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Running on the Ground and in The Air

This winter has been both busy and chilly. November saw the very last Denton/Schertz Lectureship take place. With that., the chapter-by-chapter commentary set on the entire Bible has been completed! It has been an honor and a blessing to be involved in some small way in bringing this work to completion.

Right after Thanksgiving Gregg and I went to Talawanda to teach the new students there, and to work with our recent graduates. There are many wonderful things happening there! All five of our graduates are working for the Lord. Congregations are being planted, and souls are being saved. We have fifteen new students, all but two of which were not Christians when they arrived, and now that number has flipped. One of our new students converted from Islam and is excited to be preparing to preach the true Gospel.

The boys are all growing up fast. This spring JD will graduate and begin the next phase of life. He is continuing his flight training and is hoping to be able to start working as a flight instructor by the end of the year. Josiah will be turning thirteen. Jonathan has recently begun learning to play the violin and is pretty excited about it. The two younger boys are also running track this spring.

At Talawanda we have recently gotten set up so that we can teach classes via live video chat. I’m looking forward to being able to spend more time teaching the students, but also being able to provide them with other qualified instructors. I’ve been working on lining up a couple of new instructors for the third quarter.

I have spent a large portion of the months of January and February traveling around here in the states updating supporting congregations. It has been encouraging to see the brethren here and to be reminded of all the prayers that are going up for our work. Your fellowship really does mean a great deal to us. THANK YOU! If there are any questions, or if there is something I can do for you, please let me know.

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Timely Prayer Requests

I would like to ask for your prayers for three things this weekend.

  1. Eleven months ago we were in Kyiv, Ukraine. We spent time with some wonderful Christians. They are a freedom-loving people. This church building was rebuilt after WW2. The structure that remained at the end of the year was left as unfinished brick. This morning Russian troops are in Kyiv. Rockets and downed aircraft have destroyed apartment buildings. No family in Ukraine is unaffected by Russia’s invasion at this point. War is an ugly thing. Souls are being ushered into eternity by violence.
  2. Brother Eti Paul, the director of our preaching school in Modelle, Cameroon has asked for prayers for his son, who has faced several health issues over the last few weeks. He has had malaria, a cough, a running nose, and now mumps.
  3. I am making final preparations to leave for Turkey, Portugal, and Norway with brother Stan Crowley. There are several unique opportunities for evangelism before us. Among these, is the chance to work with and encourage a young brother in Christ who we met in Kyiv last year. I’m certain that while he is safe in Portugal, his thoughts are of family and home.

Thank you for your prayers, encouragement, and support in our work.

For Christ,

Justin Hopkins

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Book Review: The Kingdom That Turned The World Upside Down By David W. Bercot

The emerging church movement made news a few years back, with many of our brethren subscribing to the idea that there are true Christians who are in a saved state within every denomination. The idea is that while a particular denomination may teach and practice things that are sinful, the individual members of that religious body may not adhere to those things and might be practicing true Christianity within the larger group despite its errors.

In my recent dealings with the large Mennonite population in our area, I have been introduced to the idea of “Kingdom Christians,” which is basically the idea of the emerging church. Their standards of true Christianity and fellowship are different than those of the “mainstream emerging church,” but the principle is very much the same. This book has been loaned to me and now gifted to me by two different Mennonites in what seems to be an evangelistic effort.

From The Back Cover

“If Someone were to ask you what was the theme of Jesus’ preaching, what would be your answer … The theme of Jesus’ message was the kingdom of God. Wherever He went, Jesus preached about the kingdom. The irony is that the message of the kingdom is almost totally missing from the gospel that’s preached today … The Kingdom that Turned the World Upside Down will challenge you to the core in your Christian walk.”

Contents and Summary

The book is divided into five main sections:

  1. The Kingdom with Upside-Down Values
  2. The Big Stumbling Block
  3. What Is The Gospel of the Kingdom?
  4. A Hybrid Is Born
  5. When It Was Illegal To Be a Kingdom Christian

The first section

is designed to demonstrate the stark contrast between the Kingdom of Christ and the Kingdoms of this world. Chapter one is in narrative form and has a definite objective of showing the evils of the Crusades and militarized Christianity. Chapter two presents the Nation of Israel as a conventional Kingdom, one with land and armies, but established by God. Chapter Three sets out the basic idea of the Kingdom of God. The author asserts that every kingdom has:

  1. A ruler
  2. Subjects
  3. A territory
  4. Laws

He lays out the Kingdom of God as being ruled by Christ from Heaven. Its subjects are defined as “all of us who belong to Christ – all of us who are genuinely born again” (p.13). The territory is not observable because it is “within you.” “The citizens of God’s kingdom are interspersed among all nations of the world … its citizens always live under two different kingdoms – a kingdom of the world and the kingdom of God” (p.14). One interesting note here is that while the author does not explain what it means to be “genuinely born again” he does say that “what makes God’s people the subjects of this kingdom is something within them – the indwelling of the Holy Spirit” (p.16). he does not elaborate on that, but it seems that there is a slightly charismatic undertone throughout the book.

