John Bradshaw - Conversation with Philip Samaan - Part 1
John Bradshaw: Thanks for joining me on Conversations. I'm John Bradshaw. My special guest today is an author, a teacher, a preacher, a missionary, and a lifelong student of the Word of God. Originally from Syria, now in the United States for some years, Dr. Philip Samaan. Dr. Samaan, thanks for joining me.
Dr. Philip Samaan: Thanks for inviting me.
John Bradshaw: It's a blessing to have you here, and I can't wait to dig a little bit into your life story. Originally from Syria, where... and of course I'm going to ask that very general question: What was that like?
Dr. Philip Samaan: Well, I was born in Syria on the coast, a small town between the cities of Baniyas and Tartus.
John Bradshaw: So, it's the, the Mediterranean coast in Syria?
Dr. Philip Samaan: Exactly.
John Bradshaw: Sounds perfect.
Dr. Philip Samaan: And I grew up on a farm. So I love nature. We grew all kinds of crops right on the sea, so the sea is a part of my life. So whenever I find water, I love it.
John Bradshaw: So, growing up in Syria, uh, there are not that many people watching right now who can picture a, a life on a Syrian farm. So, to explain that to me, describe to me what life was like as a, as a child growing up in Syria.
Dr. Philip Samaan: Well, we have the sea and the fertile land and the mountains. And we grew all kinds of crops, because we have four seasons. So every season we have crops to grow, and we grew our own food.
John Bradshaw: So as a child, a lot of time working on the farm.
Dr. Philip Samaan: A lot of time.
John Bradshaw: What do you do... what do Syrian kids, what did Syrians kids do with their spare time?
Dr. Philip Samaan: Well, Syrian kids were put to work and disciplined and taught the value and importance of work. So I'm very thankful my dad taught me how to work from an early age. That's why I happen to be persistent and very hard-working.
John Bradshaw: You spent your working life in ministry, teaching, a pastor, a lot of time in writing, served as a missionary. As a child, was there anything about you that suggested to others you would end up in ministry? Or, was there anything that suggested to you when you were a kid that your life was going to be spent in service to God?
Dr. Philip Samaan: From the very beginning, even at the age of 4 and 5, I was convicted by the Lord, I'm going to spend my time ministering, serving Him and other people. That never changed. And so, to just tell you a little bit about that experience, even when I learned how to read in Arabic my Bible, which was at the age of 8, I would get up in the morning around four o'clock and put on the kerosene lamp and read and devour the Bible. And I remember my dad getting up at 6:00 to go to work. "Son, have you been awake all this time to study your Bible"? "Yes, because I love Jesus and His Word". So even with that, I knew that I was very passionate about ministry.
John Bradshaw: Who was it who placed that in you? Now, the Spirit of God, clearly, but did you have a, a mentor, a family member, or a relative that encouraged you to think about a future in ministry?
Dr. Philip Samaan: My dad and my mom were very spiritual people, very honest, dedicated people, and they instilled that in me, and I kind of followed their example. Plus, they named me Philip because they wanted me to be an evangelist. So they kept praying for me I'd be like Philip the evangelist. So here I am.
John Bradshaw: Tell me about how you transitioned into ministry.
Dr. Philip Samaan: Well, you know, I came to United States.
John Bradshaw: You came here to study, didn't you?
Dr. Philip Samaan: To study for the ministry, and I was a student at Walla Walla College in the state of Washington. I was very involved on campus in doing ministry, getting the students involved in Bible studies, in witnessing, and then during the Christmas breaks, I felt impressed to go and conduct evangelistic meetings. I would organize my fellow students and go to neighboring towns to conduct evangelistic meetings. And I still remember, the first was in Baker, Oregon; the second was in Salmon, Idaho. In the middle of winter. You know, there the winter is different than Tennessee. I mean, there's ice and snow. But we felt convicted to spend our Christmas breaks to be evangelists.
John Bradshaw: What do you remember about those evangelistically-driven Christmas breaks?
Dr. Philip Samaan: Oh, it was exciting because Christmas was about sharing Jesus and His message, and so during Christmas, that's what we're doing. It's a good way to spend your Christmas break.
John Bradshaw: Was it a challenging time? Did you see results from your labors? Did you...? Talk to me about that.
Dr. Philip Samaan: We, we saw results, uh, in, in both ways. It was an encouragement to our church members to review their precious, distinctive teachings from the Bible. Plus, other people would come, and they would come and would learn about the truth as it is in Jesus, and they would get born again and baptized.
John Bradshaw: You ended up doing a number of things in ministry. You started as a pastor, you, you end... not that you... you recently retired as a college professor, but I don't think you and retirement are really going to get along that well. Did you know then? Did you feel then that you'd end up in one type of ministry or another? Or was it just ministry, and God will lead me?
Dr. Philip Samaan: Just ministry, and God would lead me. And that's why my ministerial experience is so varied and interesting and exciting. Because the Lord led me to do all kinds of different things.
John Bradshaw: Okay, you started off in ministry after college as a local church pastor.
Dr. Philip Samaan: That's right.
John Bradshaw: Okay. Now, uh, I'm going to, I'm probably going to come back to this again and again as we talk, but by that time, when you became a local church pastor, how many years had you been in the United States?
Dr. Philip Samaan: Well, um, probably about, I would say, eight years.
John Bradshaw: So you were still a pretty Syrian sort of a Syrian?
Dr. Philip Samaan: Yeah, if you put it that way.
John Bradshaw: I mean, I mean, you're going to tell me now you're still a Syrian Syrian, but you've been in this country, you know, three times longer than you were in Syria or thereabouts.
Dr. Philip Samaan: So I left when I was a teenager.
John Bradshaw: Yeah.
Dr. Philip Samaan: And now I'm 69, so you wouldn't figure...
John Bradshaw: Yeah.
