be sure that His mercy endureth for ever, and that it is the very necessity of His being—and He cannot turn His back upon Himself—to love, to pity, to succor, and to bless.

III. And so, lastly, the revelation of God in Christ is good news for us all.

The Gospel of the glory of the blessed God.” How that word “gospel” has got tarnished and enfeebled by constant use and unreflective use, so that it slips glibly off my tongue and falls without producing any effect upon your hearts. It needs to be freshened up by considering what really it means. It means this: here are we like men shut up in a beleaguered city, hopeless, helpless, with no power to break out or to raise the siege; provisions failing, death certain. Some of you older men and women remember how that was the case in that awful siege of Paris, in the Franco-German War, and what expedients were adopted in order to get some communication from without. And here to us, imprisoned, comes, as it did to them, a dispatch borne under a Dove’s wing, and the message is this: God is love; and that you may know that He is, He has sent you His Son Who died on the Cross, the sacrifice for a world’s sin. Believe it and trust it, and all your transgressions will pass away.

My brother, is not that good news? Is it not the good news that you need—the news of a Father, of pardon, of hope, of love, of strength, of purity, of Heaven? Does it not meet our fears, our forebodings, oar wants at every point? It comes to you. What do you do with it? Do you welcome it eagerly, do you clutch it to your hearts, do you say,” This is my Gospel“? Oh ! let me beseech you, welcome the message ; do not turn away from the Word from Heaven, which will bring life and blessedness to all your hearts 1 Some of you have turned away long enough, some of you, perhaps, are fighting with the temptation to do so again even now. Let me press that ancient Gospel upon your acceptance, that Christ the Son of God has died for you, and lives to bless and help you. Take it and live! So shall you find that “as cold water to a thirsty soul, so is this best of all news from the far country.”



Praising God for His goodness!

by Joshua and Joanna Bogunjoko | “Praise him—he is your God, and you have seen with your own eyes the great and astounding things that he has done for you.” Deuteronomy 10:21

We praise God for being so good to us. He has shown us His great mercy and answered our prayers. In our last prayer letters we asked you to pray for our children. They are both doing amazingly well and we praise God for answering prayers.

Jochebed is doing well and shining the light of Christ as she works hard to handle the pressures around her. Praise God with us that Joel’s scholarship has been restored. This was a major point of prayer and the Lord has honored our prayers. Thank you for praying with us. Also, he has been given an accommodation in his studies to enable him to work at a healthy and suitable pace. He has a better outlook on the future now. We spent Sunday afternoon with him and were touched by his bright spirit and growing maturity.

Thank you also for praying for our trips to Kenya and the Philippines which went well. We were truly blessed to be able to spend time with SIM workers in medical ministries and our team in the Philippines. We are encouraged by their dedication and commitment to making Christ known in communities where He is least known even when it is not convenient or totally “safe”.

Thank you and God bless you!

We proclaim how great you are and tell of the wonderful things you have done.” Psalm 75:1.

Joshua and Joanna Bogunjoko

Joshua & Joanna Bogunjoko

Dr. Joshua Bogunjoko has been the SIM’s International Director since June 1, 2013. Joshua and his wife, Joanna, began their mission careers as members of the Evangelical Missionary Society (EMS), the mission arm of the ECWA church, which today sends more than 2400 Nigerians cross-culturally. They were commissioned by the national ECWA church in 1993 and their home church in Lagos in 1995, where they were sent out as seconded associates of SIM. They have served at three mission hospitals in West Africa and became full members of SIM in 2001. Joshua served on the SIM International Leadership Team since 2006, dealing with global issues related to mission.



The Brewing of a Toxic Culture

by Joseph Mattera | There is constant bickering and or resistance which then hurts the execution of the vision, which spills over to the rest of the organization—creating a toxic environment

The following 20 signs are based on my observations regarding organizational dysfunction associated with a toxic (poisonous) culture in any organization.

In this article, the word “culture” refers to the prevailing attitude, behavior, and unspoken feeling and or rules that motivate and determine how people respond, react and act in the context of their work.

The following toxic traits fit either a “for profit” or “nonprofit “organization (including nonprofits like a hospital, school or church).

1. The leader is a demanding micromanager.

When the leader of an organization is constantly hovering over staff and other team leaders—not only telling them what to do but exactly how to do it (although this is necessary temporarily when a new person is learning a new job until they prove their competency), it discourages the work environment because the leader’s leadership style demonstrates a lack of trust towards those under him or her.

2. The leader is emotionally abusive and demeaning.

A work environment is absolutely horrible when the boss is constantly putting the staff and other leaders down—never praising them and only speaking to them when he wants to correct them.

3. The leader doesn’t understand or desire to delegate tasks to others.

Often, micromanagers have a hard time delegating work to others because they have a “perfectionist” spirit and think they are the only ones who can get a job done the correct way. Even when they delegate, they don’t trust those they delegate to and are constantly on top of them, thus not giving them room to breathe or grow.

4. The leader and the governing board are always arguing.

I have spoken to numerous pastors or CEOs who say they dread board meetings because of philosophical differences. The result is, there is constant bickering and or resistance which then hurts the execution of the vision, which spills over to the rest of the organization—creating a toxic environment.

5. There is low morale among the staff, employees and participants.

When the staff and team leaders of an organization have low morale, it negatively affects the rest of the participants since it is like a virus that spreads to all.

