Saturday, May 31, 2008

Please Pray for my Book

Probably only a few of you know that I am working on a book. I wrote about half of it five or six years ago when I abruptly shifted from topical preaching to expositional or verse-by-verse preaching. The book is about this change, and many significant issues related thereto.

My publisher, Xulon Press, wants the manuscript by September or October if possible, so I plan to work hard on it over the summer--starting today. I am dedicating 8 or 10 hours to writing today and I'd sure appreciate it if you'd pray for me. The world doesn't need more books for the sake of having more books--but it desperately needs books that are soaked in the wisdom and glory of God. Pray that the Lord will allow this book to be like that.

Here's the outline, in case you're interested. I can't get this blog to format the outline as I want it, so sorry about that and thanks for praying.


Part One: On Topical Preaching

1. What is Topical Preaching?

2. There is a Way that Seems Right to a Man: My Journey with Felt-Needs Topical Preaching

3. Testing the Spirits: Several Problems with Felt-Needs Topical Preaching

4. A Benevolent Providence: The Birth of a Preacher

Part Two: On Expositional Preaching

5. What is Expositional Preaching?

6. Like a Tree Planted by Streams of Water: On the Beauty and Benefits of Expositional Preaching—Part I

7. Like a Tree Planted by Streams of Water: On the Beauty and Benefits of Expositional Preaching—Part II

8. Blessed is the Man Who Delights in the Law of the Lord: On the Joy of Expositional Preaching

Part Three: Five Essential Elements of Expositional Preaching

9. Why Some Expositional Sermons Flop and Others Fly

10. Sharper than a Two-Edged Sword: Preaching the Actual Words of God

11. Pray without Ceasing: Communion with Christ and Power in Preaching

12. Without Which no one Will See the Lord: Holiness of Life and Fruitfulness in Preaching

13. Feed My Sheep: Learning to Love the Flock of God

14. God Will not be Mocked: Hard Work and the Joy of the Harvest

Part Four: On Developing Expositional Sermons

15. Preparing the Way of the Lord: Finding the Balance Between Discipline and Spontaneity

16. Rightly Dividing the Word of God: Discerning What the Text Says and What it Means

17. Shepherding the Flock of God: Discerning How the Text Relates to the Issues, Challenges, and Circumstances of God’s People

18. What Shall I Say? Discerning How Best to Communicate God’s Word to God’s People

19. We Always Pray for You: Finishing Well by Praying for the Flock of God—Again

Epilogue: Let the Little Children Come to Me: Why I Love Preaching to Children

Appendix: On the Term Pastor-Teacher in Ephesians 4:11

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Disintegration of the Self

This morning I read David Well's chapter on the self, aptly titled Self. I was most impressed with his thoughts about what happens to the self when the center is lost, or more precisely, when the ability to perceive and orient around the true Center, Almighty God, is lost. I quote him at length:

"The most starling consequence of this therapeutic [turn toward the self], many authors are observing, is that our self begins to disintegrate. When the universe loses its center or, to be more precise, when the center is lost to us as something outside ourselves that has the authority to reach into our lives, we ourselves begin to disintegrate. Many of these writers have not seen this connection, but they do see the disintegration of the self. The self that has been made to bear the weight of being the center of all reality, the source of all our meaning, mystery, and morality, find that it has become empty and fragile. When God dies to us, we die in ourselves. That is the connection we need to see, and it has become especially aggravated in the context of our (post)modern world. So many modern writers are seeing, as I have noted, that the postmodern self has become 'minimal,' 'decentered,' 'enfeebled,' 'empty,' and 'depleted.'

"It is a curious thing that the evangelical church in the West has been willing to follow the self movement down this path so uncritically. The self movement, after all, is the very symbol of our collective emptiness and insecurity. Only the hungry, after all, are always thinking about food. Those who are not deprived think about other things. Only the unhappy are constantly preoccupied with happiness, only those haunted by their own self-emptiness are always searching for something to fill the self. Redefining evangelicalism in terms of the self, in terms of the self having spiritual experiences, finding itself, satisfying itself, fulfilling itself, has everything to do with our culture and nothing to do with Christ" (165-66).

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Sin and the Assertion that "the Center Cannot Hold"

I took a course in college called "Integrated Humanities." It was a fascinating course because we simultaneously studied western history, religion, philosophy, art, and music. In fact, there were five instructors for the course, each an expert in one of these fields.