Dr. Philip Samaan: ...most of my life was spent in this country.
John Bradshaw: Sure. So you've been here relatively few years.
Dr. Philip Samaan: Yes.
John Bradshaw: And then you were placed in the local congregation to be a church pastor.
Dr. Philip Samaan: Yes.
John Bradshaw: So I want to ask you generally about pastoral ministry, and how you enjoyed it and what the challenges were, but first, I want to ask you what it was like being a Syrian, a, a foreigner, whatever that might be, uh, only in this country for a few years, and being the shepherd to American sheep. What was that like?
Dr. Philip Samaan: Yeah, not only American sheep in general, American sheep in the cowboy country of Idaho. And there was...we didn't have many foreigners, and they never had a Syrian before.
John Bradshaw: This is about a million miles...
Dr. Philip Samaan: Yes, yes.
John Bradshaw: ...from the coast, the Mediterranean coast of Syria.
Dr. Philip Samaan: So I always humored them by saying, you know, "The cowboys needed a missionary from Syria," and they would laugh at that. But it was an exciting experience. You know, when you love people, respect people in Jesus, they love you back. And that was a very meaningful experience for me as I start my ministry.
John Bradshaw: Let me ask you this question. I didn't even think of asking you this question, but I'll ask you this now. As a Middle Easterner who'd come to the United States, did you ever experience racism?
Dr. Philip Samaan: Well, you know, John, racism is everywhere, more or less. And I sensed that sometimes, but I focused on the opposite: loving people, befriending people, that if there was any residue of prejudice, racism, like, it just disappeared.
John Bradshaw: And did that work?
Dr. Philip Samaan: Yes! Yes, it worked. Because, you know, you, you just have to focus on what is important and crucial in ministry. And some of us, it'll be that; it'll be other things. You just have to, um, leave it to the side, because, you see, when you focus on what's important, it maximizes what's important. It minimizes what's not important. That, that's what'll happen.
John Bradshaw: Pastoral ministry... Ya came to pastoral ministry in your twenties, and now you're, you're shepherding these, uh, cowboy sheep.
Dr. Philip Samaan: Yes.
John Bradshaw: Tell me a bit about your experience in pastoral ministry. How did you enjoy that?
Dr. Philip Samaan: You mentioned... you said "cowboy sheep"? I, I would describe them as maybe...
John Bradshaw: You were in cowboy country.
Dr. Philip Samaan: Yeah, well, I would describe them as sheep, but as, like, strong oxen, strong bulls with horns. But it was, it just helped me to be challenged and be stronger, to join them. And so, to me, you know, in some countries people, uh, are viewed as sheep because they follow. Whatever you tell them, they appreciate. You say yes, and they say yes. But, you know, in America people are independent. They have a mind of their own. So you have to use the special gifts God's given you to be able to win their trust and let them rally behind your leadership.
John Bradshaw: What were the special joys of pastoral ministry for you?
Dr. Philip Samaan: The special joys, I can tell you without thinking, is to love people in Jesus, to win their trust. To, um, to see them be transformed by the power of God and become a new creation in Jesus, that's the most exciting thing. I mean, the greatest accomplishment we can have as ministers is to lead people to salvation.
John Bradshaw: Ministry can be a real challenge.
Dr. Philip Samaan: Yes.
John Bradshaw: And, uh, we hear of pastors leaving ministry, and we're not surprised. We may be a little sorry, but we're not surprised. People leave all, all forms of employment, whatever it is. But pastors leave ministry, and sometimes because the going is tough and the challenges become a bit much. What would you say to pastors or anyone involved in ministry who's just a little discouraged and struggling?
Dr. Philip Samaan: I meet, I meet people like that. And ministry is tough. To me it's the most challenging kind of work we have. But, you see, the message we have, the Lord we serve is so, so wonderful that we have the answer to people's problems, and that in itself carries you through. I mean, I mean, who else has the message that Jesus solves the most difficult problems? You know, our, our most crucial problems are sin and death. And Jesus provides His righteousness in the place of our sin, and His life instead of our death. Isn't that so exciting?
John Bradshaw: Yeah, it is.
Dr. Philip Samaan: And no matter how challenging it is, we've got the answers in Jesus, and it becomes so exciting that people rally with you and get excited with you. It depends what we focus on.
John Bradshaw: Do you think pastoral ministry has become more challenging as the years have gone by?
Dr. Philip Samaan: I think it has become more challenging year after year. I notice that all the time when I visit churches every weekend. Why? Because the world is becoming more problematic. Uh, young people face issues we never faced. Each year, especially as I teach, for the past 30 years, students come to me with more complicated problems. So I really feel we need to pray a lot for our young people because they are facing so many challenges young people never faced before.
John Bradshaw: Give me an example of what some of those might be.
Dr. Philip Samaan: Well, I mean, all kinds of abuse, okay? It, it's so hard to hear. Uh, if I weren't a pastor, I would not want to hear it. Plus peer pressure, plus the internet. Sin is becoming so marketable, available. It's very hard for young people to resist. That's why I lead them to Jesus. Anchor them in Jesus is the only answer.
John Bradshaw: It's everywhere now, isn't it?
Dr. Philip Samaan: It is everywhere.
John Bradshaw: It used to be that sin may not have flourished here or there, but now with the advent of mobile devices and the internet, sin can go anywhere you can and can reach you wherever you are.
Dr. Philip Samaan: And people make it easier for even their children to sin. I know. Students I lead to Jesus become converted, excited about witnessing. Can you believe it, John? The parents call me and say, "My, my kid is too spiritual. Please let him enjoy life for a while before he gets converted". Believe it or not, people actually call me about that. I said, "You should be happy that your son, your daughter, is excited about Jesus and living a spiritual life". "No, no, but that's too much for them; they're too young". So, so they said... you know what they tell me? They tell me, "Dr. Samaan, my parents make it too easy for me to sin". And our job as teachers and parents and pastors is to make it very difficult for them to sin. Just do the opposite.
