How do you say Godliness in Thai? (2 Peter 1:3)

I was preparing a Bible study on Psalm 19 in Thai, and wanted to cross-reference 2 Peter 1:3 (“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness... “ 2 Peter 1:3 ESV) but when I went to the standard version of the Thai Bible that is most widely used in the churches (1971 version which is similar to the RSV), I wondered whether the word that they had for godliness (“tham” ธรรม) was really the best choice.

In common Thai, tham refers to the body of Buddhist teaching or the Dharma. In Christian language, it is often modified with the word “Christ” (hence Phra Christ Tham พระคริสตธรรม) to refer to the Bible, or Christian teaching. It still remains however, that the word tham by itself makes most people think of religious teaching, particularly moral or ethical teaching. So, are we to understand that godliness is merely ethical living? I opened up my Greek New Testament to find out what the original word was and found eusebeia. My Intermediate Greek Lexicon (Liddell & Scott) tells me that eusebeia means “reverence towards the gods, piety religion.” That is the general secular ancient Greek meaning. The definition of eusebeia includes “reverence” which the New Oxford American Dictionary defines as

Mass Evangelism Gone Awry

We’ve just finished the Christmas evangelism season here in Thailand and praise God for the many people who heard the Gospel because of their curiosity about this thing called “Christmas”. In most Thai churches, Christmas is not a season of reflection upon the wonder of the Savior’s birth as much as it is a season of taking advantage of the opportunity to evangelize. Lots of Thai have heard something of Christmas through Western movies, advertising, and the general commercialism and materialism surrounding the season that come with globalization. Personally, I miss the “in-house” reflection and taking time out to ponder Christ’s birth that tends to be characteristic of American and European churches. Yet, I also appreciate the evangelistic zeal of Thai churches at Christmas and the natural opportunities that comes with the Christmas season here. Many U.S. churches could learn from the evangelistic zeal of Thai churches at Christmas time.

However, having attended lots of Christmas outreaches at churches, at schools, and at people’s homes, I have noticed a particular philosophy of mass evangelism among some churches and it bothers me. Initially, I couldn’t figure out why it bothered me and I was hesitant to say anything because I don’t want to oppose something just because I don’t like it. We all have our personal preferences and it would be plain wrong to try to impose my personal preferences on someone else. But the more I thought about it, I realized that it bothered me because

How to Prepare for Missionary Service

At one point in the history of missions, it was rather difficult to get approved for missionary service unless you were an ordained pastor (or married to one). There were exceptions, of course, for those who were going to serve as school teachers, doctors, and other types of ministries that did not primarily involve Bible teaching. However, where we find ourselves today, in many cases, is at the opposite end of the spectrum. Churches and mission organizations vary in their requirements, from very stringent to very lax, but since I got involved with missions about twelve years ago on a short-term trip to Poland, I have heard many times over, from various places, something along the following lines, “If you love Jesus and are willing, then you’re ready to be a missionary.” Granted, loving Jesus and being willing are very important but is that all that is needed? I was reading the book of Ezra today and came across this verse:

“For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.” (Ezra 7:10)

Christ: Central or Peripheral in Evangelism?

What I am about to say should be so obvious that I don’t need to say it, but I am becoming more and more convinced that this truth is being severely neglected in churches today: The person and work of Christ must be the content and center of our evangelism and preaching. Just this past December, I attended a Christmas outreach event at a local church (here in Central Thailand) where the primary evangelistic message had to do entirely with the benefits of believing, i.e. all the good things that will happen to you as a result of believing. The speaker used many funny and engaging stories to help his audience understand that when you believe in Jesus, you can expect to have joy, peace, eternal life, and help from God. There was one thing that was glaringly absent from his message: Christ!

