Sunday, 22 January 2017

Prayer of a Minor Prophet by A.W. Tozer

O Lord, I have heard Thy voice and was afraid.
Thou has called me to an awesome task in a grave and perilous hour.
Thou art about to shake all nations and the earth and also heaven, that the things that cannot be shaken may remain.
O Lord, my Lord, Thou has stooped to honor me to be Thy servant.
No man taketh this honor upon himself save he that is called of God as was Aaron.
Thou has ordained me Thy messenger to them that are stubborn of heart and hard of hearing.
They have rejected Thee, the Master, and it is not to be expected that they will receive me, the servant.
My God,
I shall not waste time deploring my weakness nor my unfittedness for the work. The responsibility is not mine, but Thine.
Thou has said, "I knew thee - I ordained thee - I sanctified thee,"
and Thou hast also said,
"Thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak."
Who am I to argue with Thee or to call into question Thy sovereign choice? The decision is not mine but Thine. So be it, Lord.
Thy will, not mine, be done.
Well do I know, Thou God of the prophets and the apostles, that as long as I honor Thee Thou will honor me.
Help me therefore to take this solemn vow to honor Thee in all my future life and labors,
whether by gain or by loss,
by life or by death,
and then to keep that vow unbroken while I live.
It is time, O God, for Thee to work, for the enemy has entered into Thy pastures and the sheep are torn and scattered.
And false shepherds abound who deny the danger and laugh at the perils which surround Thy flock.
The sheep are deceived by these hirelings and follow them with touching loyalty while the wolf closes in to kill and destroy.
I beseech Thee, give me sharp eyes to detect the presence of the enemy; give me understanding to see and courage to report what I see faithfully. Make my voice so like Thine own that even the sick sheep will recognize it and follow Thee.
Lord Jesus, I come to Thee for spiritual preparation.
Lay Thy hand upon me.
Anoint me with the oil of the New Testament prophet.
Forbid that I should be come a religious scribe and thus lose my prophetic calling.
Save me from the curse that lies dark across the modern clergy,
the curse of compromise,
of imitation,
of professionalism.
Save me from the error of judging a church by its size, its popularity or the amount of its yearly offering.
Help me to remember that I am a prophet - not a promoter,
not a religious manager, but a prophet.
Let me never become a slave to crowds.
Heal my soul of carnal ambitions and deliver me from the itch for publicity. Save me from bondage to things.
Let me not waste my days puttering around the house.
Lay Thy terror upon me, O God, and drive me to the place of prayer where I may wrestle with principalities and powers and the rulers of the darkness of this world.
Deliver me from overeating and late sleeping.
Teach me self-discipline that I may be a good soldier of Jesus Christ.
I accept hard work and small rewards in this life.
I ask for no easy place.
I shall try to be blind to the little ways that could make life easier.
If others seek the smoother path I shall try to take the hard way without judging them too harshly.
I shall expect opposition and try to take it quietly when it comes.
Or if, as sometimes it falleth out to Thy servants,
I should have grateful gifts pressed upon me by Thy kindly people, stand by me then and save me from the blight that often follows.
Teach me to use whatever I receive in such manner that will not injure my soul nor diminish my spiritual power.
And if in Thy permissive providence honor should come to me from Thy church, let me not forget in that hour that I am unworthy of the least of Thy mercies, and that if men knew me as intimately as I know myself they would withhold their honors or bestow them upon others more worthy to receive them.
And now, O Lord of heaven and earth,
I consecrate my remaining days to Thee;
let them be many or few,
as Thou wilt.
Let me stand before the great or minister to the poor and lowly;
that choice is not mine, and I would not influence it if I could.
I am Thy servant to do Thy will,
and that will is sweeter to me than position or riches or fame and I choose it above all things on earth or in heaven.
Though I am chosen of Thee and honored by a high and holy calling,
let me never forget that I am but a man of dust and ashes,
a man with all the natural faults and passions that plague the race of men.
I pray Thee, therefore, my Lord and Redeemer, save me from myself and from all the injuries I may do myself while trying to be a blessing to others.
Fill me with Thy power by the Holy Spirit,
and I will go in Thy strength and tell of Thy righteousness, even Thine only.
 I will spread abroad the message of redeeming love while my normal powers endure.
Then, dear Lord, when I am old and weary and too tired to go on, have a place ready for me above, and make me to be numbered with Thy saints in glory everlasting.