John Bradshaw: Yeah, that's right. Eee! It's hard to imagine that, isn't it, somebody calling the college to complain their kid is too spiritual.
Dr. Philip Samaan: You experience everything. Not, not many, but, I mean, once in a while.
John Bradshaw: Sure.
Dr. Philip Samaan: You hear it, yes. "Because, after all, "my, my daughter, my son are so young, "and they should really enjoy life before they make commitment to Jesus". And I say, you know, real joy and love is in finding Jesus as your Savior and Lord.
John Bradshaw: Yeah.
Dr. Philip Samaan: Because they're, they're focusing on having fun, you know, when they are young. But to me, it's what I call "fake fun," like we say "fake news," fake fun. But the fun you have in Jesus is real and authentic.
John Bradshaw: So let me talk about that to you. You, you, you come from, from Syria. Let me ask you this. At the time was Syria, uh, dealing with poverty, or was it plenty? What was the Syria like that you left behind? Was it, was life tough for the average person, or not so tough?
Dr. Philip Samaan: It was, it was bearable. It wasn't too tough, too easy, somewhere in the middle.
John Bradshaw: Okay, okay.
Dr. Philip Samaan: Because people had their farms, their businesses, and they managed.
John Bradshaw: Let me ask you a practical question. So you come here as a young person, you're a Christian, you, you went to college, and you studied, and you had Christian friends; you were involved in ministries. Uh, many people might look at people like you or me and say, "That's got to be the most boring person in the world because they don't do this and don't do that and don't do that, and what, what do, what do they even do to enjoy life"? So, talk to me about, about what, about an enjoyable life for a young person. Because a young person says, if he's telling me to live for Jesus; then I shouldn't, shouldn't, cannot, cannot, must not, must not, must not. How does a young person considering giving his or her life to Jesus look at what might be it and say, "That's what I really want," rather than say, "How can I possibly live without" A, B, or C?
Dr. Philip Samaan: Mm-hmm. Well, when we mention so many negatives, you know, I can't do this, I can't do that, I must not do this, I must do that, but, but the focus should be, what can I do? What can, what can I do for Jesus? What can I do for other people? And I could list you so many things, positive things, uh, uh, that will make us very happy and have real fun. But, but, you see, sometimes we present to people, you can't do, you can't do that, and so, if you don't have Jesus, well, you do nothing. But if you have Jesus, He is so creative, and He is so vibrant. There are so many things He will inspire to do, and it gives you the most enjoyable life you have. So, to me, the, the, the, the first and foremost thing I need to do is to lead people to Jesus. You know, release them to the embrace of Jesus. And then He'll take care of them in a very exciting way. I mean, I look back at my life, as you mentioned, you know, that I'm retired. I'm not really retired, you know, because I'm still active.
John Bradshaw: Sure.
Dr. Philip Samaan: Maybe I'm more busy than ever before. But you know something, all these years of my life, it has been the most exciting. I can sit here and testify to that, because it's true. The joy that Jesus gives you from serving Him and walking with Him, you cannot compare it to anything else. But you have to experience it first to know what I'm talking about.
John Bradshaw: Now, of course, I asked the question the way I asked the question... how can adults...parents, grandparents, teachers, mentors...present Christianity to young people who are, who are overwhelmed in many cases with temptation, in a way that it's positive and not "Don't do this" and "You must do that"? How do we present Christianity to young people to make it positive?
Dr. Philip Samaan: By providing a good example. If you really believe Jesus gives you genuine fun, and I see you having real fun, if you think Jesus gives you joy, real joy, He, He plants joy in your heart, puts a smile upon your face, if I see that demonstrated, then I will think about it seriously. But we cannot just be talking about it and not living it. Jesus is not Someone you profess from the mouth. He is Someone you possess in your heart. So if it's only profession, it won't make a difference. We have to possess what we talk about.
John Bradshaw: I was having this conversation just last night, but from a different perspective. I was raised as a Roman Catholic, my dad would have loved for me to have been a priest, but I looked at the priests we had, and I said, "I don't want to be that". Boring, no fun, it just didn't look like a life. And I said to whoever it was I was talking to, "If we'd had a young, vibrant, energetic priest who was having a great life, I may well have become a priest".
Dr. Philip Samaan: Well, I experienced the same thing you did, John. Because when I looked... you looked at the Catholic priest, you said?... I looked at the Greek Orthodox priests... they're similar...and I said, "I don't want to be that. I do not want to do that". And I wrestled with God for a while. "Lord, I want to serve You, but I won't serve You like that". And even not just looking at sometimes pastors, they have a kind of a boring life, because to them it's a job; it's not a ministry. And I said, "Lord, please show me how can I have an exciting ministry, and I will say yes". And He showed me that, and He convicted me He's gonna prepare me for an exciting ministry. I said, "I'll do it," and now I look back at the last 45 years of ministry; I say, "He fulfilled His promise to me".
John Bradshaw: We'll talk about some more of that...
Dr. Philip Samaan: Ministry doesn't have to be boring.
John Bradshaw: No, it, it shouldn't be. It shouldn't; in fact, if you love God and love what you're doing, it cannot possibly be.
Dr. Philip Samaan: Oh, though, you know why? Because Jesus is exciting, and if He lives in your life, He will express Himself through you.
John Bradshaw: That's right. We'll talk more about this in a moment. My guest is Dr. Philip Samaan, and we'll be right back.
John Bradshaw: Welcome back to Conversations. I'm John Bradshaw. My guest is Dr. Philip Samaan, who throughout his career in ministry has done just about everything, including spending many years as a college professor. Now, after pastoral ministry, it's my understanding, Dr. Samaan, you ended up getting into youth ministry, not teaching on college campuses, but ministry on college campuses. So, how did that come about, and did you feel like this is, this, this worked naturally for you, or was it a, a transition?