6. The vision and mission are always changing based on the mood of the leader.

Any church or organization that has a new vision and mission every year has a confused leadership team. Since vision determines the organization’s responsibility and mission determines its authority, when these two are constantly changing, nobody understands what is expected; thus, creating confusion, lack of trust towards the leader and resulting in a toxic culture.

7. A culture of rampant gossip is tolerated.

When an organization cannot keep confidentiality among the leaders and staff, and when backstabbing and gossip is tolerated, the organization is poisonous and unfit to work in until there is a drastic shift away from this behavior.

8. There is a lack of transparency regarding financial decisions.

When any organization—including a church—doesn’t at least annually divulge financial expenditures, values and priorities, it shows a lack of accountability and possible mismanagement. When only the lead pastor and or CEO of an organization (not talking about a “for profit” mom and pop restaurant or small business) know the true financial state and or has access to the monies, it can be an ethical disaster waiting to happen. I’ve known of some cases where not even the trustees of the organization knew what was going on financially.

9. There is an ambiguous accountability structure.

When nobody on staff or in a ministry or job position understands who to report to, it creates a toxic, confusing environment without true accountability.

10. There is a lot of transition in the staff and middle management.

When a “season” of transition becomes years of staff transition, it becomes part of the culture and demonstrates some level of toxicity that chases people away from the work environment. People in healthy work environments usually enjoy going to work (unless they are lazy and unmotivated) and make a long-term commitment to serve.

11. There is no “buy in.”

The key to the success of all organizations is when the staff and participants go from being “employees” to “proprietors;” hence, only when the key players in an organization take ownership and have the attitude of a shareholder does the organization gain momentum.

An organization populated only with mere “employees” is a toxic organization that marginalizes its ability to execute its vision and mission.

12. There is an entitlement mentality among the leaders and staff.

When the leadership and staff of an organization have a “what’s in it for me” mentality—the organization is in big trouble.

This entitlement mentality spreads, then instead of a culture of servant leadership you have a culture of obtaining a title in the organization primarily, so you can enjoy the fringe benefits.

13. There is much activity without measurable goals and profitability.

When an organization has much activity without measurable goals, then it’s difficult to define success and failure. In a church like this, nobody has to exercise their faith in God to accomplish their mission and assignment. Consequently, it is an organization that is on autopilot or like an aimless ship at sea in the night. This causes much frustration and lethargy among the staff, and eventually creates a toxic environment.

14. There is blame-shifting and a lack of taking responsibility.

In any organization that doesn’t have clear lines of communication, leadership structure and accountability, it is easy to have a culture of blame-shifting. Since blame-shifting generates animosity among the staff (and irresponsibility from the ones blaming others) you have a toxic culture that needs to be cleaned up systemically.

15. The participants do the minimum amount of work required.

I have observed in many organizations leaders and staff who just do the minimum work required to keep their position. They clock in and clock out and don’t care to do above and beyond the general job description. This generates a very bad environment if it is not dealt with and results in resentment from other staff members carrying most of the weight.

16. There is a dearth of volunteers.

When it is hard for a nonprofit to garner volunteers, it may demonstrate that there is a disconnect with the vision, the morale is low or the people are not committed to the mission. This lack of motivation creates an apathy, that is toxic for the culture of the entity.

17. The boss regularly ignores the protocols.

Every efficient organization needs to have protocols in place related to communication, accountability, layers of leadership and responsibility so that participants know the when, where and who to report to. When the top leader continually violates these processes put in place he or she acts like they are above the law and become bad role models for other leaders who will also replicate their disregard for protocols and order.

18. The boss regularly bypasses the leadership structure set up.

When the top leader allows people to report directly to him or her—(thus bypassing the delegated leadership structure) it creates confusion, favoritism and disrespect towards those bypassed.

The result is resentment among those bypassed, a sense of entitlement and favoritism among those with direct access to the boss, resulting in a toxic environment that can only be fixed if the senior leader leads the way by ceasing to violate the hierarchical leadership structure.

19. Creativity and innovation are discouraged.

Healthy organizations encourage creative thinking, innovation, a certain level of risk-taking and cutting-edge methodologies to support and advance the mission.

When an organization is more concerned with protecting the status quo, the result is groupthink—a lack of creativity and a uniformity lacking a healthy dose of critical thinking, which eventually leads to the dulling and ineffectiveness of the organization.

20. There is no long-term planning.

The old popular adage “when you fail to plan, you plan to fail” is a proven truism. An organization constantly given to last-minute events (barring an unexpected crisis or emergency) or a lack of long-term planning (every organization should at least execute an annual planning meeting for future events directed towards advancing the assignment) is an organization without a spirit of excellence or proper focus.

The result will be many opportunities to maximize the gifts, talents and resources of the organization will be missed, which will frustrate many and hurt the morale of many.

Dr. Joseph Mattera is an internationally known author, interpreter of culture and activist/theologian whose mission is to influence leaders who influence nations. He is renowned for addressing current events through the lense of Scripture by applying biblical truths and offering cogent defenses to today’s postmodern culture. He leads several organizations, including The United Coalition of Apostolic Leaders (uscal.us). To order one of his books or to subscribe to his weekly newsletter go to josephmattera.org.



I Know Who I Am’: We are a chosen generation

I Know Who I Am’: We are a chosen generation at the ECWA USA 2018 International Conference in Chicago, IL, USA.