Personal Life: Stay in the Secret Place -Tozer

 My voice You shall hear in the morning, O Lord; in the morning I will direct it to You, and I will look up.—Psalm 5:3
Retire from the world each day to some private spot, even if it be only the bedroom (for a while I retreated to the furnace room for want of a better place).
Stay in the secret place till the surrounding noises begin to fade out of your heart and a sense of God's presence envelops you.

Deliberately tune out the unpleasant sounds and come out of your closet determined not to hear them.
Listen for the inward Voice till you learn to recognise it.
Stop trying to compete with others.
Give yourself to God and then be what and who you are without regard to what others think.
Reduce your interests to a few.
Don't try to know what will be of no service to you.
Avoid the digest type of mind—short bits of unrelated facts, cute stories and bright sayings.
Learn to pray inwardly every moment.
After a while you can do this even while you work.
Practice candour,
childlike honesty,
Pray for a single eye.
Read less,
but read more of what is important to your inner life.
Never let your mind remain scattered for very long.
Call home your roving thoughts.
Gaze on Christ with the eyes of your soul.
Practice spiritual concentration.
"Lord, I need all of these practical suggestions. Direct me today to those things that would most enhance my walk with you, and enable me to serve You better. Amen."

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Through the Eyes of Spurgeon - Official Documentary

Stories of Evangelism in the Early Church | STEPHEN PRESLEY

The early church was an evangelistic church. From the least to the greatest, early Christians were serious about the regular proclamation of the Gospel. In the words of Michael Green, the early church believed that evangelism was “the prerogative and duty of every church member.” [1] This included apostles, nobles, paupers, philosophers, soldiers, business leaders, and even a few fishermen.

