Monday, 9 March 2020

Why We Need a Savior: The Weakness of Ruth Is Greater Than the Strength of Samson


We need a Savior; this is clear throughout Scripture

I recently reflected on the dark conclusion to the book of Judges—how the book ends with a note of desperation. “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” And what was “right in their eyes” was patently horrific. It seemed so appealing at the beginning, to define God how they wanted him to be. But it turned out to be hell on earth.

If the book of Judges were all we had to capture this time in Israel’s history, it would be a dismal piece of history indeed. But there’s another story, a hidden subplot, to what’s going on in Judges. It’s the tiny companion volume known as Ruth.

The book of Ruth is set in the waning days of the rule of the Judges. In case you forgot what those days were like, it wasn’t a great time to be a woman in Israel. Women were bought and sold as property, kidnapped to satisfy the demands of the warriors, and murdered with no apparent concern for justice. Yet the central character of Ruth is a woman. Not only that, she isn’t even an Israelite. And at the start of her story, she’s a widow. By all outside appearances, Ruth is as low and as weak as a person could get.

But while the obviously strong men and rulers are busy driving their nation into the ground, the weak and seemingly helpless Ruth stands out because she trusts God in the face of impossible odds. And because of her faith in the midst of uncertainty, God would use her as his avenue for undoing Israel’s darkness.

You see, all throughout Judges, we’re left wondering if any of these judges will be the savior and deliverer that Israel needed. Some displayed incredible feats of strength and might, but in the end, none of them were up to the task. But the book of Ruth shows us that where the strength of Israel failed, the weakness of God would succeed. God chose Ruth—a woman, an outcast, a nobody—to keep the promise of God alive. Ruth would have a son, Obed, who had a son, Jesse, who had a son, King David. The king that Israel needed would come not through the strength of Samson, but through the weakness of a foreign widow.

But even David wasn’t the ultimate king that Israel needed. From David’s line, generations later, came the king that they truly needed, a king who would have more in common with Ruth than with the judges: Jesus. Like Ruth, he was poor, wandering as an outcast without a home. Like Ruth, he wasn’t the deliverer Israel expected. But because of his weakness, he was the Savior they needed.

Jesus, however, would endure far worse than Ruth ever did. While Ruth endured hardship for a while, she ended her life in a stable and wealthy family. But Jesus would end his life with his closest friends abandoning him. He would not be rich, but would have his only possession on earth—the clothes on his back—stripped from him. And he would not end his days in ease, but would face the most horrific death that humanity has yet dreamed of.

This is where it’s worth another glance back at the book of Judges. For as dark and gruesome as the conclusion to Judges is, it’s not the darkest chapter of Scripture. The darkest moment in the Bible is when the gracious and beautiful Son of God was beaten, mocked and crucified by religious leaders who thought they were doing the work of God.

The cross was so bloody and horrifying that we’re tempted to look away. But it was no more bloody than our sin demanded that it be. The difference between the horrific scene of the cross and the horrific scenes of Judges 17–21 is that Jesus took it on voluntarily. While the men throughout Judges were comfortable subjecting other people (usually women) to bloody punishment, Jesus would accept the punishment on our behalf.

If we see our sin for what it is, if we realize that what Jesus endured was our due, what can we say to this but, “Grace! Grace! God’s grace! Marvelous, infinite, matchless grace, freely bestowed on all who believe! You that are longing to see his face; will you this moment his grace receive?” 




Author
J.D. Greear

J.D. Greear, Ph.D., is the President of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastors the Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, NC. Tagged by Outreach magazine as one of the fastest-growing churches in America, the Summit has grown in the past 8 years from 400 to over 5,000 each weekend. The Summit Church is deeply involved in global church planting, having undertaken the mission to plant 1000 churches in the next 40 years. J.D. has authored Breaking the Islam Code and the upcoming Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary.
JD Greear


This article was first published at Church Leaders

Monday, 2 March 2020

Sanders won’t support Israel or fight anti-Semitism



From his statements to the cadre of anti-Semites and Israel-haters he has assembled for his campaign, the senator from Vermont has made his intentions abundantly clear.

For the first time in United States political history, a Jew is a strong contender to be the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee. Unfortunately, that Jew is Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.
In 2000, the American Jewish community was excited at the prospect of then-Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) becoming the first Jewish vice president. Lieberman was a greatly admired and respected politician, but unfortunately, hanging chads and a Supreme Court decision put paid to the Gore-Lieberman presidential ticket.

Now in 2020, we have Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) vying for the top position in U.S. politics. In 2016, competing for the Democratic nomination against Hillary Clinton, he never referenced his Jewishness but heavily criticized Israel, stressing its “disproportionate responses” to hundreds of rocket attacks by terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip. This time around he has acknowledged Israel’s right to exist (though not as a Jewish state), but is severely critical regarding its efforts to defend itself.