Chapters four thru seven begin to lay out some of the fundamental laws of the kingdom. He places a priority on the direct sayings of Christ, and in particular the text of the Sermon on the Mount. One point that he makes accurately here is found in chapter four: “His [Jesus’] view is the only one that counts. Where there are no laws and no commandments – there is no kingdom. And where there is no kingdom, there is no Jesus. Any theology or any hermeneutic system that nullifies the plain words of Jesus is not of Christ” (p. 20). Chapter Five talks about the importance of being poor in spirit. While the author allows for wealth, he definitely takes a view that the accumulation of wealth is a sign of a heart problem. Chapter six deals with the standards of honesty, and in particular advocates against the taking of any oaths. Chapter seven deals with marriage and divorce. Within this discussion he does not specifically address remarriage at all, however, in another of his books, he condemns remarriage entirely. Here, he allows divorce only for the cause of adultery, and most notably, he also only allows divorce by the husband. If the husband is unfaithful to his wife, she has no recourse but to remain in that marriage according to the author.

The second section

Is entirely devoted to what seems to be the author’s primary test of faithfulness: passivism. Here he advocates that true Christians should never offer physical resistance to evil in any form, should never serve in the military, and should never hold any office in government. Doing these things, he says, either come from or creates an entanglement with the things of this world, and demonstrates a lack of devotion to and faith in Jesus Christ.

The third section

Lays out the author’s teachings about salvation and how to enter the kingdom. Here he is very close to the truth. He insists that “The kingdom gospel takes the totality of what Jesus and His apostles say on every subject. It’s not built on proof-texts, and it doesn’t depend on anything outside Scripture” (p. 131). He teaches strongly against the “Romans Road of Salvation,” and also against Calvinism. In Chapter seventeen he lays out three tests that God uses to weed out those who are unfit for the kingdom: faith, commitment, and obedience. He concludes that “Jesus will have left in His kingdom only those who truly believe His promises and accept His conditions” (p. 137). He also talks about “fake obedience.” He says that “His real commandments are the ones written in the New Testament … What really counts, according to this popular gospel [what he calls éasy-believism’] are the subjective impulses that com3e into our minds” (p.139). So, he places an emphasis on written authority, however in the next paragraph he says, “To be sure, Jesus does give personal direction to prophets and to those who are close to Him…”

In Chapter eighteen he lays out the steps of salvation: Faith, repentance, baptism, and receiving the Holy Spirit. In this book, he does not elaborate on what baptism is, nor on what he means by receiving the Holy Spirit. In some of his other writings, he advocates that sprinkling, not immersion is the proper mode of baptism, and he seems to take a rather charismatic view of the work of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, he gets a lot right here. He insists that baptism is essential and that it is at the point of baptism that an individual is saved, is born again, and is added to the kingdom. He also spends some time talking about the fact that while baptism saves a soul and adds them as a branch to the vine, and if a soul were to die at that moment they would be saved, faithfulness I still required. He explains at length that those branches (Christians) that are not faithful are cut off and will not stand in judgment.

In Chapters nineteen and twenty he explains that while obedience is essential to maintain salvation, we must be careful not to develop a pharisaical attitude, and also that true followers of Jesus will be busy sharing the good news.

Part Four

Lays out a brief study of church history. In these chapters the author speaks of the departures from New Testament Christianity, focusing on Emperor Constantine, and the merging of the sacred and secular realms that took place in Europe as the official persecution of the church ended and how the church eventually became the persecutors through the inquisition. As he does this, he tends to re-emphasize the importance of being a pacifist. He does point out that the formation of creeds and confessions created a test of fellowship that turned around words and phrases that are nowhere found in the Bible, which effectively meant that the Scriptures were no longer sufficient to produce faithful Christians. He also points out that doctrine rather than lifestyle became the sole test of faithfulness.