Dr. Philip Samaan: Well, you know, my focus on ministry wasn't just about the local church, my church; it was doing my best to impact the community. So I began to reach out to community colleges, uh, public universities, academies, high schools, just as a natural part of reaching as many people as possible. At the North Pacific Union the president wanted to have somebody to lead out in campus ministries and youth outreach. So he learned that I was doing this anyway as part of my overall ministry. And so he called me to the North Pacific Union to minister to students on our campuses, like nine academies, Walla Walla College, and the public universities. So that's how I started with youth ministry.
John Bradshaw: So what was, what was that like? Was that, was it a, a difficult challenge? Were, were young people responsive?
Dr. Philip Samaan: Well, it depends how you look at it. Some people say, "You cannot reach students of public university campuses because they are not responsive". So the way I start, I start small. I always start small and meet the few Adventist students on campus, and because of the way we interact, the quality time we spend together, the word gets around, and before you know it, you have 50, 100, 150, 200 people meeting. So, it just depends how we start. We start the right way, Christ's way, and then we start small. And we provide quality contacts, and this then spreads.
John Bradshaw: I want to talk to you about youth ministry. What do we have to do to keep our kids in the church, or at least to give ourselves the best possible chance to keep our children and not watch them walk away from church and walk away from Jesus?
Dr. Philip Samaan: You know, research at Southern Adventist University School of Religion showed what you're saying is true. Many of our graduates leave the church after they graduate. Can you imagine these kids attending our schools from grade 1? And now they finish college, and they leave the church. What are we doing wrong?
John Bradshaw: Okay, so that's the question. Why do you think that's happening?
Dr. Philip Samaan: I believe it's happening because we need to involve our young people in a cause bigger than themselves. That youth ministry is not about entertainment, because they find enough entertainment in the world. And I very much like what the youth director of the General Conference said when he came to speak at Southern. He said, "It is not anymore youth entertaining, but youth training". I like these two words. It's not entertaining; it's training. And I believe training young people to experience the joy and the excitement of serving the Lord, reaching out to people, believe in a cause bigger than themselves, get them involved in a mission, let them see how God is real in their lives as they minister to others, I believe if we invest in that, that will keep them loyal to Jesus and loyal to His people, loyal to His church.
John Bradshaw: Now, here's what we know. In many cases, getting the kids involved is asking the children to take up the offering once a month.
Dr. Philip Samaan: Mm-hmm.
John Bradshaw: Or maybe asking that nice girl who plays the piano to provide music for church once in a great while. But you're talking about something much bigger than that.
Dr. Philip Samaan: Much bigger. Much bigger. Uh, not everybody can play the piano. Uh, not everybody can do... can sing, for example, or preach. So we have to help our young people discover what their spiritual gifts are. I mean, everybody got some gifts. To focus on that, to let them know how God has gifted them, and provide effective ways to help them practice their gifts, and, and let them experience success. Start with something small and doable and let them experience success. I mentioned one of them. When I take my students to the nursing home, local nursing homes, it's a simple activity. They might bring a guitar, a smile, and when they realize how meaningful it is to talk to older people and how older people appreciate them so much, they're hooked; they want to do it again. That's a simple thing, doable thing, but they experience success and feel needed.
John Bradshaw: But churches have a real problem with young people. Let me tell you what it is. Some of these young people, they show up to church; they might have an earring in their ear. Oh, I've been to churches, you know, Dr. Samaan, and a boy was there, and his hair was blue, or the boy grew his hair long, or the girl shaved her head. I mean, Dr. Samaan, what are we going to do when we have young people like this?
Dr. Philip Samaan: What these kids need the least is for them to be condemned. They need to be appreciated and cherished, because no matter how they look like, the investment of Jesus' life is in each one of them. And that gives them a lot of self-worth. When I look at people like this, I see Jesus invested in them. How can you give up on them? There was a young man like this, who became like a hippie, body piercings, part of his head was green, the other part of his hair was blue, a sight to behold.
John Bradshaw: Sure.
Dr. Philip Samaan: So, he was gone out of the church for three years, doing all kinds of crazy things. And now the Lord convicted his heart to come back home, to come back to the fold. And this dear saint, who was, who was the greeter...
John Bradshaw: No...
Dr. Philip Samaan: ...she meant, she meant well, just trying to be helpful.
John Bradshaw: You don't want to say...
Dr. Philip Samaan: And she said...
John Bradshaw: No way.
Dr. Philip Samaan: ..."Sonny"... she called him Sonny... "Where have you been all of this? "And, by the way, don't you know when you come to church, you should look presentable"? Now, she meant well by that. I'm not trying to condemn her or judge her.
John Bradshaw: Ouch.
Dr. Philip Samaan: This young man left and never came back. I tried to reach him. This has been many years. He said, "I'll never go back". He made a commitment never to come back because how he was welcomed when he came back. So we have to be very Christ-like, and look at each person like that and value them as we would value Jesus. Inasmuch as we do it to him, we do it to Jesus.
John Bradshaw: What do you think Jesus would do if, if He was in the synagogue... okay, not the synagogue... in the church, and a girl came in with a ring in her nose and a boy came in with a... chain around his neck and long hair? I'm just picking on stereotypical things.
Dr. Philip Samaan: Yes.
John Bradshaw: What would Jesus do...
Dr. Philip Samaan: Well....
John Bradshaw: ...if a bunch of kids like that showed up at His church?
Dr. Philip Samaan: We know what He would do, don't we? I mean, after all, He had... and He was condemned for it, by the way...He was around harlots, prostitutes, tax collectors.
John Bradshaw: People with real issues.