As part of the Bible reading plan that I am using this year, I’ve started to read through the book of Acts and in the first few chapters, we see plenty of examples of the content of preaching in the early church: Christ. In Peter’s Pentecost sermon, he basically tells his listeners that God sent Jesus, you crucified him, and God raised him, so don’t make any mistake that this Jesus is both Lord and Christ, i.e. Savior (Acts 2:22-36). Again, after the beggar is healed at the temple, Peter stands up and gives the a very similar message: God sent his servant Jesus, you betrayed him to death, you acted in ignorance but it was God’s plan, so repent so your sin may be blotted out because God sent Jesus to turn you from wickedness (Acts 3:11-26). After this Peter and John are arrested, and when examined by the authorities as to how they healed the guy, they say the same thing: this man was healed by Jesus Christ of Nazareth whom you crucified, God raised, but whom you rejected, and there is salvation in no one else (Acts 4:7-12).

Biblical evangelism and Biblical preaching must have the person and work of Christ at it’s center. It may be more appealing to preach about a Jesus who primarily wants to give us stuff but it is only the sinless Savior who died on the cross because of God’s grace toward wicked sinners who is worth following. A Jesus who just gives us stuff is more like Santa Claus than God. And nobody follows Santa Claus. They just get stuff from him and say, “Thanks Santa, see you next year for some more stuff.” Santa does not inspire devotion or obedience, and requires no repentance. If only the benefits of believing in Christ are preached, and not the person and work of Christ, then people are easily misled as to the nature of the true Gospel. And the Gospel is wonderful! To think that wicked people who have hated God who is so merciful and gracious could actually be forgiven and our lives redeemed from bondage to sin and from the prospect of God’s judgment, is a fantastic and almost unbelievable thought. I want to preach Christ and repentance towards Christ for the forgiveness of sins so that God and sinner might be reconciled. This is the wonderful Gospel message and this is the Biblical message. Anything less is not the Gospel.

 

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Whatever Happened to Repentance?

There is a trend in modern evangelism to replace the language of “repentance” with “opening your heart”, “receiving Christ”, and making a “decision for Christ”. I hear it when people share the Gospel with non-Christians and I read it in a lot of evangelistic literature that it being published. Far from an isolated phenomenon, I have noticed this in both the United States and in Thailand where I serve as a missionary. I am sure that the same is true in much of the rest of the world as well since the trends in Western evangelicalism, whether for good or for ill, have a way of making the rounds. In this case, the de-emphases upon the need to repent is a serious compromise of the Gospel and can create a wrong understanding of what it means to become a Christian.

Let me give an example of what I mean and why it is so serious. Sitting in front me right now is an evangelistic tract called “The Gift of Love”. It is put out by one of the largest (if not THE largest) publisher of evangelistic Christian tracts in Thailand. They have a number of good tracts and I don’t want to detract from the quality thinking and writing that they have produced in a number of cases. However, the way that this little tract, “The Gift of Love”, ends rather troubles me when I compare it to evangelism in the Bible. Near the end of the tract, it says (in Thai), “The opportunity to be saved from sin is right before you... hurry and open your heart to receive this gift of love right now. Don’t miss this opportunity to receive this gift that God wants to give you. If you want to receive this gift of love, all you have to do is confess your sins and and ask for help from God like this...” and a sample prayer as to how to receive Christ follows.

New Year, Old Problems

I’ve never been all that excited about New Year’s because the mere change of a date on the calendar doesn’t change anything that really matters. This morning, I went out to run an errand and when I stopped off to get a coffee, I saw a familiar motorcycle parked out in front of the coffee stand that hugged the curb. Coming around the car, I saw a guy from church that had stopped by to borrow our guitar the previous night. It was nine o’clock in the morning and there he was with a big bottle of beer, strumming the guitar and hanging out with his friend, the guy selling coffee. I don’t have anything against alcohol in general, given it is consumed in moderation and with appropriate consideration to who your company is. However, I KNOW that this guy has a drinking problem.

My initial impression of him, about a year or so ago, was that he is friendly fellow with a good head on his shoulders, and perhaps some potential for leadership in the church. That initial impression has proved to be inaccurate as it has become obvious that he has a drinking problem that doesn’t concern him as it should. On numerous occasions (especially after I haven’t seen him for a while), he tells me that he hasn’t forgotten about God and that he is still

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