Return to Leadership

Cover for Called Along the Way
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy
of double honor, especially those
who labor in preaching and teaching
(1 Tim 5:17)

Return to Leadership

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

My term as elder began in January 2003 when Centreville Presbyterian Church (CPC) ordained me and I was elected as clerk of session, a leadership position. As clerk, I worked closely with the pastor to set agendas for the session and congregational meetings, and kept the official notes on all meetings.

Pastor Rob encouraged the elders to deepen their faith and to become more involved in the life of the church. He encouraged us involved dedicating the first half-hour of our meetings to study and prayer. The first book that we used in this effort was Oswald Sanders’ book, Spiritual Leadership, which served to make the point that elders were more than merely the board of directors of the church. Session soon became my first small group.

Pastor Rob also encouraged us was to become more involved in the life of the church through preaching and teaching. In the spring, our associate pastor resigned and Pastor Rob asked that elders to offer personal testimonies on Sunday morning to give him some time off.
At first, I avoided the question, but after thinking about it, I told him:

I am uncomfortable giving a personal testimonial, but if you want, I will preach for you. I am used to teaching college students so it should be no problem to preach.

He agreed and shared a book, Communicating for a Change, with me by Andy Stanley and Lane Jones to help me get started. Over the next year, I preached four times on the call to faith and ministry, the problem of pain, the Book of Esther, and the covenants of law and grace.
The following year, I taught my first adult Sunday school class, a video series crafted around R.C. Sproul’s book: Reason to Believe. We had more than twenty adults who attended the class and, because of the success of the class, I was encouraged to teach Bible studies, starting with the Book of Romans in 2005. After that I taught Luke, Genesis, Hebrews, Philippians, and Matthew.

After a point in teaching, I got frustrated by the poor attendance on Sunday mornings. I thought: “Where are the elders? Where are the deacons?” When I looked around the room, I realized that only one or two in a class of a dozen were even church members. My class consisted primarily of family members, colleagues from work, and active, non-members who wandered in. These were people who, like myself, struggled to understand their faith and chided at the usual pat answers.

References

Sanders, J. Oswald. 1994. Spiritual Leadership: Principles of Excellence for Every Believer. Chicago: Moody Press.

Sproul, R.C. 1982. Reason to Believe: A Response to Common Objectives to Christianity. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Stanley, Andy and Lane Jones. 2006. Communicating for a Change. Colorado Springs: Multinomah Books.

 

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Bauckham Writes Theology of Revelation

Cover Bauckham's Theology of Revelation

Bauckham Writes Theology of Revelation

Richard Bauckham.[1] 2017. The Theology of the Book of Revelation (Orig pub 1993).  UK: Cambridge University Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Revelation captures the imagination like no other book in the Bible. Its popularity among Christians is almost a striking as the reluctance of pastors to teach it. Who wants to initiate a discussion that is likely to grow heated as participants defend their own favorite interpretations? Yet, what other biblical text elicits such passion on a regular basis? This is both the attraction and the risk of Revelation.

Richard Bauckham’s The Theology of the Book of Revelation with this overview:

“Revelation is seen to offer not an esoteric and encoded forecast of historical events but rather a theocentric vision of the coming of God’s universal kingdom, contextualized in the late first-century world dominated by Roman power and ideology. It calls on Christians to confront the political idolatries of the time and to participate in God’s purpose of gathering all the nations into his kingdom.” (i)

The series that this text embodies strives to offer a theological commentary rising above the usual focus on exegesis of individual verses, which is limited to historical, textual, grammatical, and literary commentary according to the series editor, James D. G. Dunn at University of Durham (xi). As someone who has spent a lot of time reading commentaries, I find this series highly attractive—one goes to seminary to study God, not just to analyze an ancient text with the modern scientific tools of a skeptical mind, as is the usual fare in commentaries.

In his introduction, Bauckham asks a fundamental question: what kind of book is Revelation? He writes: “Revelation seems to be an apocalyptic prophecy in the form of a circular letter to seven churches in the Roman province of Asia” (2). In other words, we see three genre (or classes of literature): apocalypse, prophecy, and letter. I will borrow these three genre to structure the remainder of this review.