I remember getting to the chapter on the beginning of the twentieth-century which was entitled The Center Cannot Hold. The point was, and is, that the idea of God could not hold up under the pressure of the development of the western mind and that God could no longer be considered the ultimate reality to which all other realities submitted, and in which all other realities derived their meaning.

And what is more, no other idea would be able to take the privileged place of God and thus give stability to the superstructures of being and society. Because "the center could not hold," older systems of logic, reasoning, and otherwise making sense of existence imploded and we were left with nothing but ourselves. No longer was there an ultimate external reality to which we could relate ourselves, and from which we could derive meaning.

This crisis in western philosophy, at one level, is real and has been devastating. What I mean is that this is more than philosophical mish-mash; the leading secular minds of the last century are convinced that these things are so and thus have drawn disastrous implications for religion, society, morality, war, hope, and many other things. After all, if there is no ultimate reality and no ultimate meaning and we're truly left with nothing but ourselves, how can there possibly be a basis for religion, society, morality, and the rest?

But David Wells, in his book The Courage to be Protestant (Eerdmans, 2008), makes the argument that the center did in fact hold but that sin has obscured our ability to see it. "The biblical answer explains why all of life has become disordered. As the twenty-first century is beginning in the West, part of that disorder is the sense that life has no center, that it is adrift, and that it has no meaning. This answer, which explains all of this, is sin. And this is the normative answer. It does not change. This, in every age, is the answer that explains life's disorders...

"The biblical answer about why we have lost our center is rather straightforward. The center has not been lost. What has been lost is our ability to see it, to recognize it, to bow before it, to reorder our lives in light of it, to do what we should do as people who live in the presence of this center, this Other, this triune, holy-loving God of the Bible. For we start our life's journey on the alternative premise that he is not there, or that he has not spoken, or that he does not care. We do not reckon on his providential and moral presence. We begin life as if life were empty and without a center and as if we were empowered by our choices to make of life what we will. And so we create our own center, we create our own rules, and we make our own meaning. All of this springs from an alternative center in the universe. It is ourselves" (pgs. 99-100).

With these words Wells simultaneously acknowledges that the center has shifted in the West but that the true Center has not in fact shifted at all. He acknowledges the realities that have plagued the west for over ten decades now but affirms the fact that the solution to this plague is repentance, a turning back to the God of the Bible who is there.

Of course, this turning will take nothing short of a miracle. So let us pray that our great and gracious God will unveil the eyes of those who have been blinded from seeing the light of the glory of God in the face of Christ. "And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:3-6).

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

David Wells, Truth, & Treason

I had a very relaxing and nourishing day off yesterday. I finished reading 2 Samuel, I finished reading John MacArthur's book The Gospel According to Jesus (which I highly recommend by the way), and I started reading David Well's book The Courage to be Protestant (Eerdmans, 2008). The title may or may not flip your switch, but if you are at all interested in the slide away from truth and toward "what works" in evangelicalism today then you must read this book. It is one of the most incisive, and yet readable, critiques of the church growth and emergent movements that I have read to date.

This morning I read his chapter on truth and I was quite moved by what he said on pages 91-92. He has been talking about the different kinds of "soil" in the church as they relate to truth, and he's been lamenting the fact that evangelical leaders of the past several decades have most likely caused this phenomenon where most people in our churches don't even believe in absolute truth (according to Barna, 68% of self-identified "born-agains" do not believe in absolute truth). Then he pens these stinging, and hopefully repentance-inducing words:

"Does the church not bear considerable responsibility for this situation? I believe it does. The church has been like the shortsighted business CEO who goes for the quick profit and puts off the long-term considerations of these business decisions. The quick gains yield a good write-up in the Wall Street Jounal, good PR, a good bonus, and the stockholders are held at bay. Then the chickens come home to roost. The quick gains, it turns out, happened at the cost of the longer-range health of the enterprise. Soon the business is wheezing and struggling for breath. Its strength sapped, it cannot withstand competitors. It succumbs. The investors, quick to perceive their potential losses, move on to brighter prospects, the CEO takes his or her reward, the business closes its doors, and the employees are put out onto the street.

