Crisis in India

I LOOKED THROUGH MY CAMERA LENS at a row of dangling bare feet. A group of young boys were smashed side by side on a wood bench inside the new Sharon Hospital in Salem, India as they waited to go in, one by one, to get a routine check up from the doctor.

I was there alongside three other men in the summer of 2017 to capture the stories of God’s work through the India Gospel League, including their freshly completed hospital in the southern Tamil Nadu region of the country. Built from the donations of compassionate people like those at Journey Bible Church, the hospital could provide care for the poor in ways that the area had never seen before.

Today, the Sharon Hospital has been turned into a COVID-19 care facility as the pandemic threatens to strangle India. The beds are full of the sick and dying. Doctors and nurses work in shifts, risking themselves as they treat those in dire need. Supplies are low, but the men and women of Sharon Hospital continue to serve Jesus by how they serve others.

You and I can step in to help the Sharon Hospital at this critical hour. We can support their gospel-centered effort with prayers and financial support. Please watch this short video by IGL president Sam Stepehens and consider how you can make a difference in the front line of battling COVID and spiritual darkness.


Why the Pharisees Aren't Who We Think They Are

Every story needs a good villain. When we read the gospels, it is easy to cast the Pharisees in that role. After all, it seems they were always in Jesus’ grill, bucking up against his efforts to bring a much needed rebrand to religion of the day. But, exactly who were the Pharisees, and what does the Bible really tell us about Jesus’ view and relationship with them? Perhaps knowing the answers to these questions can help us have a healthier approach to the people we encounter in our lives today.

The Pharisees were a major religious sect among many in ancient Israel. During the days of Jesus, they held substantial influence over social and political affairs. Some of the beliefs and practices that set them apart actually make them quite relatable and on par with most modern Christians. Pharisees believed in the importance of living out holiness and righteousness in everyday life, and they, unlike many other religious sects, had a strong belief in the afterlife and a general resurrection.

Our tendency is to focus on the increasing conflict Jesus had with some Pharisees and scribes (who were legal scholars and not all Pharisees themselves) in the days and weeks leading up to the crucifixion. However, a careful reading of the gospels (and other books of the New Testament) shows that Jesus’ interaction with and opinion of the Pharisees was not always negative.

There is a popular passage underscoring Jesus’ view of the Pharisees found in Luke 5. Jesus had a crowd of curious followers with him, it seemed, everywhere he went — beyond the official twelve apostles we are most aware of. Some disciples of the Pharisees were among them, and they show up regularly asking questions as they tried to understand why Jesus did and said certain things. On one occasion, Jesus was dining at a party with “sinners and tax collectors” at the house of the apostle Matthew. This decision was perplexing to the Pharisees in the group following Jesus as they saw Jesus as a respected teacher who ought to distance himself from eating with less than reputable men.

Jesus answered and said to them, “It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” Luke 5:31-32

In this passage, Jesus equates the Pharisees as being “well” and “righteous.” That is hardly a rebuke against their practices and beliefs. In Jesus’ estimation, the Pharisees, generally speaking, did not require his time and attention. They were already living out the commands and expectations of God. Later on in the gospels, a vocal core of Pharisees become hostile against Jesus, and Jesus lodges some sharp criticism at them. But at this stage of the story, those tensions have not yet developed.

There are other places where we see Jesus’ relationship with Pharisees that is hardly antagonistic. We find him eating at the house of a Pharisee in Luke 7:36 and again in Luke 11:37 and 14:1. Prominent Pharisees publicly spoke out on Jesus’ behalf such as Nicodemus. Gamiliel does the same for the early followers of Jesus in Acts. We see a group of Pharisees try to protect Jesus from harm in Luke 13:31. Later on in the New Testament, we see followers of Jesus who retain their association with the Pharisees (Acts 15:5), including Paul (Acts 23:6, Philippians 3:5).

As we progress through the gospels, we clearly see how a strong, influential group of Pharisees go from being curious to outright antagonistic in their relationship with Jesus. In that, we see Jesus’ criticism of their hardened hearts and lack of compassion. These men eventually conspire against Jesus to have him tried and executed on the cross, missing the fact that the very Messiah they longed for was the man they had grown to detest and fear so much. Given this, it is no wonder that we tend to see all Pharisees in the same negative light as those that sent Jesus, whom we love, to his death.