Just as troubling is the cadre of anti-Semites and Israel-haters who Sanders has assembled in his election campaign team. His chief of staff is Faiz Shakir, formerly the national political director of the American Civil Liberties Union and the prime mover of the organization’s efforts to oppose a Congress-led anti-BDS resolution aimed at the enemies of Israel. Tablet magazine has described Shakir as “one who throughout his career has been highly critical of Israel.” Another Sanders surrogate, Amer Zahr, has been guilty of anti-Semitic outbursts and has relentlessly demonized Israel, his scurrilous tweets describing defenders of Israel as “scumbags, pigs and bastards.”

Another ardent Sanders’s supporter is Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), arguably the most prominent Jew-hater in Congress. As Eric Mandel has written in The Jerusalem Post, “Omar’s anti-Semitism reaches beyond Israel into the old-time [anti-Semitic] tropes on Jewish power and money. Bernie is silent because nobody in his base would want him to call out a woman of color.” However, with the growth of violent anti-Semitic incidents in the country, Sanders’s silence throughout has been deafening.
Another congressional representative and enthusiastic Sanders supporter is Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.). Like Omar, a recognized hater of Israel who speaks from the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives wearing the keffiyeh scarf.

Suggestions have been made that a future Sanders administration could well include the likes of Omar, Tlaib, Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and political activist Linda Sarsour. The latter two, both outspoken in their condemnation of Israel, have been with Sanders from the earliest moments of his current candidacy. Cortez joined him on visits to key states before the primary season.
Sanders walks in ideological lockstep with U.K. Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, whom 85 percent of British Jewry consider being an anti-Semite; it’s not hard to guess who Sanders was rooting for in the recent U.K. elections.

Of late Sanders has added fuel to the fire via his anti-Israel comments and statements. He has described Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of the democratically elected government of Israel, as a “reactionary racist,” but has praised the work of Fidel Castro, the man responsible for the deaths of thousands of Cubans. And, more recently, AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobbying organization, was described by Sanders as fostering bigotry. While Sanders has stated that he will not be speaking at AIPAC’s upcoming conference, he did not refuse to speak at the Islamic Society of North America’s annual conference, despite the list of speakers including an array of Jew-haters and Israel-bashers.

His description of AIPAC elicited strong criticism from Jewish organizations across the board. AIPAC’s response was telling: “Sanders has never attended our conference and that is evident from his outrageous comment. Many of his own senate and House Democratic colleagues and leaders speak from our platform to over 18,000 Americans from widely diverse backgrounds—Democrats, Republicans, Jews, Christians, African-Americans, Hispanic Americans, progressives, veterans, students, and members of the LGBTQ+ community—who participate in the conference to proclaim their support for the U.S.-Israel relationship.”

If he is elected to the presidency, then Jewish or not, Bernie Sanders will not support Israel and will not fight anti-Semitism.


This is article was first published on Jewish News Syndicate website March 1,2020

Friday, 28 February 2020

Appeal hearing for Iranian Christians

Iran: Appeal hearing for Iranian Christians

Persecution of Iranian Christians

The appeal hearing scheduled for 24 February to review the sentences of Assyrian pastor Victor Bet Tamraz, his wife Shamiram Issavi Khabizeh, and three Christian converts has been postponed once again.

Three long-standing related cases have been combined and are under review. The first involves Pastor Victor and Persian Christian converts Amin Nader Afshari and Kavian Fallah Mohammadi, who was arrested at a Christmas celebration in December 2014. The second case also involves Amin Nader Afshari, who was re-arrested in August 2016 with another convert, Hadi Asgar. The third involves Shamiram, summoned by the authorities in June 2017.

Pastor Victor was sentenced in July 2017 to ten years’ imprisonment for ‘acting against national security.’ Amin, Hadi, and Kavian also received prison sentences of between ten and fifteen years on similar charges. In January 2018 Shamiram was sentenced to five years in prison for “membership of a group with the purpose of disrupting national security” and another five years in prison for “gathering and colluding to commit crimes against national security.”

At an appeal hearing in Shamiram’s case in February 2019, the judge, Ahmed Zargar, decided to combine her case with the two other cases.

A court hearing for the combined cases was scheduled for September 2019 but was postponed after the judge failed to appear. Another court hearing scheduled for November 2019 was also postponed, apparently because the courthouse was “too crowded.” The latest hearing was postponed after a summons for Hadi had failed to be dispatched. A new judge has been appointed to oversee the appeal. Pastor Victor and Shamiram’s daughter, Dabrina Bet Tamraz, commented that the new judge seems to be more reasonable and sensible than previous ones. No date has yet been scheduled for a new hearing.


Prayer Points


  • Iranian Christians request prayer that:
  • There would be a conclusion to these long-standing cases and that the new judge will rule justly and have the courage to overturn the sentences
  • The Lord will encourage the defendants and their families
  • The Iranian regime will stop oppressing religious minorities, including Christians



SOURCE: Middle East Concern

Thursday, 13 February 2020

7 Proven Strategies to Launch More Small Groups

Small Groups

Most churches cannot launch groups fast enough to keep up with the demand for discipleship. As the worship services grow larger, the small groups' ministry gets further and further behind. Well, that’s not entirely true.