"So it is in American evangelicalism today. Far too many leaders and churches are out for the quick kill, the instant success, the enviable limelight, the flattering numbers, the bulging auditoria, the numbers to be boasted about--'my church went from ten to ten thousand once I arrived!'--the filled parking lots, the success story all dolled up for the pages of Christianity Today or Leadership. All of this is about the short-term interest of the pastor(s), not the long-term health of the church. In Christianity, cut-rate products bring a cut-rate failure."

Wow! His solution? A simple return to biblical truth at all levels of the life of the church, and a corresponding abandonment of the allure of the world.

The reason I entitled this entry, "David Wells, Truth, & Treason," is because this abandonment of truth for the sake of the quick sell is tantamount to treason. It's what A. W. Tozer calls "promoting self under the guise of promoting Christ," and I don't know what else you'd call that but treason. In fact, in my estimation it's infinitely high treason.

I do grieve for the traitors, because I think many of them have simply been lured away by our enemy, the devil, and have fallen into one of his traps. I pray for them--that the Lord would show them mercy, that they would see the error of their ways, that they would make restitution wherever possible, that they would repent and live and teach and lead in a different way.

But what grieves me most about all of this is the effects it has already had and will continue to have on the broader body of Christ. High treason comes at a high price, and that price is paid not only by the perpetrator but by the followers as well. I fear to think about the future of the American church because of this, and yet I take comfort--great comfort--in this:

Jesus Christ is the head of the true church, and he rules over all things, and no one will snatch his people out of his hands. He has always sustained the church, and he always will sustain the church. In this I rest and hope.

And yet, this doesn't mean we are all free to sit back and do or say nothing about the current crises. No, one of the means Jesus has always used, and will use, to sustain his church is the humble and yet bold proclamation of biblical truth.

Just as Paul wrote nearly two-millennia ago in 2 Corinthians 10:3-6: "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."

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Please Pray for a Potential Worship Leader

Our church is searching for a new worship leader, and we think we may have found one. Thus, I wrote the following article for our bulletin this week and want to invite you to join us in praying about it. Thanks for your partnership!

The Bible is filled with commands to worship the Lord: “Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering and come before him! Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness” (1 Chronicles 16:29). “Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker! For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand” (Psalm 95:6-7). “Exalt the LORD our God; worship at his footstool! Holy is he!” (Psalm 99:5).

Commands like these abound in the Bible, and it is the joy of every child of God to obey them! It is no chore for the children of God to sing the praises of their Father, and neither is it an optional activity.

No, verbal expressions of praise and thanksgiving and awe for God are an integral part of their life with God, and this is especially true in a church like ours where we’re intentionally seeking to exalt the manifold excellencies of God in everything we do—preaching, teaching, praying, equipping, mobilizing, reaching, sending, giving, caring, and such like things. As the children of God catch sight of the glory of God, they simply must give vent to the praise that fills their hearts!

This is why we have prayed so long and searched so diligently for our next worship leader. Aaron O’Harra is set to complete his time of service with us on Sunday, July 27, and thus we need another man who, like Aaron, understands the nature of worship in the life of a church and who is able to take us where we need to go.

We, the elders of Glory of Christ, believe that Steve Sheppard is this kind of a man. Accordingly, we asked him to come and lead worship today so that you can help us discern whether or not this is true, and whether or not he’s the man for this church.

We have scheduled a potluck during the second hour so that you can meet him and ask any questions you may have for him and pray with us about this decision. Then, during the week you are free to contact me to discuss any questions or issues you may have. Finally, next Sunday, at the close of the service, we will vote on whether or not to call him as our next worship leader.

Please join us in prayer this week, trusting with us that Christ will build his church in his way.