Apocalpse

Bauckham follows J.I. Collins in using this definition of apocalypse as a literary genre:

“Apocalypse is a genre of revelatory literature with a narrative framework, in  which a revelation is mediated by an otherworldly being to a human recipient, disclosing a transcendent reality which is both temporal, insofar as it envisages eschatological salvation, and spatial, insofar as it involves another supernatural world.” (6)

Bauckham sees John’s revelation as both highly contextualized to the first century church’s situation and a visionary disclosure of God’s perspective more generally on the human condition (7). Bauckham writes: “It is John’s readers’ concrete, day-to-day world seen in heavenly and eschatological perspective.” (8) What makes John unique among apocalyptic writers is that he writes in his own name and timeframe—more typically apocalyptic writing takes the name of an historical prophet and is set in an historical period (11).

Prophecy

Bauckham sees John’s prophecy arising out of a vision that he has written down with great care and intense study within the tradition of Old Testament (OT) prophecy (2-3).

For those unfamiliar with OT prophets, the OT prophet worked, not so much as a visionary, but as someone who called his audience back to faithful commitment to the Mosaic covenant. Frequently this involved reminding the community of faith of the blessings and curses found in Deuteronomy 28. Because covenant non-fidelity remained a theme in the OT, the curses tend to get the most show time and they represent, not so much a prediction in time and place, but a verdict rendered in the heavenly court.

Bauckham sees Christian prophecy having three elements. First, the prophet discerns the contemporary situation in lieu of God’s nature and purpose. Second, the prophet predicts how the current situation must change if God’s kingdom is to come. Third, the hearer of this prophecy is then expected to respond in faith, which leaves room for the individual or community to participate freely in God’s purpose for the world. This why, for example, Nineveh was spared after Jonah prophesied its destruction. The destruction of Nineveh was contingent on its citizen’s rejecting God’s purpose for them (148-149). God is slow to anger precisely because he truly wants us to repent and accept salvation (Exodus 34:6).

Letter

Bauckham writes:

“The whole book of Revelations is a circular letter addressed to seven specific churches: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea (1:11; cf. 1:4; 22:16). They are probably named in the order in which they would be visited by a messenger starting from Patmos and travelling on a circular route around the province of Asia.” (12)

Each church is called to be conquer as their part of a general eschatological battle. Bauckham sees these specific letters being both tailored to the particular problems of those church, which John clearly understands in great detail, and representative of wider problems in the church. This wider application becomes obvious when you ask—why only these seven churches (there were many more) mentioned?

Bauckham’s answer is that these seven messages are used by John as seven different introductions to Revelation, reflecting seven different ways that the book can be read (14).  While I have personally always seen the letter to Laodicea being especially pertinent to the modern church, I would be curious how to read Revelation in view of the others—Bauckham does not offer these tantalizing details. However, we recognize that the number seven is the biblical number reflecting completeness (16).

Richard Bauckham’s The Theology of the Book of Revelation is a fascinating read and of interest to anyone having an interest in understanding the Book of Revelation. I bought my copy during a visit to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary’s bookstore in Charlotte, NC knowing that I would find it useful in teaching. Still, Bauckham writes with surprising clarity about this complex subject.

[1] http://RichardBauckham.co.uk.

 

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Prayer for Faith of the Newly Baptized

Baptism, Broad Run, Manassas, Virginia
Broad Run, Manassas, Virginia

Prayer for Faith of the Newly Baptized

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for the gift of faith that we might be baptized.

Thank you that you are willing to enter our lives and recreate us in your image,

in spite of our rebellion and sin.

Thank you that, through your Holy Spirit, we can take a small step of faith

and choose a new path, not knowing where it will lead, but confident that you will be with us.

Thank you for washing away our sins through the blood of the lamb

and that we might die to those sins and be born again in your spirit.

Thank you.

Through the power of your Holy Spirit,

guard our hearts and minds in Jesus Christ and grow our faith,

that we might inch closer to you with each passing day.

Amen.

 

Also see:

Prayer to Increase Faith 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

Other ways to engage with me online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

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Twenty-Fifth Anniversary

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Twenty-Fifth Anniversary

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

At the end of my summer in Puerto Rico, it became increasingly obvious that I had completed my work. I still lacked a thesis subject, but I had reams of statistical data which could be better analyzed at Cornell University than at the Agricultural Experiment Station in Rio Piedras where I worked during the summer. So I contemplated leaving the island earlier than planned which opened up an unexpected opportunity.
My parents had a twenty-fifth anniversary on September 13th, 1977 but because my siblings were still in school, they planned to celebrate in late August in Oskaloosa, Iowa at Central Reformed Church where they had been married. Leaving Puerto Rico early offered the opportunity for me to attend their anniversary celebration after I had earlier sent my regrets.

