This year, 2017, marks the 500th birthday of the Protestant Reformation. On October 31st it will be the anniversary date when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg.
Earlier this month I took a 10-day trip to Germany on “vacation with a purpose”. It was a Reformation tour to mark this anniversary year, walking in the steps of Martin Luther. From his birthplace at Eisleban, to his university and monastic days in Erfurt, to the town of Wittenberg where he lived and worked, we were bathed in 16th century history. The tour was organized by Regent College, with daily lectures from Dr. Iain Provan. The lectures were accompanied with walking tours and museums. I’ve been in enough museums to last for several years!
While I’ve studied the Reformation in the past, my trip to Germany caused me to reflect on the shadow cast over us by Martin Luther and the reformers. Many of the accomplishments of the 16th century we take for granted. But here are 7 benefits of the Reformation that come to my mind:
Discovering that Salvation is by Grace Alone through Faith Alone
The unbiblical practice of selling indulgences to the people was the tinderbox that set Luther’s heart on fire. He was offended by this money making scheme of the Church and chose to challenge it. Luther made this “discovery” when studying Romans: “the just will live by faith” (Rom 1:17).
Centrality of the Word of God
Luther determined that Scripture would take precedence over traditions of the church. In his disputes with the Pope and the officials at Rome he appealed directly to the Bible. In his dramatic statement to the Holy Roman Emperor at Worms in 1521, he declared: “My conscience is captive to the Word of God”.
Our English Bible translations
Although he was not the first to do so, Luther translated the Bible into the German vernacular and it had a huge impact on the people. Until then one had to know Latin in order to read the Bible. The advent of Bible translation began because of the Reformation.
Primacy of Preaching
Luther and the Reformers replaced the altar with the pulpit, placing it in the center of their redesigned churches. This move indicated the central place of the Scripture in the reformed churches. Services were held in the vernacular, rather than the Latin as had been the practice for centuries.
Place of Singing in Public Worship
Luther introduced congregational singing into his church order. He recognized the role of teaching as sound theology was put to music. As one who loved music, Luther penned dozen of hymns, of which the best known is “A Mighty Fortress is our God”.
Seeing no biblical mandate for celibacy of the clergy, the Reformers were free to marry. This was a sign of reformation and independence from the Church of Rome. Luther advocated the right of congregations to select their own pastors.
Priesthood of All Believers
Luther saw the mediatory role of the priests as unbiblical. He saw Scripture teaching that believers have direct access to God. Each believer is a priest with immediate and unhindered access to the Father, without needing the service of a priest.
These are a few of the changes that came to us from Luther and the Reformers. Their foundational feature was a commitment to the Scripture. We are the benefactors of their insights and courage. What was my takeaway? Still today, we must be reforming (and always reforming) to bring the gospel truth to a new generation.
The following two items are under discussion for further review following the May 29, 2017 Members Meeting. Please take time to review the materials below and forward any questions to the Board. Questions will be addressed at town hall meetings planned for late August and September 2017.
Thank you for continuing this journey of The Gospel Project® for Kids. Today’s Bible story is about the first Christian martyr, Stephen. Stephen was one of the seven men chosen to serve as leaders in the early church at Jerusalem. (See Acts 6:1-7.) God blessed Stephen, and God gave him power to do wonders and miracles like some of the apostles.
Some of the Jews accused Stephen of blasphemy and dragged him to the Sanhedrin, a group of Jewish leaders that acted as a legal council. Stephen addressed the group. He drew from the Old Testament, which the leaders in the Sanhedrin would have known well. He reminded them of Abraham’s faith in God and of Joseph’s plight in Egypt. He talked about Moses and the Israelites who rejected God’s plan. But God did not give up on them.
Stephen also showed how the Old Testament pointed to a coming Savior and how that Savior was Jesus. Stephen pointed out that the Jews’ ancestors had rejected God’s prophets. And they were just like their fathers; they rejected the Messiah, the Lord Jesus. Not only did they reject Jesus, they killed Him!
The Jewish leaders rushed at Stephen. The Holy Spirit filled Stephen, and he looked into heaven. He saw God’s glory, and Jesus was standing at God’s right hand. The Jews forced Stephen out of the city, and they stoned him. As he died, Stephen called out, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin!”