Part Five

Reads very much like Traces of The Kingdom by Keith Sisman. The basic theory is that there has always been a faithful remnant of true kingdom Christians and that they have tended to be the persecuted minority. The author latches on to the same historical groups that brother Sisman does and that the Baptist church does, but he sets them forth as the ancestors, not of the Baptist church or the church of Christ, but of the Mennonites and other kingdom Christians. He talks about the Donatists, the Novationists, the Waldensians, the Poor in Spirit, the Lollards, the Dunkards, the Anabaptists, the Quakers, the Brethren, and the Apostolic Christian Church.

One interesting note comes at the close of chapter thirty-three. “Most people who read the Scriptures unfettered by prior indoctrination generally come to a knowledge of the kingdom gospel … Some examples are the Church of Christ, the Christian Church, the Morovians, and some of the Wesleyan holiness and Pentecostal churches. However, as those movements grew, they established seminaries, acquired respectability, and usually lost most of their kingdom teachings” (p. 261).

Key Ideas

  1. Christianity is more about lifestyle than doctrine.
  2. Being a pacifist is really, really, important.
  3. Catholicism, Calvinism, Reformed Theology, and “easy-believism” are all wrong.
  4. Strict adherence to the New Testament is essential to Christianity.

Value of The Book

I was rather surprised by what I found within the pages of this volume. In many ways, the theology set forth by the Mennonites is not far from the truth. I find it interesting that this group wants to trace their unbroken lineage through the same path that some of our brethren do. Ultimately, the seed principle is true, and that concept is of little consequence to us today. The Charismatic element seems to play a role in the theology and thinking of this group, as evidenced by the few mentions of the Holy Spirit, and also by their inclusion of some Pentecostals in their lists of the faithful. This book provides insight into the thinking of a group that is largely marginalized, and therefore, a mystery. It also provides some helpful touchstones for reaching out to them

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Worker Spotlight: Kyamuhangawa Jalesi

Kyamuhangawa Jalesi is a native of Uganda. He is one of our farmworkers at the Rwenzori School of Preaching in Kasese. He works hard on the farm. In addition to his normal farm duties, he has been tasked with teaching the students about farming and overseeing their work on the farm. I am always impressed with his hard work ethic. Seldom do I catch him sitting down.

He also stays busy away from the farm preaching and evangelizing. He has been laboring with the Nyambuko church of Christ in the mountains near Kasese. This year they have worked hard and purchased land for the church and erected a church building constructed of mud and sticks. This type of construction, known as Waddle and Daub is common in Africa. Through the evangelism efforts that Jalesi has helped with at Nyamboko there have been two baptisms in the month of October.

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School Report: Talawanda School of Preaching

Classes are once again in full swing at Talawanda, and the students are doing fine. We are in the second academic quarter of the second year for this first group of students. Gregg and I will be at the school in November, and will both be teaching a course in Bible doctrine as well as working with the students on the farm.

As we are in the dry season, this is the time to prepare for the next planting. The students are clearing more land to expand the farm for the next season. The Bananas are producing nicely, which is really helping to feed the students. The chickens are providing the backbone for the farm, both with food and meat and eggs to sell.
Evangelism is going well even during the difficulties caused by COVID-19. We have been able to help the village with water and maize from the farm.

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School Report: Modelle School of Preaching

Classes continue as normal at Modelle. The students and faculty are paying careful attention to hygiene and health practices.

The farm has yielded a nice harvest of Coco Yams, vegetables, and Casava We are working on planting a crop of both sweet and Irish potatoes.

The combination of COVID-19 and the continued fighting in Cameroon provides a challenging environment for evangelism. The staff and students continue to go out twice a week to evangelize in the nearby villages. While many people have fled the area for safety, those that remain are gaining respect for the school and their stand for God and His Truth.

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School Update: Rwenzori School of Preaching

During the month of October, we were able to receive a concession from the local government, and as of October 26, the school at Rwenzori is once again open and holding classes! Of the fifteen students, thirteen have returned. One of the students had a substantial change in his situation during the lockdown and will be unable to return. Another is at home suffering from Hepatitis and likely will not return.

In the meantime, the work on the farm has continued all the while. Crops are growing heartily, and there is much work to do. Through the Lockdown the school has been able to provide help to brethren and neighbors who are suffering.

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Upcoming Dates

Gregg and I are excited to be able to finally return to the mission field in person. We are not exactly sure how travel will be changed as a result of COVID, so we are approaching our first trip back to Africa with some extra precautions. We will be traveling to Tanzania for two weeks to do a review of the school and see how things are going, and also to work with the students directly.