For the glory of Christ and the good of his church,

Pastor Charlie

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Suffering with Christ in Algeria

I received the following news report yesterday from Voice of the Martyrs:

Christian Sentenced for Carrying a Bible - Compass Direct News

On April 29, a court in Djilfa, south of Algiers, charged a 33-year-old Muslim convert to Christianity with "printing, storing and distributing" illegal religious material. According to Compass Direct News, "An Algerian Christian detained five days for carrying a Bible and personal Bible study books was handed a 300-Euro (US $460) fine and a one-year suspended prison sentence." Compass reported this conviction was the latest in numerous detentions and court cases against Algerian Christians. "Since January, police and provincial officials have ordered the closure of up to half of the country's estimated 50 Protestant congregations," Compass Direct said. The 33-year-old Algerian Christian converted from Islam to Christianity eight years ago. On April 25, he was stopped at a police road block while riding in a shared taxi. Compass Direct added, "Officials took the convert into custody upon finding a Bible and several religious study books in his luggage. Police appear to have previous knowledge of the Christian's connections. Officers refused to let the convert call friends to let them know of his detention, naming a church member in Tiaret whom they claimed he would contact." Pray believers in Algeria will remain faithful despite persecution. Ask God to protect and give courage to this Algerian Christian who is standing for Christ. Psalm 37:28

Monday, May 19, 2008

Thank you for Praying

Thanks so much for standing with me in prayer over the last several days. The Lord was so good to me, and to my family. Every single aspect of the trip just seemed custom-designed by God and I am so grateful to Him, and to you for your partnership in prayer. (The picture to the left is of my deceased brother Ralph and his wife Judy. You can left-click on the picture to get a larger view; just click the "back" button on your browser to escape that mode.)

First, I normally write my sermons on Friday, but last Tuesday I woke up with my sermon just flooding into my mind. And so I went downstairs and began to write and got on such a roll that I called my fellow-pastor and asked if we could shift our staff meeting to Wednesday. He was fine with that, so I continued working. Around noon I took my lunch break and it wasn't too long before I received the call from my sister that our brother had died. Given the craziness of my schedule the rest of the week, it was such a God-send that so much of my sermon was already written on Tuesday.

Second, within an hour or so of receiving the news, I knew that I had to go to see my family so I began fishing for a good, cheap deal. By the grace of God, I was able to get a plane ticket and rental car for a total cost of $380. Any change I made to the date of this trip doubled or tripled the cost, and it seems to me that Jesus simply gave this to me as a gift and I am so thankful to him for that.

Third, my brother Bob, sister Micky and I got to spend a good deal of time together on Thursday and we talked about several things that were fruitful and important. We talked about the death of our dad in 1979, the death of our mom in 1994, and several other family related things, and without going into details, let me just say that it was so good and I'm thankful to God for it.

Fourth, by 3:00 or so on Friday the rest of our family gathered at our eldest sister's home, with the exception of one of our sisters. Her ex-husband committed suicide about a year ago, and then her son, Jimmy, did the same just a few months ago. She was very close to our brother who died and she just couldn't handle coming to be with us. I understand and honor her decision, but I missed her very much.

However, it was so good to see everyone else and for all of us to grieve together. (To the right is a picture of 4 of the remaining 5 siblings--Bob (back), me, Micky, Rick). Besides the sister I just mentioned, I'm probably most concerned for my brother's wife, Judy. Ralph and Judy have been together since they were 15 years old--they're 51 now. Understandably, Judy doesn't know how to live without him and she really needs our prayers. There are others around her right now who can help her move on, but I suspect the next couple of years will be the hardest of Judy's life.

Finally, when it was time to go, I was ready to go. In other words, I feel like the Lord provided just the right amount of time for me to be there and I'm so thankful to him for that.

So, thanks for standing with me in prayer. I have a lot more processing and grieving to do, but as Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 4:13, we do not grieve as other who have no hope.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Delight in God--the Aim of Study

I'm on Minnesota time. The only problem is that I'm in California! So about 4:00 this morning I turned to Psalm 111 and asked Jesus to help me delight my soul in him and his word. Here are the first few verses of what I read:

"Praise the LORD! I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation. Great are the works of the LORD, studied by all who delight in them. Full of splendor and majesty is his work, and his righteousness endures forever."

And as you can tell from my title, the sentence that struck my heart was "Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them." One of the ways true delight in the works of God is expressed is by studying them--by reading, pondering, discussing, discerning principles, applying those principles to life, and so on. And those who ponder the works of God essentially delight in God himself. It would make little sense for me to say that I love to ponder the accomplishments of Einstein but I abhor Einstein. But it makes absolutely no sense to say that I delight in the works of God but I do not love God himself.

No! Through one's works he himself is revealed, and thus to take delight in the works of God by studying them displays the fact that I take delight in God as he has revealed himself. And so I conclude: the primary aim of study is to delight our souls in God, and one of the primary ways we express true delight in God is by studying his works.