Dr. Philip Samaan: Yeah, I mean, I'd rather have a guy with an earring than have a tax collector, you know, just, just cheating from people big time. I mean, you know, we should look at things in certain perspectives. And to me, to have somebody looking a certain way could be easier than dealing with some of the people Jesus dealt with. We just have to look at the potential, and ask the question, how would these people be when they really turn to Jesus?
John Bradshaw: Isn't it important that we see things in perspective? Some of the things that some of the saints give young people a hard time about are pretty small. I'm not excusing silly behavior or unwise behavior, but in the grand scheme of things, we can get pretty well exercised over things that in the big picture just don't mean a lot.
Dr. Philip Samaan: That's right. See, I don't like some of that myself.
John Bradshaw: I recall coming to church; I was, I was holding meetings in British Columbia, and there was a young fellow whose name I don't remember. He was 22 or something...he looked about 22 years of age... and would come to church, and his hair is blue, bright blue. And, uh, a couple of dear old ladies walked in behind me, and I thought, "Well, this will be interesting". And they said, "Hello, Rodney," or whatever his name was. "Blue hair? What do you think, Edith"? "Oh, I like it". Although Edith said, "But, Rodney, I did like the green. I liked the green very much". They just loved him anyway.
Dr. Philip Samaan: Yes.
John Bradshaw: He, he never left the church. Finally figured out what he wanted to do with his hair.
Dr. Philip Samaan: Yes. If we see all of that from Christ's perspective... you see, we focus on what we think is important. If I focus on the color of their hair and all the body piercing, then that's what's important to me; that's a priority. But isn't there a greater priority?
John Bradshaw: There's a greater priority.
Dr. Philip Samaan: It goes beyond that to the salvation of this precious person, whom, in whom Jesus invested His life-giving blood. If you focus on that, then this hasn't become a big issue. And to me, the young people, or anybody, should never think of us that that's our focus, that's what we're in love with. They should think about us being in love with Jesus, and then, to me, the greatest gift to give them is to love them unconditionally in Jesus, and what's supposed to fall off with fall off. But even if it takes them longer, what choice do we have but to love them unconditionally? Jesus would do that. Remember, Jesus loved people to the end. He even loved Judas to the end.
John Bradshaw: That's right, He did.
Dr. Philip Samaan: And He loved the people who said, "Crucify Him"! to the very end when He was agonizing on the cross, and He prayed for them. And believe it or not, after the Pentecost, at the Spirit-anointed preaching of Peter, many of these things, many of these people who cried, "Crucify Him"! were converted to Jesus Christ. So that gives me hope. I mean, I don't think these people we're talking about are as bad as ones who shout, "Crucify Him"! and relish every bit of pain on His face.
John Bradshaw: Just very quickly, before we go to a break... we have just a few moments... give me some, just some practical, rapid-fire, bullet-point ways to get your young people involved in church in a meaningful way.
Dr. Philip Samaan: I'm so glad you love to minister to young people. At my age...and you're much younger than me.
John Bradshaw: Oh, much.
Dr. Philip Samaan: We're interested in young people, because young people are the future of our church and God's work. They're going to finish the work. Quickly, a few things I mentioned to you, the first thing is, the first thing is, love them genuinely in Jesus. Let them feel that. Let them know that. Let them know. For example, as a teacher, you know, I mean, Christian education is more than giving a lecture.
John Bradshaw: Right.
Dr. Philip Samaan: It's the investment of ourselves in our young people. It, it is not just the cognitive; it's the effective. It's not just the meeting of mind with mind, but heart with heart. Because life the biggest... they have to know that. And that's why I know in my teaching, you know, I want to follow Christ's example of teaching. In this I am accessible. I'm an old-fashioned professor; I make house calls. Does that sound old-fashioned? That means I mingle with students as one desiring their good, and use Christ's approach. I mean, after that, then you discover what their talents is, where their gifts are; you lead them into witnessing. Witnessing, if they really experience leading their classmates to Christ, that's very effective. Provide opportunities to do mission work. When we send our kids overseas, they come back transformed. Because we live in a culture where everything is so provided; everything is so easy... challenge them. Give them a cause bigger than themselves. Send them to Columbia, send them to Honduras, and they come back appreciating Jesus, appreciating the blessings, and, and provide opportunities. And let's not focus on entertainment, okay? Youth ministry used to be defined as entertainment. They have enough entertainment in the world.
John Bradshaw: That's right.
Dr. Philip Samaan: Training. "An army of youth well-trained will finish the work".
John Bradshaw: Yes, it will. And we'll be right back. More with Dr. Samaan and our conversation in just a moment.
John Bradshaw: Thanks for joining me on Conversations. My very special guest is retired professor of religion Dr. Philip Samaan. Just a moment ago, Dr. Samaan, we were talking about youth ministry. But not long after you were involved in full-time youth ministry, you became a full-time missionary located in Africa. You were living in Côte d'Ivoire, the Ivory Coast. What were you doing there?
Dr. Philip Samaan: Côte Abidjan. I, I was working a division office in evangelism in promoting Sabbath school, personal witnessing, uh, to travel into many countries and train people to be able to witness and win souls for Christ.
John Bradshaw: Now, you've, you were in countries where Christianity spread rapidly; the church grew really very impressively. Of course, in the Western countries, the growth is not quite the same. What are some of the factors you believe enable the church in Africa and other parts of the world to grow, whereas perhaps in other countries, developed countries, we lag behind? What did you see there?
Dr. Philip Samaan: These countries that are not developed, or developing, sense their need more keenly for the gospel. In the Western world, we have everything. We hear the gospel all the time, on television, radio, books about it. But there, they appreciate a sermon about the gospel. They appreciate a paper about the gospel. And they take it seriously. And because life doesn't offer them much, and to them, knowing Jesus and being saved and having the hope of seeing Jesus come in the clouds of heaven is exciting to them, because of the alternative. I wish in the Western world we can appreciate the gospel as much as they do.