After our return, I am continuing to visit with our supporters and share updates about the work that the Lord has done this year. If you are not yet on my calendar and would like a visit, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

During the time that I have at home, I will continue to stay busy with evangelism here in Itasca. Over the holidays we plan to take some time to be with family. As we travel to central and south Texas for those visits we hope to be able to visit with some of our supporters in that area along the way.

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Counting For Christ

As the month of August arrived, I found a unique opportunity for evangelism: The United States Census. I had signed up to help count residents of Hill County where we live, and finally, I was called. After a day of training to be issued a device I was off and running. So, for the next six weeks, I was blessed to knock on roughly 1400 doors in and around our town. In this way, I was able to meet a number of people that I likely wouldn’t have encountered otherwise.

Through the course of the conversations that were had at the doorsteps of these homes, I encountered fourteen individuals who were interested in learning more about the Bible. This has kept us plenty busy hosting Bible studies in our home and visiting others that I contacted.

In September we began the process of revisiting you, our supporters, and sharing a detailed report of the great things that the Lord has done this year in spite of, and in many cases, because of the global crisis created by COVID-19. We have not gotten to visit with everybody yet, but we are working on filling up our calendar for December and beyond.

There is virtually nothing that COVID has not touched. We have had to cancel and reschedule some of our appointments due to confirmed cases among some of our supporting congregations. We have lost some of our support as a direct result of the impact that COVID has had in some places. Our prayers are with the brethren that are being affected. I know that many have lost much more than support, and some of these losses will never be reclaimed on this side of eternity.

At the beginning of October Leah was privileged to speak at the Texas Ladies for Christ retreat in Brady, TX. School for the boys is back in full swing. I am studying Spanish together with our oldest son so that I will better be able to reach those living around us who do not speak English. We greatly appreciate your prayers and continued fellowship.

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Book Review: Church Reset: God’s Design for So Much More by Jack Wilkie

Published by Focus Press, Inc. (June 20, 2020)

141 pp.

From focuspress.org: https://www.focuspress.org/churchreset

Paperback $13.99 + shipping

eBook $9.99

Audiobook $8.00

From Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08BKXHF3L

Paperback $14.00 (Prime)

eBook $9.99

Publisher Description: Shouldn’t church be… more?

If you’ve ever driven home on a Sunday with that question on your mind, you are not alone. When we read about the church in the Bible there’s a beauty and an appeal to it that so often seems missing. In our busy, distracted, consumeristic world it seems as though becoming a self-sacrificial, tight-knit, Christlike family like the early Christians is a pipe dream.

In Church Reset: God’s Design for So Much More, Jack Wilkie traces the problem back to its roots to show how we’ve deviated from God’s plan and how we can get back on track. How can we stop operating as an organization and start living like a family? How do we stop creating church customers and start making dedicated disciples? How do we abandon man-made strategies and rediscover the power of God’s design? Church Reset casts an exciting vision for what Christ’s church can be by pointing back to what it was meant to be from the very start.

About the Author

Jack Wilkie preaches for the Forney church of Christ in Forney, TX. He is also the editor of The Focus Press Blog, where he writes on Christian living, the church, and cultural issues relevant to Christians. He has written one other book, available excusively from Focus Press – “Failure: What Christian Parents Need to Know About American Education,” and “Church Reset: God’s Design for So Much More.”

Contents

Introduction

  1. Shouldn’t the Church Be … More
  2. Going Out of Business
  3. Church Reset
  4. Jesus Is the Mission
  5. Together
  6. One Another
  7. “Go” vs. “Bring Them In”
  8. Out of Gas
  9. Holy Spirit
  10. Teaching Christ
  11. Living Christ
  12. Questions

Conclusion

Value of the Book

This book makes a very challenging point when it comes to the work, focus, and growth of the Lord’s church. Everything comes down to one point: The main work, and therefore activity, of the church AND of Christians is to make disciples. Based on that, evangelism is not a program, but part of the fabric of Christian life. He points out that a healthy congregation is not spinning around an amazing preacher but is a network of working and growing Christians. Being the church is not focused on what we do in the building, but on what we do for the rest of the week.

Weaknesses of the Book

Several times in reading the book I felt like the author had a very negative view of the church as she is. Granted, he makes the disclaimer that this is not the case. Still, the very premise of the book implies that the whole thing needs to be turned off and back on again.