Churches CAN launch groups fast enough to keep up with the demand for discipleship if they change up how they are launching groups. Here are 7 things I’ve discovered over the last 15 years in working with over 1,500 churches across North America. These aren’t just 7 ideas or 7 philosophies. These are 7 proven strategies to launch groups.

#1 Offer Multiple Short-term Opportunities.


People have watched small group methods and models come and go over the years. The innovators and early adopters are right there with you every time you propose a new idea. This is your low hanging fruit that amounts to about 30% of your congregation. This is also why most churches get stuck at 30% in groups.

The rest of the folks are waiting to see how long you stick with the latest and greatest idea. Once they see that you are willing to go the distance (and that nobody died from the new strategy), they’ll jump in. But, they need to know you’re serious by offering short-term opportunities to start groups over and over again. You will get sick of asking before some of these folks are even interested in trying.

#2 Offer Easy-to-Use Curriculum.


People aren’t dumb. They’ve been around. They know the Bible. I’ve surveyed some of the largest, most seeker-focused churches in the U.S. to discover they still had 95% transfer growth. Most of your congregation is not new, but they are busy.

Busy people don’t have time to prepare, so make it easier for them to get a group started. By creating and purchasing an easy-to-use video-based curriculum, people can gather their friends and do something intentional about their spiritual growth. This is not where you’ll leave them, but it’s a great place to start them.

#3 Offer an Experienced Leader to Help.


Before you panicked because I’m about to say “coaching,” think about something for a second. If you were to double the number of groups in your church in the next 30 days, how would you help the new leaders? When our church doubled our groups in one day, I panicked! Then, I matched up the new leaders with experienced leaders. This does two things for you.

First, all of the new leaders won’t be calling you, because you’ve given them someone to call. Second, you don’t have to worry about what’s going on in all of these new groups, because an experienced leader, who you know and trust, is getting to know the new leaders. Coaching helps everybody.

#4 Give Permission and Opportunity.


The reason people are not in your groups is not because the hate the Bible and hate other people. They want to become more Christlike. What doesn’t work for them is what you are currently offering. How do I know? Well, unless all of your people are currently in groups, then what you’re offering is not working for everybody. A word of caution — don’t throw out what you’re currently doing — it’s working for someone. Keep it.

Now, here’s the part that blew my mind — I didn’t need to solve everybody’s problems or create a multiplicity of groups to meet every need. I gave our people permission and the opportunity to figure out how to do a group that would work for them. They figured it out. If this sounds too loosy goosy for you, remember you determine the curriculum and the coach. Those are pretty good safeguards.

#5 Allow People to Gather Their Own Groups.


Most people have friends. If they have friends, they can start a group. If the topic is appealing to the average person, your people might also invite their neighbors, co-workers, and others. Some churches I’ve worked with ended up with twice as many people in groups as attended the weekend services.

Personal invitation is far superior to any sign-up card or website. Active methods of connecting people into groups work far better than passive methods. And, if people don’t need to be placed in groups, your administrative task just went way down. Get as many people to invite as many people as they can, then provide a way for new people to get into groups.

#6 Ask the Senior Pastor to Invite Them.


Next year marks my 30th year of full-time ministry. For most of those years, I was the Associate Pastor, Discipleship Pastor, or Vice President. What I learned in the second chair was that if my senior pastor said the exact words I would use, we would easily triple the result. Or, put another way, if I made the invitation, I would only do about 30% as well.

Encourage your pastor to be the spokesperson for groups. Give them reasons to champion groups from The Senior Pastors Guide to Groups. Give them stories from small groups for sermons. Script out the invitation for group leaders. Then, sit back and watch the people show up.

#7 Don’t Advertise These “Groups.”


When you put a leader’s name on a groups directory or website, the church is giving an implied endorsement of the group. If you don’t know the leader very well, then this presents a problem. You can do one of two things: You could get to know all of the new leaders ASAP, or you don’t advertise these groups.

By not advertising these new groups, you make it safer for the new leader. They can invite people they know. They’ll be more comfortable. And, you don’t have to worry about your church’s charter members ending in a group led by a new believer. By not advertising these new groups, you give a lot of grace all around.


Chances are as I have given you 7 proven strategies that have worked over and over again, you’ve come up with seven or more excuses for why this won’t work in your church. I was just like that once upon a time. But, then I took some wise words to the heart from Brett Eastman, “Let the exceptions be the exceptions.” It’s tempting to create an entire system to account for all of the possible exceptions. But, systems like that tend to get in the way of launching groups and making disciples.






About the Author
Allen White consults and speaks in the areas of small group strategy, staffing structure, volunteer mobilization, and spiritual formation. Allen is the author of Exponential Groups: Unleashing Your Church’s Potential. He blogs at http://allenwhite.org.


This article originally appeared here.


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