Because I knew that my uncle Hubert, who was actually my grandfather’s cousin, had to drive south from Clarion, Iowa through Des Moines, I wrote him and asked him to pick me up at the Des Moines airport to make my attendance at the anniversary a complete surprise. It would also mean that we could spend an hour and a half catching up on each other’s activities. Hubert was active in Iowa politics and always wanted to hear my take on events.

When we arrived in Oskaloosa, Hubert parked on the street south of the church and we walked down the steps into fellowship hall. Just by chance, my father walked up those same steps without recognizing me, because I was supposed to be in Puerto Rico. However, close behind him came my mother who immediately burst into tears when she saw me.

So often in ministry, we hear about people suffering anniversaries, which mark the death of a loved one or some other tragedy. Equally important are the joyous anniversaries where we remember to honor our relationships and celebrate the blessings of this life, even if it involves a bit of travel.

 

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Tutt: Imprisoned Cop Thrives

Joseph Tuttolomondo and Rosemarie Fitzsimmons. 2015. Caged Sparrow. Virginia: The Portrait Writer LLC.[1]

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

In 2011 I worked as a chaplain intern in a psychiatric ward where I found it helpful to observe patients in their groups before visiting with them individually. One morning as an art group assembled to begin their work, attendance was especially heavy and I offered my chair to a latecomer. For some reason he began escalating, but as the staff gathered putting on their blue latex gloves, the other patients came to my defense saying—“leave the pastor alone”—and threatening the patient who was now shouting at full throttle. While I was stunned for having been called out by the patient, but I was truly humbled by support given me by the other patients.

In Joesph Tuttolomondo’s memoir, Caged Sparrow, written by Rosemario Fitzsimmons we “Tutt” unlikely prison inmate: a narcotics chief from “Little Italy”, who helped clean up Buffalo, New York’s MAFIA and was later framed for a crime that he did not commit. How likely is a former narc to survive a prison sentence surrounded by criminals that he had arrested and sent to prison? In his own words, Tutt writes about November 1977:

“People like me don’t survive prison. I knew that going in. I accepted that one day, may in a week, maybe in six months, someone would probably find me lying face-down in an exercise yard with a shank sticking out of my gut…I’m on their turf, living on their terms—a sparrow in a cage with two thousand cats.” (1, 3)

In the telling of his story, we learn a bit of MAFIA lore:

“during the late 1800s, a young Sicilian couple’s wedding plans were shattered when an officer from the occupying French army raped the bride-to-be and she committed suicide from the shame. After the funeral, the grieving young groom stood on the church steps and shouted ‘Morte ala Francia Italia Anella!’ (Death to the French, Italy Cries!) From these words came the acronym, MAFIA, and their battle cry.” (5)

Tutt grew up knowing the Omertià code: “You saw nothing.You heard nothing.You said nothing.” (5) Young and street smart, Tutt proved to be a good cop—maybe too good. After he and his partner survived an ambush, he thought that he was invincible (62-64).

He should have known: “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Prov 16:18 ESV)

The set up that snagged Tutt was an informant who turned on him, as he pieced it together:

“Carlone must have gone to his District Attorney and said I was a bad cop, and that he was going to offer me a bribe. The DA probably gave him money and put it in an envelop, but Carlone [who was a drug user himself] must have had second thoughts, so he took the money out and replaced it with folded paper [which was supposed to be a list of drug users].”(75-76)

The set up should have failed in court, but no one seemed interested in the truth and Tutt was convicted and sent to prison. But along the way something unexpected happened …

Joesph Tuttolomondo’s memoir, Caged Sparrow, written by Rosemario Fitzsimmons is true story, even though the names have been changed to protect the innocent. After his release from prison, Tutt worked for the city in another occupation, qualified for his retirement, and left Buffalo to live in Florida. Rosemario Fitzsimmons is an author living in Northern Virginia who specializes in inspirational memoir writing. Caged Sparrow is a page turner interesting to anyone who likes a good detective story.

[1] www.RoseTheStoryTeller.com. @pJoy93

 

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Prayer of Adoration

Almighty God,

We will sing to you a new song, spreading out your praise throughout the world.

spreading out your praise throughout the world.

praising your name and telling of your salvation every day.

For you are most glorious and have done marvelous things that none can deny.

Your greatness abounds and we praise you for it,

none can compare and respect for you exceeds all things.

Your beauty and endless majesty form a temple for your worship.

Tell of God’s beauty and majesty, if you can.