Stephen was killed because he was a Christian. Jesus told His followers that they would be persecuted—hated, hurt, or even killed—for loving Him. (Mark 13:9-13; John 16:2) Jesus also said that those who suffer for Him would be blessed. (Matthew 5:11) Stephen was not afraid to die because he saw Jesus waiting for him in heaven. We can face suffering in this life because we know great joy is waiting for us in heaven.
Be sure to check out the Family Journal Page to reinforce the lesson this week: June 11 Family Journal Page
This week in The Gospel Project® for Kids, our journey takes us to Jerusalem where the early church was booming with growth. There were two groups of Jews in the first church: Jews who spoke Greek and Jews who spoke Hebrew. The Greek-speaking Jews were from foreign countries, and the Hebrew-speaking Jews had been born in Israel. Tension existed between the two groups. The Greek-speaking Jews complained that their widows were not being cared for properly.
The Old Testament law was clear that God commanded His people to care for the orphans and widows. (See Ex. 22:22; Deut. 10:18.) The early church continued this Jewish custom, but the Greek-speaking Jews claimed their widows were not getting their share of the daily distributions.
The twelve apostles were quick to address the issue. They gathered all the believers together. The apostles explained that God had called them to preaching and teaching. They were not above handling problems among the people, but they wisely led the church to choose seven leaders to oversee such duties.
The church did not choose just anyone to serve; the men were reputable, full of the Spirit, and wise. The chosen seven were Stephen, Philip, Prochorus (PRAHK uh ruhs), Nicanor (nigh KAY nawr), Timon (TIGH mahn), Parmenas (PAHR mih nuhs), and Nicolaus (nik uh LAY uhs). Now the apostles were free to devote themselves to prayer and preaching, and the widows were properly cared for.
Everyone in the church has a role in God’s work. The apostles believed that everyone in the church had an important job to do to serve God’s people and help spread the gospel. The seven men who were chosen used their abilities to take care of others. Jesus wants us to serve others so that the message of His death and resurrection can be heard and believed all over the world.
Thank you for continuing this journey of The Gospel Project® for Kids. Over the next three weeks, kids will be learning about the early church. After the Holy Spirit came and the disciples began preaching the gospel, more and more people believed in Jesus. They met together and shared what they had like one big family. God blessed them, and the church grew. (See Acts 2.)
Peter and John were among Jesus’ first disciples. They were fishermen, and when Jesus called them, Peter and John immediately left their work and followed Him. (Matt. 4:18-22) Peter and John still followed Christ after His ascension. Though Jesus was no longer with them physically, the Holy Spirit empowered them to do God’s work.
One day, Peter and John encountered a man at the temple gate. The man was lame from birth, and he depended on the generosity of passersby. When the man looked at Peter and John, he likely hoped for or expected money. Gold or silver would have provided food or clothing, but Peter gave him something even more valuable. “In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, get up and walk!” (Acts 3:6) Peter reached out and helped the man to his feet. He was healed! Not by Peter’s power, but by the power of Jesus working through him.
After Jesus returned to heaven, the Holy Spirit gave the disciples power to keep working. Peter healed a man who was lame with the power of Jesus’ name. God was working in the early church. They lived very differently from the people around them. God gives the Holy Spirit to believers today so the church can tell others about Jesus and show them His love.
Today’s Bible story is found in Acts 2:1-42. We studied about the time when the Holy Spirit came to God’s people.
The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God. Through the Holy Spirit, God reveals His will (John 16:13), helps believers tell others about Jesus, and helps them live holy lives. The Holy Spirit lives within those who trust Jesus as Savior and Lord. (John 14:17) Jesus told His disciples that God would send the Holy Spirit to teach them. (John 14:25-26)
Fifty days after Passover was another major Jewish festival called Pentecost, or the Feast of Weeks. (See Ex. 34:22; Num. 28:26-31; Lev. 23:15-21.) All males had to appear at the temple for Passover, the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of the Tabernacle. Once again, Jerusalem would be packed with Jews from all over the Roman Empire.
The disciples were gathered together in one place. Suddenly, they heard a sound like a violent, rushing wind that came from heaven and filled the entire room. The Holy Spirit filled them and they were able to speak in foreign languages. They went out into the city and began to preach.
A crowd of Jews from all over the world was astonished. Weren’t the disciples Jews from Galilee? How were they able to speak in specific dialects? (See Acts 2:6-12.) Some people thought the disciples were drunk. The prophet Joel had prophesied that God would pour out His Spirit on all people, Peter said, “Then everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (Acts 2:14-21).