Oh, how sweet this was for me this morning! I pray that it will be sweet for you as well. Just for fun, here's the rest of Psalm 111:

"He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered; the LORD is gracious and merciful. He provides food for those who fear him; he remembers his covenant forever. He has shown his people the power of his works, in giving them the inheritance of the nations. The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy; they are established forever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness. He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever. Holy and awesome is his name! The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!"

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Steadfast Love of the Lord

I arrived in L.A., and my hotel, around 9:30 last night. I just rested and then woke up at 6:30 Minnesota time, which was 4:30 California time! I cried out to the Lord, "I'm hungry and thirsty for you, please give me food and drink." And then I read these words from Psalm 107:1-9:

"Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, whom he has redeemed from trouble and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.

"Some wandered in desert wastes, finding no way to a city to dwell in; hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted within them. Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He led them by a straight way till they reached a city to dwell in. Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man! For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things."

Of all the places in the Bible I could have read from today, this was the Father's assigned portion--oh, he is so wise and good!

The Psalm goes on to give three more examples of the steadfast love of the Lord--for those who sat in darkness because of their hardness of heart; for those who were fools through their sinful ways; and for those who went out on the sea in ships and encountered great storms. And the key turning point in each of these examples is marked with the exact same words, "Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress" (vv. 6,13,19,28). One way, then, to summarize this Psalm is that God gives grace to the humble. God gives help to those who call upon his name with earnest and sincere hearts.

The Psalm ends with these words: "Whoever is wise, let him attend to these things; let them consider the steadfast love of the Lord" (v. 43). The wise will not simply read these accounts of the steadfast love of the Lord and just go on about their day; rather they will ponder his love and rejoice in his love and seek for his love to be manifested in their own lives.

May we be found to be wise.

My brother Bob, who is the third child and 16 years older than me, is arriving in town today, and so we will be spending the day together along with our oldest sister, Micky. We don't have much planned for the day but I'm sure the Lord does. None of my siblings are walking with Christ, so please pray that the Lord will give me favor with these two today. Thank you for your partnership in Christ.

For the glory of Christ,
Pastor Charlie

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Travel Update

After an encouraging meeting with Mike, Kevin, and Kim this morning, I headed to the airport and boarded my plane for California. I'm sitting at the airport in Las Vegas right now waiting for my connecting flight, praying that the gospel will gain traction in this city. As soon as you walk off the plane you're confronted with rows and rows of slot machines, as well as adverts for "attractions" I can't even name on this blog.

Las Vegas is not unusual, it's just blatant in its passion for immorality. Every single human being without Christ is "...darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity" (Eph. 4:18-19).

Perhaps God provided a long layover for me here so that I could pray, with passion and compassion, for this city. There, but for the grace of God, go I.

The plan for tonight is to crash in a motel somewhere and then meet up with my family tomorrow. All of my remaining siblings but one will be there, along with many nephews, nieces, and other relatives. Please pray for us especially on Friday night as we'll be gathering as one family to laugh, cry, and talk things out. I will undoubtedly have a chance to take the floor and believe me with my family that is unusual.

Oh friends, please pray with me about this. I can't explain the feeling rising up in me right now, but this opportunity is, I think, eternally significant.

Thanks for your partnership in Christ,
Pastor Charlie

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

On the Death of my Brother

I am the sixth of six children. The first child is eighteen years older than me, and the fifth child was ten years older than me. I say "was" because a few hours ago I received the news that my brother died this morning.

Ralph was the only sibling I ever lived with, really, because the others grew up and moved out before I was old enough to remember living with them. Memories of Ralph have flooded to my mind today--building a fort in our yard, climbing trees together, the couple of times he built bicycles for me, teaching me how to swim, and in so many ways being my hero.

As I grew older and became enmeshed in the drug culture, Ralph taught me a lot about that as well. I know it must sound funny, but I'm actually grateful for his mentoring in those years because, among other things, he taught me how to do what I was doing without being killed--and it worked.

But eight years into my drug abuse the light of Jesus Christ shone upon me and saved me in a miraculous way. A couple of years into my walk with Christ Ralph called one day to say that he was getting out of the drug culture because of what he had seen happen in my life. I was elated to hear this news. But unfortunately he didn't follow through on his commitment and in a very short time sank even deeper into the darkness.