Tell of God’s glory, if you can find the words.

Worship him and him alone for his glory and majesty and strength!

Tell the nations what is most obvious: God reigns!

Let heaven be glad, rejoice, let the waters rush and the sea foam; let it rage–

Let the fields praise you; let the forests sing of your glory.

Before the Lord, there is none other

For he will judge the earth in righteous and the people in truth (Ps 96).

Amen.

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Between Sundays

Cover for Called Along the Way
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Honor your father and your mother,
that your days may be long in the land
that the LORD your God is giving you.
(Exod 20:12)

Between Sundays

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

After I confessed my faith in Christ and joined the church in 1967, I participated more actively in church youth programs, sang in the youth choir, and pledged money to the church, as was expected of young Christian men. My first attempts at evangelism and living out my faith could be described as spotty at best.

I knew a fellow by the name of Jimmy, who might today be referred to as having special needs. Jimmy only had a few friends and, when he heard that I was learning to play piano, he expressed interest in learning to play and I volunteered to teach him one day after school. Thinking that Christians should be really nice to people, helping him learn piano seemed like the right thing to do.

When Jimmy came over after school, my mother welcomed him in but she awkwardly asked: “Is Jimmy one of your friends?” Jimmy and I went straight to the piano where I taught him a few notes and how to play a C major scale. We spent about half an hour before he left and went home. Thinking about my mother’s question, I never invited him back.

By contrast, my mother really liked David, who lived two doors down from us. David was tall and thin and quiet and always at home. His father was a popular local pastor, who was a ham radio operator, and his mother, who was as sweet as the snacks that she offered up. David and I traded baseball cards, marbles, and stamps, but he never seemed interested in playing games with the other kids in the neighborhood and expressed little interest in chess. So, I was “nice” to David, but we were not close.

It was never exactly clear what it meant to live out Christine values at home, other than “honor your father and mother” (Exod 20:12). Because I grew the oldest among my siblings and was already more comfortable with adults, this commandment came easy, but I associated this commandment with obeying my parents, not with their later care. Sometimes in the evening I sat with my father in his study as he worked and read or did my homework. Other times I helped him with yard work, like cutting the grass, or washing the car. I also helped the neighbors with gardening or shoveling their snow, which I continued to do even in high school. When I left for college, my father traded in the old push mower for a gasoline model.

Until I was about 8 years old, my sister, Diane, was my closest friend. Growing up, we moved around a bit because my father was in still in graduate school. Diane and I played hide and seek. Diane and I learned to eat ice cream from cones. Diane and I celebrated birthdays—I will never forget Diane’s expression on viewing a pink rabbit cake that my mother baked when she was about two. When we got older, we sometimes watched television or played board games together at home and attended youth events and choir together at church. Although we were never chatty, Diane was my first friend.

Diane preferred doing girl things, like playing with dolls, while I did boy things, like collecting coins, stamps, and bugs, and building forts in the woods. Diane played more typically with Karen, while John, being still a tot when I was young, played mostly with Karen. This pattern continued uninterrupted over many years.

 

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Akinyemi: Realize God’s Will Through Prayer

Akinyemi: Realize God’s Will Through Prayer

Abayomi Akinyemi. 2008. Avoid the Path to Pisgah. Lake Mary, FL: Creation House, A Strang Company.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Have you ever wondered why you fail to achieve your potential in your faith walk and in life? You are not alone. Many talented people do not realize their potential, frequently falling short in dramatic ways. Think of all the young celebrities—sports and film stars—who in spite of fame and fortune end up living desperate lives in poverty later in life.

Underachievers share much in common in Moses who led the Nation of Israel out of Egypt only to be later forbidden by God to enter the Promised Land. God only allowed Moses a glimpse of the Promised Land from atop Mount Pisgah (Deut 3:26-27). Are you ready to avoid the trip up Mount Pisgah and enter the Promised Land?

Introduction

 In his book, Avoid the Path to Pisgah, Abayomi Akinyemi examines the story of Moses and how he achieved so much, but failed to achieve his dream of entering the Promised Land. In his introduction, Akinyemi (18) sees “seemingly minor distractions, weaknesses, and temptations” forming a pathway to Pisgah. Furthermore, he observes:

“Moses was a great vessel in the hand of God. He was called, anointed, and given a mandate by God to lead the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt into the Promised Land, yet he did not fulfill his destiny.” (26)

How could this happen? Akinyemi (77) sees the answer in a single verse:

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, (Heb 12:1 KJV)

Besetting Weights and Sins

The key words in this verse are besetting weights and sins. A besetting sin is one that we know about and struggle with our entire lives, like an obsession that we cannot control, but a weight is a hindrance or character flaw. Moses had at least three weights: an anger management problem, a tendency to complain, and he failed to honor God by following his instructions carefully under pressure.