John Bradshaw: Let me ask you, then, as, as ministers operating in a Western context, you and I and so many others, what do we, what need we do, what should we do to try to cut through... what's going to help us get through that, that self-satisfied life, that materialistic life? How do we reach the Western mind as Westerners live in very challenging conditions?
Dr. Philip Samaan: I wish I could ask you that question. Because that's a challenging question to ask: How do you change a culture? To me, it's not really changing the culture; it's changing lives.
John Bradshaw: Sure.
Dr. Philip Samaan: I want Christ's agent to interact with the world around them, show them how the gospel is real, how it works. I think the other thing is, um, persecution is coming upon us, gradually. Maybe in small ways and later in big ways. I think that would help people feel the need for Christ. Nothing can help people feel the need for the gospel and for them to be anchored spiritually than some challenges we face. And, and even Jesus said, you know... I think the Apostle Paul said it, and that is, those who live a godly life, those who live a transformed life, will suffer persecution. And if we are not being persecuted in one way or the other, maybe we are not living a very committed life for the Lord. You see what I'm saying? And so, that's all I can think of, but it's a big question you're asking me.
John Bradshaw: So do you think we're helping Christians today really understand what a Christian life looks like? Because it does seem that at times we tend to lower the bar. And I don't want to make this anything that sounds like it's righteousness by works, but do you think that we the church, speaking big picture, are doing an adequate job communicating to church members what discipleship really looks like?
Dr. Philip Samaan: Well, you see, I don't think we are, because we focus mostly on maintaining the church, like a club. We become club members, and we're not taught or trained to be body members like the Apostle Paul talked about. So therefore, our main focus, not the whole focus, the main focus is, how many people can we baptize? What happens after baptism? We get excited about it. We feel successful. We don't take enough effort or planning to disciple these converts. Because the great need of the church today is not merely to add members, but to grow and multiply fruit-bearing disciples. After all, didn't Jesus say before He went to heaven, "Go and make disciples"? And you know something, making disciples... I'm sorry, it's regressing to just maintain the church, but we need to focus on making disciples because the great commission, unfortunately, often has become the great omission. There's something we omit. Not in all places, but, you know, people are so busy with their work, we have so many church programs, and we like to have evangelistic meetings and baptize people. What happens afterwards is what I care about, because the great commission should be our priority. It should never be the great omission.
John Bradshaw: And then you found yourself teaching on a college campus.
Dr. Philip Samaan: Yes, sir.
John Bradshaw: What was it like walking into the classroom for the first time? Did you feel like, "This is where I belong"? Or were you thinking, "Oh my goodness, what have I gotten myself into"?
Dr. Philip Samaan: This is where I belong.
John Bradshaw: Oh yeah?
Dr. Philip Samaan: Oh yeah. I see all these young people, fresh faces, intelligent, excited. And here I come to the classroom and say, "Lord, what a privilege You've given me to impact the lives of these young people with so much potential". And I think what helped me is following Christ's method of reaching people.
John Bradshaw: Now, explain that. Explain that.
Dr. Philip Samaan: Well, you know, I mean, in one of my favorite books, "Ministry of Healing," we're told that the great need of the world is for people to see Christ revealed in us. And we're told that Christ's method alone will give us genuine success. And what did He do? "He mingled with people as one who desired their good". By the way, "desired their good," for altruistic motives, not ulterior motives, that's very important. When young people know you're genuine, and the next thing you do is listen and sympathize and empathize. The third thing you do is you meet their needs, felt needs and then real needs. And then you win their trust. Oh, a lot of things can happen when you win people's trust, and then you have the chance to share Jesus with them as their Savior, and Lord, Someone to love and obey, and after they follow Jesus, you train them to be fishers of men. And we're told, if you follow this method, with prayer and God's love, it can never fail.
John Bradshaw: Let me ask you this. What did you enjoy teaching? What, what did you most enjoy, not about teaching, but what did you most enjoy teaching?
Dr. Philip Samaan: Well, you know, I teach a class on life and teachings of Jesus. I mean, that's my favorite class because my favorite person is Jesus.
John Bradshaw: Mm-hmm.
Dr. Philip Samaan: And that's why I told you right now I'm writing a book about the Middle East Messiah, the cultural perspectives of His life and teachings, to, to approach some of these big ideas that we don't see because we mostly focus on the surface. So that's the class I love the most.
John Bradshaw: Let me ask you this now. And I'm asking this on behalf of teachers everywhere. What did you...you've spoken about loving kids and getting beside them in the cafeteria and, and so forth. What did you do? What do you try to do? What do you rely on? What techniques did you have to make you a successful teacher?
Dr. Philip Samaan: Well, that's an easy question to answer. All your questions are easy. Follow Christ's example of teaching. You know, we send our people to Ivy League universities to learn about teaching. People come to me and say, "Where did you learn how to teach this way"? I said, "Go, go no further than Jesus". Wouldn't it be amazing, John, if our teachers are taught to teach like Jesus? Because He's the master teacher.
John Bradshaw: So explain to me what it is to teach like Jesus.
Dr. Philip Samaan: Oh. Well, we just finished talking about His approach. What's His approach? Mingling with people. Wouldn't it be wonderful if students and faculty mingled together? That, that's like a lost art, John. People look at this and say, "Is that possible"? Of course it's possible. "You mean you eat with your students in the cafeteria"? Why not? "What do you say to them"? I mean, it's something that puzzles people. But it's really common sense. You know that? But today things become so complicated and specialized that common sense is not common anymore. So they look at this way of teaching and they think, you know, you have to go to a big university to learn that. Oh, no, just learn from Jesus. Keep it simple. Learn from Jesus.
John Bradshaw: Has it become more challenging over the years to teach college students?