The lesson for me, and I hope for you, is to remind myself of the dangers of painting with too wide a brush when it comes to my attitude toward different groups of people. The Pharisees were not all bad people. In fact, probably most of them were men that we would find to be honorable and sincere in their pursuit of God. Yet, I have allowed the actions of some to taint my view of the whole. Do I make that same mistake with other groups in life? 

Jesus shows us time and time again how he pushes past group identity to get at the heart of individuals. I want to express that same grace, compassion and love in my own life. I hope you desire to do the same.


Liberia: God's Remote Outpost

EDITOR’S NOTE: I asked Ray Zuercher of our global missions team to write about his most recent trip to Liberia, Africa. Your prayers and financial support are truly making a difference in far off places like Liberia.

 

GREY SMOKE drifted across the hood of our Land Cruiser as we crawled across what passes for a bridge in this part of West Africa. It was the dry season in Liberia, the time of year when local farmers cut trees and burn parts of the rainforest to grow crops for their families and livestock. It’s never really dry here, but when the rainy season returns, every aspect of life becomes more complicated, including taking the gospel to the Gola, an unreached people group.

This trip into Gola territory held several objectives. First, to spend time with our missionaries Eric and Pam Buller. My wife and I have been long-time advocates of their ministry, but it had been over a year since my last visit. Their mission base near the village of Jawajeh is remote, but the pandemic had further isolated them, even from other missionaries. They were looking forward to having my company.

Another objective was to do an onsite walk-through of their new training center before their pilot group of pastors. Eric and Pam established this remote outpost to train pastors and send them out to plant churches among the Gola. They call this new facility Bu Daya, which fittingly means “God’s Garden.” Here, indigenous leaders will be trained in theology and agriculture. Teaching sustainable farming methods means pastors can pass on Biblically based agricultural practices—ones which work in harmony with local resources instead of cutting and burning every year. Most importantly, every pastor will leave Bu Daya equipped with excellent discipleship training. They will have the knowledge to plant churches and shepherd their people well spiritually.

All of these reasons were worth the transatlantic flight, yet God had one more outpost for me to visit.

Not far from the Bu Daya training center is the small village of Lowah. The local chief told me that 450 Gola live there. Recently, one of the Lowah families offered the Bullers a large vacant home. Abandoned since the Ebola outbreak five years ago, the house has remained in remarkably good condition. Eric and Pam saw an opportunity and graciously accepted the generous offer. With the help of local tradesmen, they are working to convert the home into a medical clinic. Once open, the primary focus of the clinic will be maternity and newborn care. The facility will be staffed around-the-clock with midwives. There is even a place for women to stay during their last month of pregnancy. Too often, expectant mothers do not receive adequate prenatal care. Without proper care and information, some mothers wait too long to go to a hospital. At times, women end up delivering alone on the road. This clinic will work to prevent death in childbirth and improve infant health. “This clinic is definitely something God is leading us to. We cannot even imagine the ripples it will have to further the Gospel,” Pam told me.

This clinic and the pastor training center are just two of God’s remote outposts providing creative and sustainable ways for the Gospel to be taken to those who have yet to hear. Through prayer and financial support, Journey Bible Church continues to hold a significant role in securing the future of these ministries.

Ray Zuercher
Global Missions Team

Learn more about global missions at Journey Bible Church.

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The new medical clinic in the village of Lowah.


Flex Your Meek

Look around. It seems that, every day, there is someone (or a group of someones) flexing their muscles in order to stand up for something they believe in. Hopefully, the only muscle they flex are their vocal cords. Or course, there are a lot of finger muscles being flexed too as people let their “voices” be heard on social media. This can lead to Christ-followers to wonder: I want to stand up for what I believe in, but aren’t I supposed to be “meek”?

Perhaps the issue is that we misunderstand what the word “meek” means. When Jesus says, “The meek will inherit the earth” in Matthew 5:5, he’s not talking about weakness or timidity. After all, he used the same word to describe both himself and Moses. Neither of them were weak and timid. So what does it mean?

Meekness is the idea of strength under control. Think about a horse that has been tamed. There is incredible strength in that horse, but since he is under control, his strength can be focused on productive good instead of wild harm.

God gives us incredible strength, and he wants us to use that strength for good. What, then, does meekness look like for us? Perhaps it means we don’t join in the wild, out-of-control thrashing we see in the world. It means being reserved and focused. It means recognizing God’s power and obeying him instead of living life in our own, unbridled strength.

 

Learn more about what it looks like to follow Jesus in our current message series, Follow Me, on Sundays at 9 & 10:30am. Watch live on Sundays or watch a past message by using the button below.