At the same time, the nature of evangelism in the early church was both passionate and spontaneous. They did not have the freedom to gather publically in large groups or plan highly involved outreach initiatives. Instead, the work of Gospel proclamation was organically filtered into their everyday lives. The early Christians relied daily on the Spirit and preached the Gospel enthusiastically whenever afforded the opportunity. The evangelistic zeal of the early church is well-documented in the New Testament and other writings of the post-apostolic age. Just like the apostles, many of the early church fathers followed their impassioned call to preach the Gospel.
Below, I offer three very different stories of evangelistic encounters in the early Christian world. I do not wish to suggest that these instances characterize the “right” strategies or methods of evangelism. Instead, these accounts provide a few inspiring snapshots of evangelism in the earliest days of the church that exemplify their consistent witness to the Gospel. In reality, these stories only begin to capture the breadth of all the harrowing efforts in the early church to proclaim the faith in a hostile world.
Our first story, which highlights the early Christian priority for evangelism, comes to us from church father Ignatius of Antioch (c. 110) on his journey from Antioch in Syria to Rome. Ignatius was arrested for his confession of Christ and was being transported to the capitol to be tried and ultimately martyred. During his long journey, Ignatius penned several letters to churches in Rome and Asia Minor to encourage their faith. In the midst of his Epistle to the Ephesians, Ignatius turned to the topic of evangelism. He exhorted the church at Ephesus saying, “Pray continually for the rest of mankind as well, that they may find God, for there is in them hope for repentance. Therefore, allow them to be instructed by you, at least by your deeds.” [2] Ignatius’ words are rich with meaning and informed by a devotion to the proclamation of the Gospel. His burden for those outside the faith is evident in his exhortation to prayer and informs his charge to preach the Gospel in both word and deed.
Ignatius’ words find application in a related example from the life of the church father Polycarp (c. 155). Polycarp, a friend of Ignatius, was also martyred for his faith. In the popular account of his martyrdom, Polycarp’s arrest did not quite happen the way one would expect. When the soldiers arrived at his residence, he welcomed them inside and encouraged them to sit down for a meal. He only requested a few moments to pray while they ate.
Instead of petitioning the Lord quietly in a back room, Polycarp seized the opportunity to share his hope in Christ. He prayed aloud so that all in the house could hear his earnest conversation with God. Here is a brief description of the scene:
When they [the soldiers] consented [to sit for a meal], he [Polycarp] stood and prayed, so full of the grace of God that for two hours he was unable to stop speaking, those who heard him were amazed, and many regretted that they had come after such a godly man. [3]
In his last moments of freedom, Polycarp’s prayers brought his captors to a point of conviction and compassion. They still followed orders and arrested him, though on the way back to Rome, they were so moved that they tried to persuade him to recant his faith in order to spare his life. But their efforts were futile, and eventually Polycarp was tried, convicted and executed for his faith. Thus, in the exhortation of Ignatius and example of Polycarp, we find the early Christian passion for evangelism, even in the most extreme circumstances.
A second story of personal evangelism comes from the life of the early Christian apologist Justin Martyr (c. 155). Justin was a trained philosopher who dabbled in several different Greco-Roman schools of philosophy in his pursuit of truth. He found none of them ultimately satisfying. Dismayed and dejected, Justin went in search of a solitary place by the sea to gather his thoughts.
As Justin made his way down to the seaside, he expected to be alone. He was not a little surprised when he found himself beside an old man who was not shy about engaging him in a personal conversation about the nature of truth and the revelation of God in the Scriptures. Though their discussion was layered with apologetic dialogue, ultimately the old man persuaded Justin to read the Scriptures. When he finally conceded and read the words of the prophets and apostles, he was captured by the Gospel. He recounted the whole experience in his Dialogue with Trypho and described his conversion saying:
… my spirit was immediately set on fire, and affection for the prophets, and for those who are friends of Christ, took hold of me; while pondering on his [the old man’s] words, I discovered that his was the only sure and useful philosophy. [4]
Justin abandoned the pursuit of all other philosophies and devoted himself solely to the teaching of Christ. We are never told the identity of the old man, and perhaps that does not really matter. What is clear is that this was a simple encounter of personal evangelism that transformed the life of one of the greatest early Christian apologists.
Finally, a third story of evangelism in the early church brings us back to Polycarp and his disciple Irenaeus (c. 180). In the waning years of the second century, Irenaeus would become an important defender of the faith against the rising tide of Gnosticism. He served as bishop of a persecuted congregation on the fringes of the Roman Empire in Gaul (modern-day France). Irenaeus, however, was not trained in Gaul or even Italy, but in Smyrna in Asia Minor under the teaching of Polycarp. In one of his letters to a wayward presbyter named Florinus, Irenaeus described his early days in the faith and how he would sit and listen to Polycarp openly engage anyone in the public square with the Gospel. Irenaeus writes:
I can tell also the very place where the blessed Polycarp was accustomed to sit and discourse; and also his entrances, his walks, the complexion of his life and the form of his appearance and his conversations with people.…[5]
Irenaeus paints the picture of Polycarp as one regularly participating in personal conversations about the Gospel. Clearly, Polycarp’s example left an impression upon the young Irenaeus. Years later, while serving the church on the borders of the Roman Empire, he remembers vividly the example of Polycarp’s devotion to sharing his faith.
These stories are only a glimpse of the spontaneous and passionate nature of evangelism in the early church. Each of these examples reveals how Gospel proclamation was organically woven into their daily lives and conversations. Whatever the circumstances, they sought opportunities to engage anyone and everyone with the good news of salvation in Christ. While there are many differences between the ancient world and ours, their enthusiasm for personal evangelism should not be one of them.

[1] Michael Green, Evangelism in the Early Church (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 380.
[2] Ignatius, Letter to the Ephesians, 10, in The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations, ed and rev Michael W. Holmes (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004)
[3] Martyrdom of Polycarp, 7, in The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations, ed and rev Michael W. Holmes (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004)
[4] Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 8.1.
[5] Irenaeus’s “Letter to Florinus” is preserved in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History (Hendrickson: Peabody, MA, 1998), 5.20.

Stephen Presley

Stephen Presley

Associate Professor of Church History and Director of the Center for the Study of Early Christianity at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Dr. Presley serves as Associate Professor of Church History in the School of Theology and Director of the Southwestern Center for the Study of Early Christianity. He is married to Haley and they have four children: Isla, Emma, Luke, and Andrew.
Twitter: @sopresley

Evangelism and the Early Church: Jerry Root

There has been no perfect period in church history. The first-century Church must not be over-idealized. According to theologian Walter Elwell, in the New Testament epistles alone, the Church had to be corrected some 150 times.1 We must always be careful to avoid projections and over-idealizations of any time or place.

