Saturday, June 30, 2018

The Great Commission and the Complacency of the Church

On May 12, 1792 William Carey published a little pamphlet entitled, An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens. By God’s grace, his words inspired the modern missionary movement, and by God’s grace, I’m praying that they will inspire a fresh passion for global missions at Glory of Christ.

Carey begins with the words of Jesus: “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15). While Jesus’ words are clear, the church in Carey’s day had by-and-large come to believe that they had done enough to create a gospel-momentum in the world that would cause the gospel to spread throughout the rest of the world. Therefore, many key leaders believed that their focus ought to be on reaching their own people, and that they ought to leave global evangelism to the Lord alone.

But this logic did not satisfy Carey and thus he argued, “As our blessed Lord has required us to pray that His kingdom may come, and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven, it becomes us not only to express our desires of that event by the word, but to use every lawful method to spread the knowledge of his name.” Accordingly, Carey argued that the church should strive to be acquainted with the state of the nations of the world so that we’ll be moved to action by the words of Jesus, and by the very heart of Jesus for the nations. The presence of this compassion in our hearts, he urged, is a proof that the character and heart of God are at work in the lives of his people.

With this, Carey rehearsed the gospel, beginning with Adam and Eve, then moving to the flood, Abraham, and the formation of Israel. He argued that from the beginning, God’s intention has been to undo the power and persuasiveness of the devil by sending Jesus Christ into the world to live a righteous life, die a heinous death, raise from the dead, and send his church into the world with the gospel on their lips.

But while the Lord had been sending his people into the world for many centuries by all possible and legal means, “a considerable part of mankind [were] still involved in all the darkness of heathenism” and the church of Carey’s day was not entering heartily into the command of the Lord so that this situation might change. “Some think little about it, others are unacquainted with the state of the world, and others love their wealth better than they should of their fellow creatures.” In light of the Lord’s command and the church’s complacency, Carey went on to argue that the Great Commission still applied to the modern church and that they should indeed go into all the world. 
 
But before we consider his plea, we would do well to pause and ponder the state of our own hearts before the Lord regarding his Great Commission. Do we understand his commission? Do we have more passion for our lives in the world or for the nations of the world?

Saturday, June 23, 2018

William Carey: A Heart on Fire


Despite all odds, William Carey (1761-1834) developed a great burden for global missions when he was still a young man. Although he was a Baptist, he had come under the influence of the Moravians and had become convinced that his own denomination lacked passion for and commitment to both local and global evangelism.

Shortly after he was ordained as a minister of the gospel, Carey shared his burden with some Baptist leaders. His plea was not well received. In fact, one of the older ministers interrupted his plea and rebuked him, saying, “Young man, sit down! You are an enthusiast. When God pleases to convert the heathen, he’ll do it without consulting you or me.”

This experience profoundly troubled Carey, and thus he began to pray about how he might articulate his thoughts so as to turn skepticism into passion, and complacency into sacrificial action. His passion was God’s passion, and nothing would be able to suppress it. To the contrary, the fire that had engulfed his heart would soon engulf much of the evangelical church in the West.

As Carey prayerfully organized his thoughts, he came to write a little pamphlet entitled, An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens. It was published on May 12, 1792 and many missiologists argue that it was the primary means God used to inspire the modern missionary movement. Not content with words alone, Carey also organized a missionary society and spoke these famous words at its inaugural meeting: “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God!” Carey uttered these words as a Calvinist, and as one who believed that God ordains the means as well as the ends of missions.

The editors of the periodical Christian History conclude, “His greatest legacy was in the worldwide missionary movement of the nineteenth century that he inspired. Missionaries like Adoniram Judson, Hudson Taylor, and David Livingstone, among thousands of others, were impressed not only by Carey’s example, but by his words, ‘Expect great things; attempt great things.’ The history of nineteenth-century Protestant missions is in many ways an extended commentary on the phrase” (www.christianitytoday.com/history/people/missionaries/william-carey.html). 
 
Over the next eleven weeks I’ll be writing a series of devotionals on his little pamphlet for Glory of Christ Fellowship and then posting them here. I urge you to search for this pamphlet and read it. May the Lord use Carey to set our hearts on fire for his global mission in the world!

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Why We Must Preach the Word


In his book, The Calling of the Ministry (Banner of Truth, Carlisle, PA: 2002), William Perkins (1558-1602) gives a compelling argument for why pastors must preach the Word of God. Here he employs the word “angel” to mean “messenger,” which in the Greek language is its basic meaning. He writes: “You must understand your duty: prophets and ministers are angels; that is the very nature of their calling. Therefore, you must preach God’s Word, as God’s Word, and deliver it just as you received it. Angels, ambassadors, and messengers do not carry their own message, but the message of the lords and masters who sent them. Similarly, ministers carry the message of the Lord of hosts, and are therefore bound to deliver is as the Lord’s, not as their own" (85, emphasis mine).