Because of our divergent paths, Ralph and I spoke only a handful of times over the last decade. I reached out to him several times, but for whatever reason he wanted nothing of it, so I let him go. And I prayed for him with all my heart, but something in me always knew that one day this call would come--and it did.

I have a strange but sweet admixture of feelings right now. On the one hand, I believe the Bible with all of my heart and therefore I know that my brother will have to account for his life. Hebrews 9:27 says, " is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment..." I fear that his time of judgment will not at all be pleasant, that he will now face a great and awesome God who will pour his wrath out upon my brother.

Oh, how this grieves me and causes me to tremble before God and search my own heart and rid myself of any known sin and wonder why I was saved and my beloved brother was not. Oh, how this causes sweet worship to arise in my heart as I ponder the absolute holiness and goodness and justice and wisdom of God, knowing that he does all things well and that, in the end, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father. Even those who come to know the wrath of God will acknowledge to greatness of God and the righteousness of his judgments.

On the other hand, I feel a deep grief because one of my former heroes is now gone and I will never see his face or hear his voice or share the gospel with him again.

All at once I feel grief, sober-trembling before God, and glad-hearted worship--and indeed, it is strange and sweet.

"The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD" (Job 1:21).

The Old "Bait & Switch"

I read a very insightful article this morning in Modern Reformation magazine (vol. 17, num. 3, May/June 2008). The author, Jay Lemke, attends Risen Christ Lutheran Church in Stillwater, Minnesota, and is a "public relations professional." He's concerned, as are a growing number of evangelicals, with the church's penchant to market itself rather than to preach the gospel. Here are a few excerpts from the article:

"Many in the American church seem intent to communicate under false pretenses, even as the secular world is learning its lessons. We'll bring people in with music, food, fun, and games; and we'll make them think being a Christian is about whatever interests them. We'll play on their felt needs, and we'll do research to determine what 'seekers' want in a church. We'll stick our collective fingers in the air and then we'll become what people want us to be. Finally, after all of that work, once we have people in the church, we may eventually get around to telling them, 'Oh, by the way, Jesus died for your sins.'

"In my public relations world that's called the old 'bait and switch.' But we in the church do it all the time...Whether overtly or subtly, we are telling people they should be Christians because it will make them better in their particular area of interest. The American church is playing a huge game of bait and switch. At some level, we must be ashamed of the basic message of Christianity, and we don't believe that on its own it is powerfully interesting--to men, to women, to boys, to girls. We are scared to give people the best message of all--because we believe we know better than God" (pg. 12).

Oh, how that last line gets to the heart of the matter--we believe we know better than God. We believe we know how better to appeal to the masses, to present the gospel to them (if indeed the biblical gospel is ever presented), to assimilate them into the life of the church, to equip them with some sort of quasi-biblical sense of mission.

We modern evangelicals have become so sophisticated in our approaches when all the while the simple truth of Romans 1:16-17 has stood knocking on the door: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, 'The righteous shall live by faith.'"

How I pray that God would grant a far-reaching repentance across the body of Christ, that we may come again to trust in the power of God for salvation--and that we may, in so doing, forsake trust in ourselves and our ways.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Good News from Indonesia

UPDATE: Pastor Released from Prison - Voice of the Martyrs Sources

Praise God! On April 27, Pastor Abraham Bentar was released from prison. According to The Voice of the Martyrs contacts in Indonesia, "Pastor Bentar was released two days ago; because he had served two-thirds of his sentence, he could be paroled. His wife received more than 10,000 letters and photographs from families around the world who were praying for them. The family is thankful for the support they received and rejoice in the pastor's release." VOM rejoices with Pastor Bentar's family and thanks believers around the world for praying and encouraging him. Continue praying for protection and wisdom for Pastor Bentar as he returns home to his family and congregation. Ask God to protect believers in Indonesia. Psalm 100

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Update from the Deckers

I received an e-mail update from Dave and Mary Decker today. The Deckers are serving in Senegal, Africa, and have a ministry that spans four countries in West Africa. Their e-mail was long and included much information on various developments with their ministry, but what caught my eye the most was their explanation of their financial situation. Here's what they wrote:

Finances: We are so thankful for the consistent levels of support that our donors have been contributing. Please continue to pray with us for this area, as the cost of living is so much higher than it has been, with the value of the dollar being so low. As you may remember, we returned to the field with our "rock bottom" support requirements being met. We were encouraged to let supporters know of one-time needs as they happened, and we are trusting God to provide for these needs. Currently, we have needs in Ministry Account-- for Joey's eye surgery, and for my potential travel to Ghana in October for a consultation/retreat with the Mobile Member Care team. If you'd like to be a part of meeting these needs, please let us know. Please pray with us for funds to be available for Joey to get his surgery as soon as possible, so that he will have sufficient time for after-care there in Washington state!"

Please join me in praying for the Deckers, and please pray about sending them a one-time gift or perhaps even on-going support. In the light of eternity, investing in missions will reap greater rewards than that next "thing" we want. May the Lord stir in us deeply to inflame our hearts with the right things.

If you would like to donate, let me know and I'll put you in touch with the Deckers or you can just go to their blog at

Update from Jan Korbel

I received the following e-mail from our missionary in Kenya today. Please join me in lifting her up in prayer:

Hello Friends,
I have been working on remembering Swahili and getting a better grasp on it for the past two and a half months. I think I have basically gained the realization that; Swahili is hard, it's harder the older you get and now I have a much better grasp of how much I don't know. In just two weeks I leave for Kenya and start work on getting settled there. The immediate future has some uncertainties that could really use prayer coverage.
1) The current tenants in the house I am going to rent have had their next place fall through. Please pray they find a place by May 31st.
2) I will need to purchase a reliable used vehicle when I arrive in Kenya. Pray for God's mercy as I look and for just the right one that suits my needs would come available at a price I can afford. I would like to have the vehicle in the first two weeks I am there, it would be great to have the paperwork done in that time too. Quite honestly if all this happened it would be a miracle!
3) I just got word that the tenants in my house in Minneapolis are buying a house and would like to get out of their lease three months early. I would love to see everything work out smoothly and for just as wonderful tenants to be found to move in there long-term. It's a lovely house in a city neighborhood. Pray for new great tenants for June 1st.
4) Craig Sorley (my colleague in Kenya) has just started working on my resident visa to live and "work" as a missionary in Kenya. Please pray that this process will go smoothly, with no surprises, requests for bribes or delays along the way.
5) I travel from here (Morogoro) to Dar es Salaam to Nairobi to Brackenhurst on Friday May 16th. First by three-hour bus ride to Dar, then a flight to Nairobi where the Sorleys will pick me up to take me to Brackenhurst (another hour away). I arrive about 4:15 pm and later in the evening Ed Brown our US Director and three other visitors from the US arrive with him. So I will wait at the airport for everyone to get in. Pray for travel mercies for all of us.
6) Care of Creation will have Kenya board meeting and long-range strategy meetings over the following 10 days while Ed is around. Pray that all runs smoothly.
Thanks for your faithful support and prayers. Please check my blog often. I try to write at least 3 times a week. It's the best way to see what is on my mind. If you have a blog that keeps me up on you, please send the address as well. Or just drop me a simple email. (Hold off on attachments until I get to Kenya though, please. Our connection is quite slow here.)
Thanks again, blessings to you, Jan

Suffering with Christ in Singapore

From Voice of the Martyrs:

Couple Charged For Distributing "Objectionable" Christian Material

On April 14, two charges were lodged against a married couple for distributing a Christian publication in Singapore in March and October of last year that allegedly cast the Muslim prophet Mohammed in a "negative light." Ong Kian Cheong (49) and Dorothy Chan Hien Leng (44) are charged under the Sedition Act for "promoting feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races or classes of the population of Singapore." Cheong and Hien Leng were also charged under the Undesirable Publications Act, which defines "objectionable" material as an item which depicts "race or religion in such a manner that the availability of the publication is likely to cause feelings of enmity, hatred, ill-will or hostility between different racial or religious groups." The couple was alleged to have been distributing an evangelistic tract entitled "The Little Bride." Pray the charges against Ong and Dorothy will be dropped. Pray the Holy Spirit will cause them to forgive their persecutors. Pray for continued opportunities for Christians in Singapore to share the truth of Christ. John 15:18-19, John 14:1