Moses’ first weight was an anger-management problem (91). Early in life, it led him to murder an Egyptian who was abusing a fellow Hebrew (Exod 2:11-12). Later in life, when he saw the Nation of Israel worshiping the Golden Calf, he threw down the tables of stone that God had given him with the Ten Commandments (Exod 32:19).

Moses’ second weight was problem with complaining. Moses (91) did not want to go back to Egypt when God commissioned him and he did everything he could to get out of it (Exod 3:11—4:17). When the people of Israel began complaining in the desert, Moses (93) followed suit and began a rant against God (Num 11:10-13).

Moses’ third weight was that he failed to honor God by following his instructions carefully under pressure. At Meribah, when the people had no water, God told Moses to speak the rock to yield water (Exod 20:8), but, when the time came, Moses struck the rock twice with his rod (Exod 20:11). Why was the instruction important? Moses did not give the honor to God for delivering the water, but took it for himself in front of all the people by striking the rock. Consequently, God did not allow him to lead the people into the Promised Land (Exod 20:12).

Mount Pisgah

When Moses complained about this punishment to God, God said:

“Go up to the top of Pisgah and lift up your eyes westward and northward and southward and eastward, and look at it with your eyes, for you shall not go over this Jordan.” (Deut 3:27 ESV)

Thus, Moses died on Mount Pisgah and never entered the Promised Land.

How do we avoid the path to Pisgah? Akinyemi (110-112) advises us to control our anger, yield totally to the Holy Spirit to cultivate the fruits of the spirit (Gal 5:22-23), and avoid pressure from people. But most of all we should pray aggressively, especially at night (112-117).

Assessment

In his book, Avoid the Path to Pisgah, Abayomi Akinyemi[1] examines the problem that many talented Christian leaders fail to achieve their God-given potential by examining the life and ministry of Moses. Moses, in spite of obvious gifts of leadership, never entered the Promised Land which was a key objective of his call to ministry (Exod 3:7-10). Akinyemi writes with energy and recounts many interesting examples from scripture and from evangelism in his home country of Nigeria. Anyone interested in realizing their potential in ministry would do well to read and study this book.

[1] http://www.zion-cityofgod.org.

 

Also see:

Prayer for Healing, Comfort, and Deliverance 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

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Summer Prayer

Sand Dune in Ocean City, Maryland

Summer Prayer

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Holy Father,

I praise you for quiet summer days.

Days when I do not need to work.

Days when time stands still and is a joy to experience.

Days when my only worry is about how to enjoy them.

Be ever near. Guard my heart and mind. Teach me to number my days aright (Psalm 90).

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Also see:

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

Other ways to engage with me online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2sqjfoR

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Troika

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

“I will put my law within them,
and I will write it on their hearts.
And I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.”
(Jer 31:33)

Our girls arrived only sixteen months apart which meant that they remained close and competitive. When Stephen Reza arrived sixteen months after Marjolijn, the pattern continued. More than siblings, our kids remained inseparable, best friends.

They all spoke Farsi making it possible to have private conversations out in front of most anyone, including dad. Maryam, who insisted that the kids call her Maryam rather than mom or mother, leaned into the development of this private world and encouraged a skeptical view of anyone outside the family. At first, I enjoyed the family intimacy, but over time I realized that this tribal closeness fostered co-dependencies within the family and often hindered healthy relationships with others outside the family.

Later, when the youth group at church grew large enough to have both a middle school and high school group, the youth group leaders insisted that Christine and Narsis needed to attend the senior high school group and Reza stay with the middles school group. The kids complained and I visited with the leaders, but they refused any accommodation to my kids’ desire to stay together. At that point, the kids rebelled refusing to attend the youth group and Maryam supported their decision. This fiasco left the kids with no meaningful attachment to the church, a situation never reversed in spite of many attempts on my part.

Here at the point of connection between a close-knit family and my community of faith, I confronted a dilemma that cut to the core of who I was. The dream that I had held since I was a child of an integrated life—a new kaffietijd, a new Sabbath—remained just out of reach because I lacked the faith and the skills to foster it. I had to learn to plant seeds and trust that God would bring the growth, but was I ready?

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