If Perkins is right, and I think he is, then the “Doctor Phil with Bible verses” method of preaching which is so popular among evangelical churches today seems a great danger for at least two reasons. First, it is disobedient to the God who commands his leaders to preach his Word for the glory of his name and the good of his people. Second, it is harmful to God’s people, for our souls are meant to be nourished by the words of our Father as they are preached by our shepherds in the power of the Holy Spirit.

So instead of following the powerful tide in evangelicalism that is moving away from the straightforward preaching and teaching of the Bible, we ought to heed the simple and emphatic words of Paul to Timothy:

"I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry" (2 Timothy 4:1-5).

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Wolves and the Word


Lately I’ve been re-reading a book by William Perkins entitled, The Art of Prophesying (Banner of Truth, Carlisle, PA: 2002). Perkins was a late sixteenth-century Puritan (1558-1602) who had an “enormous impact on generations of preachers” (foreword, vii). In the preface of the book he writes, “In keeping with its dignity, preaching has a two-fold value: (1) It is instrumental in gathering the church and bringing together all of the elect; (2) It drives away wolves from the folds of the Lord. Preaching is the flexanima, the allurer of the soul, by which our self-willed minds are subdued and changed from an ungodly and pagan life-style to a life of Christian faith and repentance. It is also the weapon which has shaken the foundations of ancient heresies, and also, more recently cut to pieces the sinews of the Antichrist.”

I was particularly struck by the idea that one of the chief functions of preaching the Word of God is to drive away the wolves and shake the foundations of ancient heresies. If this is true, then the opposite is also true: when the church exchanges the Word of God for politics, right or left, or psychology or sociology or anything else, it invites the wolves into its fold and sooner or later they will kill their prey.

So, how did the evangelical church come to distance itself from the straightforward preaching of the Bible in our day? The answer probably does not boil down to one factor, but I think that the main factor this: in the 1980s, much of the evangelical church exchanged the preaching of the Word of God for psychologically-based, felt-needs, topical messages. Instead of the Word of God being the meat of the church, it became the “book of quotes” that was used to prop up the points of the message and set up cute stories, alluring illustrations, and movie clips. And because the Word of God was not there to drive the wolves away, they have settled in and are sinking their teeth into their prey even as we speak.

In this way, many evangelicals have become so biblically illiterate and theologically ignorant that they cannot even spot heresy, and what is worse, when they do, their souls do not grieve over it and their mouths do not war against it. In fact, they sometimes argue for it and prop it up with conferences, coalitions, and a variety of resources. O Beloved, how desperate a time is this? Let us not pit church growth against the Word of God but rather let us appeal to the lost by the Word of God. Let us feed the sheep, allure souls to worship, and drive the wolves away with that great Sword of the Spirit.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

The Glory of Christ and the Letter to the Hebrews


Gaining sight of the glory of Christ is the key to everything in life. As the Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 3:16-18, “But when one turns to the Lord, the veil [that covered Moses’ face] is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. [Freedom for what?] And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

Christ set us free that we might see his glory, and that by seeing his glory we might be transformed into his image. This incremental dynamic is most often called sanctification, and it will come to its appointed end when those who believe in Jesus see him face to face. As the Apostle John wrote, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him [Jesus]. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he [Jesus] appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:1-2).

The unrestricted sight of the glory of Christ will radically transform our minds, hearts, and bodies so that we will become like the one we behold. We will never be Jesus, for he is God and we are not, but in some profound sense we who believe in Jesus will be like him when we are fully exposed to his glory.

For now, the will of God is that we would behold more of the glory of Christ each day and thus become more like Christ each day. Each new advance in the comprehension of Jesus is custom designed by our Father to shape us into the image of Jesus.

The primary way we gain a clearer sight of the glory of Christ is by meditating on the Word of God, not the least of which is the Letter to the Hebrews. For while this great letter is known for its theological depth and richness, that depth and richness is intended to help us see Jesus, worship Jesus, and become like Jesus.

To help the people of Glory of Christ Fellowship delight in this awesome Letter, we invited Mark Beck of Josiah's Hope to come and quote the entire text from memory - yes, from memory! You can listen to it at www.gcfmn.org/resources/sermons. Look for the message given on June 3, 2018.