The Holy Spirit helped Peter teach about the Messiah: Jesus is the Messiah because Jesus was killed, but He is alive! (Acts 2:22-36) The Holy Spirit convicted the crowd and they asked, “Brothers, what must we do?” Peter told them to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus. (Acts 2:37-38). That day, 3,000 people received salvation!
God kept His promise to send the Holy Spirit. With the Holy Spirit’s help, Jesus’ disciples could share the gospel with the entire world. God gives the Holy Spirit to those who trust in Jesus as Lord and Savior. The Holy Spirit gives us power to do God’s work, and He changes us to be more like Jesus.
Check out the Family Journal Page and use it during the week to reinforce learning: May 21 Family Journal Page
We’re glad your child joined us this week in The Gospel Project® for Kids. This week’s Bible story comes from Acts 1:3-11 and centers on Jesus’ ascension into heaven.
After Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus showed His followers that He is alive. (Matt. 28:9-10; Mark 16:14; Luke 24:36-43; John 20:16-17,19-20,26-27; 21:14) Jesus taught them about Himself and about God’s kingdom. (Luke 24:25-27,44-48) Jesus told them that He would soon return to the Father. (John 20:17)
Jesus directed the Eleven to go a mountain. When they arrived, Jesus appeared. Some of them worshiped Jesus, but some of them doubted. (Matt. 28:17) Some of them wondered if Jesus was going to overthrow the Roman government and set up His kingdom on earth. “Lord, are You restoring the kingdom to Israel at this time?” they asked. (Acts 1:6)
Jesus said to them, “It is not for you to know times or periods that the Father has set by His own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:7-8). Jesus also told them to remain in Jerusalem until they received the Father’s promise—the Holy Spirit. Those who repented of their sins and trusted in Jesus’ death and resurrection would be baptized by the Holy Spirit. (Acts 1:5) The Holy Spirit would give them power to live holy lives and take the gospel to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8)
After Jesus told the disciples these things, Jesus was taken up into the sky—right in front of their eyes! (Acts 1:9) Suddenly two men stood on the mountain next to the disciples. “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up into heaven?” they asked. They said Jesus would return the same way. (Acts 1:11) Until Jesus returns, His followers need to work faithfully.
Jesus is alive in heaven, waiting to return for His people. Jesus told the disciples He was going to prepare a place for them, and when we die, we will be with the Lord in heaven. (John 14:1-3) In the meantime, Jesus has not left us alone. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to be with us and help us do God’s work. One day Jesus will return to make all things new and to rule as Lord over all.
Don’t forget to use the Family Journal Page activity below to reinforce Bible learning: May 14 Family Journal Page
Thank you for continuing this journey of The Gospel Project® for Kids. This week, we learned about Jesus giving the Great Commission in Matthew 28:16-20 and Mark 16:15-16.
After Jesus’ death and resurrection, He appeared to His disciples over a 40 day period. At one point, He appeared to over 500 disciples. Then He appeared to James, His half-brother, and the rest of the apostles. (1 Cor. 15:5-7) During that time, Jesus taught them about the kingdom of God. (Acts 1:3) Some disciples wondered if Jesus was going to restore the kingdom of Israel. (Acts 1:6)
Jesus and the Father had a different plan for the disciples. Jesus directed the Eleven to go to a mountain, where He appeared to them again. When Jesus appeared, they worshiped Him, but some still doubted. (Matt. 28:17) Before we condemn the disciples who doubted, they had not yet received the Holy Spirit. (Luke 24:49) Without the Holy Spirit, the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing. (1 Cor. 1:18)
On the mountain, Jesus gave His disciples the Great Commission. First, Jesus stated that all authority had been given to Him. Before the resurrection, Jesus had authority as God the Son. Through the resurrection, however, the Father gave Jesus far more than even Satan had promised. (Matt. 4:8-9) Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, God subjected everything to His beloved Son. (See Heb. 2:5-9.)
Jesus commanded His disciples to go into the world and preach the gospel, the good news about Him. The Great Commission is not just for missionaries far from home. All believers are called to share the gospel with others, to teach them to obey God’s commands, and to baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Jesus finishes His commission with a profound promise: “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).
Talk to the kids you teach about the importance of living out the Great Commission. The good news about what Jesus has done to rescue us from our sins is too great to keep to ourselves. Before Jesus went back to heaven, He gave the disciples a job to do. Jesus wants His followers to teach people everywhere about Jesus so they will trust in Him as their Lord and Savior.