Nevertheless, the early Church still has much to say to us today, and it is wise to be attentive to its lessons. There are two mistakes that can be made about traditions of the past: (1) to reject the past altogether as archaic and irrelevant and move on to questions of the present and (2) to be dominated by the past, letting the calcifying conventions of days gone by tyrannize healthy communal development.
G. K. Chesterton says a proper understanding of the past is to make some accommodation so its voice might still be heard. Every time a given age sits at the table to consider an event or challenge, it should always give a seat to the voice of the past. It is, according to Chesterton, democracy extended through time.2
A true grasp of tradition gives a vote to the dead. This way, the wisdom of the past is not neglected and the challenges of the day benefit by such wisdom while also being infused with fresh ideas. Bringing this kind of balance into the discussion, we must consider:
  • Does the early Church contribute anything to today’s Church relative to its mission in the world?
  • What are the ways Christians in the past shared their faith in Christ, and can that positively affect the ways Christians share Christ with others today?
When Jesus gathered his disciples to himself, he used one of two methods.
  1. Contact evangelism. Jesus simply came to some and called them to follow. One example of this is Matthew. There may have been an earlier relationship that existed between Matthew and Jesus, but there is no textual reference to it.
    Therefore, it can be imagined that Jesus simply encountered some people and called them into relationship. Similarly, some people can be led to Christ after an initial contact. It is wise to be sensitive to how the Spirit of God may be moving in any given conversation as he woos others to himself through us.
  2. Relational evangelism (i.e., “webs of relationship”). In John 1, Andrew went and brought his brother, Peter, to Jesus. Likewise, Phillip found his friend, Nathaniel. So too, God may have us share Christ through friendships we already have. We must not neglect the fact that God often reaches out through established relationships in order to make Christ known in the world.
Both contact evangelism and relational evangelism have their risks. In contact evangelism, the difficulty is in trying to find natural segues for the gospel with a person we have only just met. It is also difficult to establish creditability. On the other hand, an old friend or family member who knows our history also knows our shortcomings. This can harm our message. We must confess personal failures and testify to the love and forgiveness of God and its ongoing power to forgive and transform. When this occurs, even our failures can be an asset when sharing Christ.
Learning from the Early Disciples The disciples engaged in both kinds of evangelism. There is much we can learn from those who first took the gospel to others. The Book of Acts certainly makes a case for contact evangelism:
  • Paul talks one-on-one with others in the marketplace.
  • Philip speaks with the Ethiopian eunuch whom he just met on the Gaza road.
  • Cornelius reaches out to Peter so that Peter might share the gospel to the entire web of family relations in Cornelius’ household.
But the Gospels and the Book of Acts speak of other kinds of evangelism as well:
  • Jesus addresses and shares the gospel with large crowds of people.
  • At the Feast of Pentecost, Peter preaches openly about Jesus in the public square.
  • Paul goes to the partially-informed people gathered at the synagogue; that is, he reaches out to those with an affinity for religion but who have not yet encountered a relationship with the living Christ.
  • Paul uses letters to present the gospel to others. (Today’s equivalent of email and social networking provides ample opportunity to do something like this.)
What can we learn from the approaches employed by the early Church to reach others for Christ?
  1. They were men and women whose lives were transformed demonstrably by the love and forgiveness of Christ, and it was out of a full heart they shared the gospel with others. When we neglect to share Jesus with others, we might ask if a fresh rekindling of God’s love needs to be generated so that his grace may again flow freely.
  2. Early Christians, whose love burned hot for Christ, found obedience to the Great Commission. Their great desire was to tell the world about Jesus death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins. They proved themselves faithful to the call of God in their lives.
  3. Whether it was to the one unknown person in a public place, to the gathering of a small group of friends and acquaintances invited to hear about Christ, or to an assembled crowd, early church members made the most of the opportunities before them.
  4. Early Christians appeared to demonstrate great creativity manifest in the ways they continually sought to share the gospel. This should inspire all who read the New Testament to look for fun and creative ways to make Christ known to others.
  5. Early Christians were not willing to let fear keep them from the joy of telling others about Jesus.
While no period in church history has ever had it all together, one thing can be said about the early Church: they were bold about fulfilling their calling to make Christ known to others. In this regard, they have much to tell the Church in every age. The hope for the Church in all times, whatever mistakes may be made in any period of history, is that the Body of Christ not neglect the high call of making Christ known to the world.
1. Comments made to me in conversation in the late 1980s.
2. Chesterton, G. K. 1986. Orthodoxy. The Collected Works of G. K. Chesterton. Vol. I. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 251

Dr. Jerry Root is associate director of the Institute for Strategic Evangelism at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, USA. He has taught in the evangelism masters program for the past eleven years. Root has invested nineteen years in student ministry, evangelism, and discipleship.