May the Lord inspire you to memorize the Scripture as you listen to Mark, and may he reveal his glory to you!

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Global Missions: Some Definitions, Stats, and Action Points


What is a People Group?

For evangelistic purposes, a people group is the largest group within which the gospel can spread as a church planting movement without encountering barriers of understanding or acceptance. An Unreached People Group is a people group within which there is no indigenous community of believing Christians able to evangelize this people group.

How Many People Groups are in the World?

World Population: approximately 7.6 billion
People Groups by Language: 10,900
People Groups by Language and Ethnicity: 13,000
People Groups by Language, Ethnicity, and Affinity: 24,000
Unreached People Groups: 7,078 (41.6% of the population)

How Shall We Reach Them?

We must proclaim the gospel by the power of God to the nations of the world in the following ways (developed by Dr. Ralph Winter):



What Can We Do?

1.  Pray to the Father in Jesus’ Name
2.  Learn about Global Missions
3.  Educate Others
4.  Serve in Practical Ways
5.  Give of Your Resources
6.  Go to the Nations

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Armor of God – The Christian Life is a Life of War

Last Tuesday I provided a summary of the Letter to the Ephesians and thus tried to put the latter half of Ephesians 6 in its proper context. In this entry I want to make a case for envisioning the Christian life as a life of war, and the Christian as a warrior. Let’s consider five texts.  

1. Ephesians 6:10-20. In this passage, the Apostle Paul uses the imagery of armor and weaponry. Why would he do that unless he intended for us to dress ourselves for war and fight? Can you imagine a marine taking the time to put on the whole armor of a marine and then just going to the grocery store to buy a gallon of milk? Wouldn’t that be absurd? You don’t need body armor, an M-16, a handgun, a knife, grenades, and mace to buy a gallon of milk!

However, you do need those things to fight a war or to stand up to an enemy, and the same holds true for Christians. The reason we need to put on the whole armor of God and take up the sword of the Spirit is not so that we can settle into a comfortable, middle-class American lifestyle. That would be as absurd as a marine getting fully outfitted just to buy a gallon of milk! No, the reason we need to put on the whole armor of God and take up the sword of the Spirit is so that we can engage in war. To be a Christian is to be a warrior, and therefore one of the main points of Ephesians 6:10-20 is that we must learn to rise up in Christ and fight with all our might!

2. Second Corinthians 10:3-6. The Apostle Paul writes, “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.” Again, this language makes no sense if Paul is being merely metaphorical. However, he’s not being merely metaphorical and one of the ways we know that is how he describes his own life in 2 Corinthians 11:23-31:

“Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying.”

Friends, this is a description of a warrior, and so I say again that there is no way Paul is being merely metaphorical when he explicitly takes up the language of war. He means precisely what he says. Now, that doesn’t mean all Christians are called to go through the things Paul went through, but it does mean that all Christians are called to put on the whole armor of God and take up the sword of the Spirit and wage war according to the Spirit. To be a Christian is to be a warrior and therefore we must learn to rise up in Christ and fight with all our might!

3. First Thessalonians 5:1-11. The Apostle Paul writes, “Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.”

With these words, Paul is highlighting the urgency of the war we’re in, an urgency that arises from and is sustained by the reality of the coming Day in which Jesus Christ will return physically and visibly to this world. However, this time he will come not to make atonement for sins, but to judge all peoples and bring all things to their appointed end. Paul means for meditation on this Day to have at least two effects on our souls. First, he wants it to strike a rightful fear of the Lord into our hearts so that we will pursue holiness and Christ-likeness. Second, he wants it to grip us with a sense of the urgency of the war we’re in. It’s been so long since Jesus first came to the earth that we might be tempted to think he’s not coming back at all, or at least not in our lifetimes. But the truth is that the Lord always keeps his word, although he doesn’t work on our timetables. He could come back at any moment and we would do well to meditate on and feel the force of this fact.

Now, why would Paul raise these issues in this manner if the battle we’re facing is merely metaphorical? Why would he tell the Thessalonians that, since they’ve put on the helmet of salvation and the breastplate of faith and love, they are no longer subject to the wrath of God, which is the final and terrible cost of this war we’re in? Why would he go on to give them several commandments in verses 11-22, each of which is tantamount to an instruction for war? If Paul is not talking about an actual war in which Christians warriors in the Lord, then none of his words make sense.

Friends, in this text, Paul is trying to woo us off the bench and into the battle by helping us see the reality of the second coming of Christ. To be a Christian is to be a warrior and therefore we must learn to rise up in Christ and fight with all our might!