Dr. Philip Samaan: Oh, well, not for me, because I use the same approach. You know, I mean, it might be challenging, but God gives us more grace to meet the new challenge.
John Bradshaw: Now that you're not in the classroom, do you miss it? Have you had time to miss it yet?
Dr. Philip Samaan: I miss it. I honestly miss it.
John Bradshaw: I was astonished that you, that you retired. I said, "He'll never retire".
Dr. Philip Samaan: Well, I astonished myself, too. But, you know, praying about it, the Lord impressed me, because I just mentioned to you, to you my age. I don't want to mention it again.
John Bradshaw: No, of course not.
Dr. Philip Samaan: But, I keep very busy, because I still teach a course now and then. Plus, I walk on campus. The leaders on campus told me, "Come here any time you want. We don't believe you retired". So, you know something, if I go there at 10 o'clock in the morning, I make so many friends with people and students and faculty and staff, that they talk to me. And if I'm not careful, I would miss my lunch and supper because I'm walking on campus, in people's office praying, visiting, and 10 o'clock in the evening comes, and I look at my watch and say, "I can't believe it. I've been here for 12 hours".
John Bradshaw: You've referred several times to teaching Christ's way.
Dr. Philip Samaan: Yes.
John Bradshaw: Using Christ's method.
Dr. Philip Samaan: Yes.
John Bradshaw: Doing, uh, doing things God's way.
Dr. Philip Samaan: Yes.
John Bradshaw: And I know you've written a series of books, an excellent series of book, of books, Christ's Way. So when we come back...
Dr. Philip Samaan: Yes.
John Bradshaw: ...we're gonna talk about your motivation, uh, for writing those books and, uh, how you feel God has used those books to make a difference in people's lives. More with Dr. Philip Samaan on Conversations right ahead.
John Bradshaw: Welcome back to Conversations. I'm John Bradshaw. My guest is Dr. Philip Samaan. Dr. Samaan, in ministry and teaching and mission work and youth ministry and more, you have had a, a varied career. But over the last number of years, um, you've spent a little time working as an author. You've written six or seven books, uh, your Christ's Way to... series. Where did the idea for that come from? "Christ's Way to Pray," Christ's Way to... where did, where did that come from?
Dr. Philip Samaan: Because, John, there are so many ways today to do things, so I felt convicted as a young pastor to focus on Christ's way. Why? Because He is the way, the truth, and the life. We cannot get better than that. So I felt impressed that the greatest spiritual need of our church is to help people become Christ-like. Wouldn't that be wonderful if we teach our people to become Christ-like?
John Bradshaw: There would be no problems if we did things...
Dr. Philip Samaan: So that's my way to teach.
John Bradshaw: ...the way Jesus did them.
Dr. Philip Samaan: 'Cause there is no better way.
John Bradshaw: Sure. "Christ's Way to Pray," one of your books. What is Christ's way to pray? I don't, I don't want to short-circuit the process, so you, you, you will want to buy the book, but, for example, "Christ's Way to Pray".
Dr. Philip Samaan: Well, the focus of the book is how we can take our measly prayers, unite them to Jesus' mighty prayers, how to take our puny faith and indite it with Jesus' powerful faith. So this way our prayer life can be empowered by the life of Jesus.
John Bradshaw: Do you think people are, are experiencing the power of God in their lives? The average person in the, in the pews of the average church? Where do you put that... I know this is a very subjective question... but on the scale between "dead" to "white-hot," uh, in one's faith in God, where do you think the average church member is? Average.
Dr. Philip Samaan: Average?
John Bradshaw: Mm-hmm.
Dr. Philip Samaan: Well, somewhere in the middle, John, or toward the side of lukewarmness. And in lukewarmness is something biblical, you know.
John Bradshaw: Yeah.
Dr. Philip Samaan: That Jesus wants us to be hot for Him.
John Bradshaw: Now, in terms of prayer, you've written about this; therefore you've engaged many people in conversation about this.
Dr. Philip Samaan: Yes.
John Bradshaw: What do you think the frustrations are that those average Christians, or, or we as, as Christians, all of us, are coming up against when it comes to prayer?
Dr. Philip Samaan: They become frustrated, because they're focusing on their weakness. They're focusing on their weak prayers, feeble faith, and when they know that they can join Jesus in this sacred venture of prayer, they tell me they become really energized, empowered. They become excited. "I'm not praying all by myself". "It's a lonely experience. I want to join Jesus". And isn't that exciting to know when you pray for somebody, you're not the only one praying for them? That Jesus is joining you in praying for them. That gets them excited because it gives them hope beyond what's around them.
John Bradshaw: I'm not going to ask you if people pray enough. None of us do, and most people certainly don't. Uh, what's keeping us from praying like we should? What are the hindrances to prayer, and what can people do about those?
Dr. Philip Samaan: Because we expect our prayers to be answered in the way we want it, in the time we want it.
John Bradshaw: But, but shouldn't we? Jesus said, "If you ask anything in my name, I will do it". So I want a shiny red sports car and, uh, it'd be good to have it before the end of the week.
Dr. Philip Samaan: But just the text you quoted gives the answer: "If you ask anything in my name, I will do it". We, we're not going to do it. He's going to do it. And He's wise enough to know how to do it and when to do it. So when I pray, all I do, pray in faith; then I avail myself to His answer. He is wise enough, loving enough to apply it whenever He wants. And I discover in my life that's the best way anyway.
John Bradshaw: Always the best way. I think it, it, it appears to me that too many people have been taught that God and Santa Claus are much the same. If you just sit on God's knee and ask Him for a train set, you will soon have one under the tree. And God is far too wise to treat us like that.