Reinforce learning with the following activity from the Family Journal Page: May 7 Family Journal Page
Thanks for bringing your kids this week to study the lesson from The Gospel Project® for Kids. This week’s Bible story is found in John 21:1-19.
After Jesus’ resurrection and His appearance to the disciples, seven of the disciples returned to Galilee, near the Sea of Galilee. It was the same sea where Jesus had called four of His disciples, promising to make them fishers of men. (See Luke 5:1-11.) Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples decided to go fishing. Perhaps they felt it prudent to return to the fishing business since Jesus had died and resurrected. Their stint as His disciples was apparently over—or so they thought!
In Bible times, nighttime was the preferred time for fishing. Fish caught at night could be sold fresh in the morning at market. But at daybreak, the disciples had caught nothing. Jesus stood at the shore, but the disciples did not know it was Him. He called to them, “Men, you don’t have any fish, do you?” (John 21:5). Then He encouraged them to cast their net on the right side of the boat. They obeyed, and they were unable to haul in the catch because of the large number of fish.
John, the disciple Jesus loved, knew right away who He was. “It is the Lord!” John exclaimed. Immediately, Peter tied his outer garment around him and jumped into the sea, swimming to shore about 300 feet away. When the other six disciples arrived in the boat, they found Jesus sitting beside a charcoal fire with fish and bread. “Come and have breakfast,” Jesus said. Jesus ate with His disciples, then turned to Peter.
John 21:15-19 describes Peter’s restoration. The disciple who had told Jesus that he would die for Him (Luke 22:31-34) had denied Jesus three times. (Luke 22:54-62) Jesus asked, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” Peter responded, “Yes, Lord. You know that I love you.” Jesus told Peter to feed His lambs. Two more times Jesus asked this question, and on the third time, it grieved Peter. “Lord, You know everything! You know that I love You,” Peter said. (John 21:17) “Feed My sheep,” Jesus said again, and then told Peter how Peter would die to glorify God. “Follow Me!” Jesus said. (John 21:19)
Emphasize to the kids you teach that Jesus’ plan for the disciples did not end with His death and resurrection. When Jesus first called the disciples to follow Him, Jesus had promised to make them fishers of men. Instead of catching fish, they would tell people about Jesus. (Luke 5:1-11) The disciples had left Jesus when He was arrested, but Jesus still wanted to use them in God’s plan to rescue people from their sin. Jesus is a Lord who forgives us and makes things right again.
Use the following activity to revisit the Bible story throughout the week. This activity comes from the Family Journal Page: April 30 Family Journal Page
I’m pleased to report that my recent teaching opportunity in Egypt was very rewarding, perhaps one of the most satisfying of my life. That’s a strong comparison, and I recognize that I may not be fully objective at this point in time. Thank you for praying for me, as many of you have attested. I believe that there is a clear link between your prayer and my ministry.
My good friend, Lee Heyward, invited me to accompany him on a new teaching ministry that came to him last summer. He had not been to Egypt before and knew very little about the Tyrannus Missionary Training School. So this was an adventure for both of us to explore together. Here is an overview of our adventure.
Tyrannus Missionary Training School
The school began in Sudan 3 years ago, but relocated to Egypt due to rising tensions. The vision of the Egyptian leadership is to see ten such schools across North Africa in the years ahead. Pioneers USA is a funding partner and info can be found here.
The curriculum is well developed and is delivered through a rigorous weekly schedule. During our week together the students studied two classes with 9 contact hours in each. I taught the “Epistle of James”, while Lee taught “Spiritual Formation for Leadership”. One of the Sudanese staff took notes during classes and prepared an exam to be administered on Friday.
The students were alert, sitting on the edge of their seats to soak up all that we gave them. Their questions were insightful. The students have varied levels of ability in English, and some very capable. All classroom interaction is translated into Arabic. We were pleased with the capable translators, all Egyptian believers – Vivien is a TV anchor in Upper Egypt at a public station; Sarwat is an HR manager for a large American company; Deena is an administrative assistant in a local bank. They each were skilled in English with an evident commitment to the mission of the school.
The students are high caliber, and deeply devoted disciples of Christ who were selected through a rigorous application process. Only 22 are selected for the 10 month program from hundreds of applications – 11 from North Sudan, 2 from Darfur, 9 from South Sudan. The current accommodations for the school are temporary and not suitable for both men and women, or for couples, so the Sudanese are all young men. Upon arriving at the school they voluntarily surrender their passports so they are not tempted to return home before program completion. Further, they sign an agreement to return to their country as a church planter, but not to their home community. These students come from challenging circumstances, and know they will return to conditions of poverty, war and persecution.