The author seems to express the idea that there are things that the Spirit does directly to and for the Christian, but that in order for that to happen we have to get out of His way.

Suggested Use

I would not use this book as the basis for a class. However, as a personal read I see value in it. I think it could help church leaders rethink the way that the work is approached. I also think that it might have some value with those who are “on the fringe,” encouraging them to step up to the plate and BE the church rather than COMING to church.

Notable Quotes

 

Introduction

I certainly believe that doing things in the way God prescribed will lead to growth (both internal and numerical), but that’s not the same thing as “Try this method and you’ll get lots of people.” The important thing is to focus on process and not result. God gives the increase (1 Corinthians 3:6). It’s left to us to leave that part to Him and be faithful to His way of doing things. That’s the aim of this book. (Loc 98)

Going Out of Business

The businesslike approach to church creates customers who can only give a few hours per week and who can only consume, which places the onus on the providers to keep serving up these spiritual meals for the customers. Customers then choose the church where the preaching and teaching best meet their needs and the style they prefer. (Loc 366)

Just like the restaurant that rises or falls based on what they offer on the menu, so churches today have come to rise or fall based on what they offer on their menu of activities and programs. (Loc 380)

Church Reset

Perfect attendance is not a spiritual gift. God gives each and every one of us the Spirit for serving the people around us in some way. Until we have a system that disciples people and helps them find their role in the building up of the body, we are saying to the hand, “I have no need of you.” (Loc 643)

Jesus Is the Mission

Timothy’s job as the preacher at Ephesus was not just to preach good sermons. He was to equip others to join him in the mission of developing disciples. (Loc 933)

In short, a church full of Jesus followers won’t need to have their Christianity scheduled for them by some organizational leader. They will perform the church’s three-fold work of evangelism, edification, and benevolence organically, as part of who they are. (Loc 981)

Together

what we mean when we ask people to commit and serve the church says a lot about our understanding of the church. These things further the “individual contributing to an organization” mindset. “Serving the church” should mean serving the people of the church in some way. (Loc 1057)

One Another

That kind of closeness—to be known at our worst and still loved—is what we’re all longing for. We can only get that by confession. (Loc 1394)

“Go” vs “Bring Them In”

We gather together to worship Him, not ourselves, and not our visitors. Marketing our lively worship experience is not the same as evangelism. (Loc 1500)

People were still interested in the Gospel. They just weren’t interested in giving up their night to walk into a building full of strangers to hear what they saw as our interpretation of the Bible. Honestly…who could blame them? (Loc 1542)

Out of Gas

there’s a large difference between asking God to help us with what we’ve already planned to do rather than putting our plans at His feet and asking for guidance. To draw on Abraham’s example, when we do the former, we’re asking God to bless Ishmael rather than accepting that He might have another child in mind. (Loc 1761)

When we have the proper understanding of prayer’s effect on our spiritual lives and the life of the church, we stop asking God to make a clear path for us and start asking Him to strengthen us for whatever path He has for us. That’s exactly what our brethren did in Acts 4:29-30. Where we might pray for safety and an end to persecution, they prayed for boldness to speak regardless of the consequence. (Loc 1824)

Teaching Christ

Jesus was the greatest preacher and teacher of all time, yet nowhere do we see Him saying, “Alright, that’s your kingdom class for this week! Go act on what you heard, and I’ll see you next Sabbath!” (Loc 2036)

Frankly, the small group method is exactly what it would look like if someone tried to shoehorn the Biblical need for community and disciple making into the business model. (Loc 2098)

Living Christ

As a church leader, this may very well mean scaling back on the church schedule. If people are constantly expected to be at the building they aren’t going to have time to practice these things. (Loc 2204)

When it comes to helping people grow in Christ, the kitchen table can be just as effective as the pulpit—possibly even more. It’s in the informal setting of the home that we can share questions, help people learn at their own level and pace, and pray specific prayers together. It’s where Jesus did much of His teaching. (Loc 2260)

Questions

Because disciples are hand-made, a church culture of loving, family-like Jesus-followers can not be built any faster than the disciples are made. (Loc 2495)

When “church” is 90% or so focused on what happens in the building on Sunday, and women aren’t allowed to participate there, then it’s not unfair to say that women are second class citizens of sorts. If, on the other hand, the Sunday gathering is just one part (an important part, but still one of many) of what the church does, we can meaningfully say, “Women are allowed to do nearly everything but that.” (Loc 2553)

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