4. First Timothy 6:11-16. “But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen” (emphasis mine).  

Paul says many things to Timothy in these few verses, but it can all be summed up in these words: in light of the reality of Christ, fight the good fight of the faith! Do not be passive. Do not be timid. Do not be lazy. Do not be self-indulgent. Rather, put on the whole armor of God and be an aggressive Christian! Pursue the right things. Take hold of eternal life. Keep the commandments of the Lord unstained and free from reproach. Fight, Timothy, fight!

Now, why would Paul speak to Timothy like in this way if he were not engaged in an actual battle? And why would the Lord have preserved these words for us if we were not engaged in an actual battle? To be a Christian is to be a warrior and therefore we must learn to rise up in Christ and fight with all our might!  

5. Second Timothy 4:6-7. These are among Paul’s last words to Timothy as he was nearing the end of his life: “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (emphasis mine). Paul, as a faithful man of God, had come to the end of his life, and as he looked back over it and searched for words to describe it, what came to his mind was this: “I have fought the good fight!” Why? Because that’s the way a warrior thinks and speaks. That’s the kind of language a warrior uses when he reflects on his life. That’s the way a warrior inspires the next generations, namely, by humbly displaying himself as an example of the way they should live. And again, none of this makes sense unless Paul thinks we Christians are actually engaged in a war. Beloved, to be a Christian is to be a warrior and therefore we must learn to rise up in Christ and fight with all our might!

Some of you may be wondering why I’ve gone to such lengths to establish this point. I have two reasons. First, believe it or not, some Christians deny that we’re in a battle and that we must fight with all our might. They argue that Christ has done it all for us and that there’s nothing left for us to do but rest in him. Of course, there’s some truth to this but the work of Christ on our behalf does not mean that we have no part to play. Indeed, the Lord has clearly commanded us at several points to live as warriors and apply everything at our disposal for the sake of his glory and our salvation. In addition to the ones we’ve already considered, the Apostle Paul masterfully balances our part and God’s part in Philippians 2:12-13. I encourage you to slow down and truly savor this text.

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling [you do this, you take up the armor of God, you fight for it—but then verse 13], for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” So it’s true that God has accomplished all things for us in Christ and that he deserves all the glory for this fact. And it’s true that by his mercy he’s given us a part to play, so we must learn to rise up and fight.

The second reason I went to such great lengths to establish this point is because if what I’m saying is true, the implications of these things for our lives are far reaching and serious. If you are in Christ and you spend the next several weeks meditating on the teaching of Ephesians 6:10-20 with me, I cannot imagine that you will come to the conclusion that your life can remain as it is. Even if you’re already a stalwart warrior, even if you’re trained and skilled and practiced in the art of spiritual warfare, you’re going to find things in your life that need to be improved and shifted about or done away with. You will not be able to be remain true to the Word of God and remain as you are.

And if you’re on the opposite end of the scale—if you’re a lazy, self-indulgent, bench-warming, unskilled, flabby warrior, then this teaching is going to call for radical change in your life. This teaching is going to call you, unapologetically, to come out from the world, to take up your cross daily, to die to yourself, to enter into boot-camp, and to become disciplined and skilled and practiced in the art of spiritual warfare.

Now, most likely, the majority of us are somewhere in the middle of the scale between a stalwart warrior and a flabby warrior. This implies that Ephesians 6:10-20 will be both encouraging and challenging to us. It will strengthen us and call on us to change. It will enliven us and call on us to die to ourselves. It will affirm us and call on us to loosen our grip on money, possessions, habits, and even people that are near and dear to us.  

Friends, when a Pastor like me is compelled to call the people of God to difficult things like these because he’s trying to be faithful to the Word of God, he’d better do so carefully. He’d better guard himself against legalism and self-righteousness on the one side, and liberalism and fear of men on the other. He’d better stay close to the Lord by staying close to his Word. And in short, this is why I took so much time to establish the fact that the Christian life is war and Christians are warriors.

Now, as challenging as is this call, the good news is this: when we follow the will and ways of the Lord, we discover true joy in the Lord. When we choose to die to ourselves by the grace of Christ, we find the path to life in Christ. When we choose the narrow way, we find the broadest pleasures in Christ. So, by his grace and for his glory, let’s submit ourselves to his words in Ephesians 6:10-20 and allow him to transform us into the kind of warriors he’s destined us to be.

Our Father, thank you for causing us to know and calling us to fight with all our might by your strength and for your glory. Persuade us with your truth, empower us by your Spirit, and cause us to become what you have destined us to be in Christ. We praise you for how you will transform us, for we ask this in the powerful and patient name of Jesus Christ, amen.