Dr. Philip Samaan: You know what I call this, John? When it's a Santa Claus kind of prayer, is we're so used to the if-yes prayer. If I pray, Jesus, yes, Jesus will give me that. But we need to learn these last days more the if-not prayer. "If not"...that's the greatest level of prayer. The three Hebrew friends when they're challenged by Nebuchadnezzar, you know, "Who is going to be the God who is going to snatch out of my hands"? They said, "We know He can do it, but even if He doesn't"...
John Bradshaw: Even if He doesn't.
Dr. Philip Samaan: ..."we still trust in Him". That's the kind of faith we need. That's the kind of faith God wants to teach us in these last days.
John Bradshaw: Amen. Amen. Tell me about another book or two in the time we have left.
Dr. Philip Samaan: Well, we mentioned already "Christ's Way of Reaching People". That's Christ's method.
John Bradshaw: Sure.
Dr. Philip Samaan: And I, I mentioned to you steps, you know, another book that's really, um, ministering to people is "Christ Way of Affirmation".
John Bradshaw: Yeah. Tell me about that. That's an intriguing title.
Dr. Philip Samaan: We're not very affirming people, and we're very critical.
John Bradshaw: And it's not getting any better either.
Dr. Philip Samaan: Right! And I'm saying, look at Jesus' example. Jesus was the kind of person who was very affirming and encouraging. He specializes in encouragement. The devil specializes in discouragement. So I thought to myself, you know, let us share with people how Jesus encourages people.
John Bradshaw: Give me an example of that.
Dr. Philip Samaan: You have a student come into my office who has an F. If anybody gets an F in my class, that, that's really a miracle. I mean, that's an impossible thing to do. So he comes to me with a problem. I say, "You know, John, I know you. I eat with you in the café. I visit in your room. We've walked together on campus. Thank God He gave you a very good mind". "No, I don't have a good mind. Otherwise I don't get an F". "No, the problem is nobody is helping you use your mind the right way". "Well, who's going to do it"? "That's what I'm here for, as your teacher". He said, "Well, Dr. Samaan, every time I want to do well, the voice of my father tells me, 'You will never make it. I wish you were not born.'" I said, "Yes, you've been hearing this all your life. Now let's listen to another voice, the voice of your heavenly Father. What does He say about you"? "I don't know". "Let me tell you. He said, 'My thoughts toward you are thoughts of good, not evil, to have hope and a future for you.'" And he said, "Well, how do I do it? I'm willing to do it". I said, "You're smart. I know you'll do it. I'm going to call you this evening and review with you for the quiz. I'll keep reviewing you every week. I'll call you on the phone, and we'll review it together. And I know you're going to get a good grade". Thank God, the next time we had a quiz, he got 100 percent. And then there's a difference. In the book I talk about affirmation versus flattery.
John Bradshaw: Mm-hmm.
Dr. Philip Samaan: Satan counterfeits everything that Christ is about. So he counterfeits Christ's genuine affirmation with his foolish flattery. The Bible's against flattery. So you say, how do you do it? Let's say Brittney had special music Friday evening for vespers. Beautiful voice. And I could, uh, I could flatter her by saying, "You know something, Brittney, you have the sweetest voice in the world". ...my flattery won't do you good, any good, because it's not true. She's not the best voice in the world. This way, how we do it, I always start with God. "Brittney, I heard you sing tonight". "Yes, Dr. Samaan"? "Well, let me tell you something, I'm so thankful to God, thankful to God"...
John Bradshaw: Yes.
Dr. Philip Samaan: ..."who gave you such a gift, and that He allows you to use it to bless me and many others". The only response she can give me is, "Praise God".
John Bradshaw: That's right.
Dr. Philip Samaan: In affirmation we have to give credit to God.
John Bradshaw: Now, you've recently embarked on a...and I think you're getting towards the end of writing a, another book, a book with a little bit of a difference, this one. Talk to me about that.
Dr. Philip Samaan: Well, you mentioned earlier in the interview I was born in the Middle East in Syria. We call these lands the Bible lands. And so I'm familiar with the culture. And I've been teaching this class, Life and Teachings of Jesus, for many years. And I realize in our Western mindset, we're just often satisfied with the surface, because we don't have the culture to help us dig deeper. So in this book we'll be looking beyond the surface and looking at Jesus' life and teachings from this cultural perspective.
John Bradshaw: A young person comes to you and says, "Dr. Samaan, I don't know what God's will is for my life". How, how have you advised young people who have asked you that?
Dr. Philip Samaan: Hmm, that's a good question. I get asked this question so many times, so many times. Uh, the promise I use, I start with a promise. And the promise is in Proverbs 3:5 and 6.
John Bradshaw: Mm-hmm.
Dr. Philip Samaan: It all has to do with trust. "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, ...lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He [will] direct your paths". Now, this is a wonderful promise, and how do you apply it? Okay, so how I apply it? I befriend them. You see, I have to help them be safe with me...to be themselves. So I walk with them; I eat with them, invite them to my home. And I interview, ask them all kinds of questions. "What is it you like to do? What do you enjoy doing? Do you like to..."? All kinds of things, and it takes time. But eventually the Lord leads them to where their niche is. Because some of them are interested to do so many things. Some of them would like to major in five things, 10 things. I say to them, "In this world we need to focus on one thing, to enjoy ourselves and our ministry, to make a living. But wait, when Jesus comes, you will specialize in anything you want". So it takes a lot of conversation, a lot of investment, a lot of listening. But I know God has a plan for the student, and I know if I'm patient enough and willing to really get to know them, something will surface, and we'll work with that.
John Bradshaw: You've had a remarkable career in ministry, and it is far from over in spite of retirement. And you have blessed us by joining me here today and sharing much of what God has placed on your heart. Dr. Philip Samaan, thank you very much. I appreciate it.
Dr. Philip Samaan: The blessing is mutual. I appreciate this talking to you, John.
John Bradshaw: And thank you for joining us. It has been fun. He is Dr. Philip Samaan. I am John Bradshaw. This has been our conversation. See you next time.