On the same location an Egyptian training school is in it’s first year. Currently there are six students each having a calling to Christ’s mission somewhere in the Middle East. These 6 Egyptian students joined the 22 Sudanese for the week to hear from us westerners. One of these students is a single doctor who is called to carry the gospel to a hospital in Mauritania when he finishes the program. The sole couple at the school are led to work with Syrian refugees, in Turkey or in Lebanon.
Eman is the Program Director and was our primary contact. Trained as an architectural engineer, she has given her life to vocational ministry. She has served with Haggai Institute and previously with Campus Crusade. Youhana is a Sudanese brother with theological training and is the liaison between the school and the churches of Sudan. Samir and his wife are retired science teachers, now in their eighty’s, who are directors of the Tyrannus School. They are passionate about expanding Christ’s kingdom among the Sudanese. Behar and his wife Maha are directors of the Egyptian school. He is a businessman who has recused himself from the daily operations, and she is medical doctor. They too are devoted disciples of Christ giving their lives to kingdom work. We were impressed to see the strength of the church of Egypt and her commitment to help with gospel advancement across North Africa and the Middle East.
Along with Connie and me, Lee and his wife Terry, were our best friends in Seminary. Last summer when in the Chicago area I stopped for a few days and rekindled our friendship. The 30 years of distance felt like about 30 months. We picked up where we left off in 1986. During my time there Lee received an invitation to teach at Tyrannus and suggested that we should do it together. That off handed comment turned into an emerging dream over the course of the year. During our seminary days we mused about working together, but knew that we were too much alike to work effectively in the same context.
After planting a church in the greater Milwaukee area and leading it for 24 years, Lee turned his attention to the global church. With the inspiration of Stuart and Jill Briscoe, who were his mentors, that dream grew into an organization. Nine years ago Lee began a ministry called Brooklink. It’s a global ministry that equips church leaders for greater kingdom effectiveness.
Being with Lee for this joint ministry was like cold water to a weary soul (Prov 25:25). It’s truly remarkable how an old friendship can be so easily rekindled after many years of minimal connection. Our time together was a personal blessing.
Added Experiences (“tourism”)
A benefit of such travel opportunities is to see the sights and experience the culture of another part of the world. We had one day at the end of our week of teaching for a taste of Cairo. Here’s an overview of our experiences beyond the school:
- Sudanese Service – we accompanied the students to a suburb of Cairo where the Sudanese have settled. We were privileged to join them in a loud and lively expression of worship of King Jesus. It’s always inspiring to worship with nationals in their own manner. We brought greetings to the church, and as guests were invited to help serve The Lord’s Supper.
- Cave Church is a well known Coptic church in Cairo. After a heart wrenching drive through “garbage city” we arrived at the church where a Friday prayer service was underway. With seating for more than 10,000 there are 70,000 in weekly attendance. Here’s a recent article of interest.
- Kasr El-Dobara is the largest evangelical church in Egypt. We stopped there on Friday as regular services were underway. Churches hold services on Fridays and Sundays to accommodate those worshipers working on Sundays and
unable to be at worship. After passing sand bags, a police barricade, and metal detector, we entered to the singing of “He is Lord”. That was a moving moment recognizing that we share Christ in common with the hundreds of Egyptian believers gathered there. Learn more here.
- Tahrir Square forms the heart of Cairo and is the location of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution. That event lasted for 18 days and resulted in the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak after 30 years.
- Museum of Egyptian Antiquities is on Tahrir Square and a treat for any history nerd! I loved it and our 2 hour walk-through was 2 days too short.
- The Pyramids are a must see when in the vicinity. Having taken a course in Egyptology years ago it was a treat to actually be there. As spectacular as the pyramids are, it was a footnote to seeing the church of Egypt in action.
In one of our final conversations Connie encouraged me to pursue such overseas teaching opportunities. Being in Egypt to engage in this strategic ministry felt like a partial fulfillment of that conversation. Thanks to the board and staff who made it possible for me to be absent for ten days. Thanks to all who stood with me in prayer. Your prayers made the ministry effective. Please pray for these heroic students and for the ministry of Tyrannus school as the leaders seek to expand its kingdom influence.
In the Service of King Jesus,