Tag Archives: Sovereign Redeemer

Reprise: “Give Us Youngsville, or We Die!”

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

This was originally posted on April 28, 2011, one month into Sovereign Redeemer’s existence. It is truer now than then. Read on!

The great Scottish reformer, John Knox, was overheard by friends laboring in prayer for his country, repeatedly calling out to God, “Give me Scotland, or I die!”

Sovereign Redeemer Community Church is a month old now, and I am praying that God will give us the spirit of this man, the earnestness and urgency of his prayers for the people around him, and his boldness in proclaiming the gospel. Maybe Youngsville is no Scotland, and maybe none of us are a John Knox, but the heart of our King is the same. We may not be “God’s gift to Youngsville,” but Jesus Christ is, and we are some of His happy subjects. Our being here is no accident, and we are under orders.

Ephesians 2:8-10 says this: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”

Here we are, the workmanship of God, having nothing to boast in except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, with good works to do which have been prepared for us by God Himself. As we walk in them, our neighbors will see and hear, and they “may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

So whether we feel ready for this calling or not, it is upon us. And maybe the questioning of our readiness can work in our favor by making us hungrier and more fervent in our prayers, so that we find ourselves relying more fully on God who is able.

Church planting is about God taking ground. There is nothing remotely sinister about this, since wherever and whenever the government of God spreads, happiness and every good thing abounds. Jesus is the best King there is, and to be His subject is to know a peace that passes understanding. Youngsville needs this just as much as a thousand other towns.

May it be that God Himself has assembled us for this purpose, and that He will teach us – drive us – to labor in prayer, “Give us Youngsville, or we die!”

More on Birthdays

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

A couple of years ago I posted some wisdom from John Calvin regarding birthdays. Now some more from J.C. Ryle’s “Holiness” (the chapter on “Assurance”):

I believe it ought to be our continual aim and desire to go forward, and our watchword on every returning birthday and at the beginning of every year should be “more and more” (1 Thessalonians 4:1) – more knowledge, more faith, more obedience, more love. If we have brought forth thirty-fold, we should seek to bring forth sixty; and if we have brought forth sixty, we should strive to bring forth a hundred. The will of the Lord is our sanctification, and it ought to be our will too (Matthew 13:23; 1 Thessalonians 4:3).

Here are the texts he references, with the sections he quotes in italics and underlined:

1 Thessalonians 4:1-8, Finally then, brethren, we urge and exhort in the Lord Jesus that you should abound more and more, just as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God; 2 for you know what commandments we gave you through the Lord Jesus. 3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, 5 not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God; 6 that no one should take advantage of and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also forewarned you and testified. 7 For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness. 8 Therefore he who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit.

Matthew 13:23, “But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.”

Exactly! Our glorious God is worthy of a lifetime of progress in the faith. The sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ is worthy of a lifetime of demonstrated thankfulness. More and more indeed! Not to earn favor, but because we have inexplicably received unearned favor.

What could make for a happier birthday?

That Will Never Be Marriage

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

The progress made by the proponents of homosexual marriage is nothing short of breathtaking. If momentum means anything at all, it will only be another year or two until same-sex marriage has been so overwhelmingly accepted in the United States that those who oppose it won’t even have a significant platform for articulating objections. The advocates who have so skillfully advanced it will have the luxury of just shrugging and waving us off with disdain. In my lifetime, we will have switched spots.

Almost forgotten is the God who called all things into existence with only the words of His mouth. He is the One that keeps the debate from being over. God should never, ever be left out of any equation, because no matter what mankind says or does, He always speaks last, and what He says goes. In card playing lingo, every card in His hand is an ace of spades. Always the highest card. Always trump. Always.

And so that will never be marriage, no matter how many people say it is or how long they say it. Two men, no matter what they say or what they do, can never be married. Two women, no matter what they say or what they do, can never be married.  Because marriage is God’s, and no amount of momentum can ever change that. It is His institution, given in the first chapter of the book of beginnings. “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it…'” (Genesis 1:27-28a). “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24). This is God’s. This is marriage.

Is there another view to be had in all of Scripture? No. None. The last prophet of the Old Testament is simply representative: “You cover the altar of the LORD with tears, with weeping and crying; so He does not regard the offering anymore, nor receive it with goodwill from your hands. Yet you say, ‘For what reason?’ Because the LORD has been witness between you and the wife of your youth, with whom you have dealt treacherously; yet she is your companion and your wife by covenant. But did He not make them one, having a remnant of the Spirit? And why one? He seeks godly offspring. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth.” (Malachi 2:13b-15). Three profound things are learned from the three questions in the text and their answers: God responds when His institution of marriage is dishonored, it is only God who can make two one, and He does so to increase those who honor Him. All three of these truths stand immovably between God’s creatures and any such thing as gay marriage.

And the New Testament seals this truth with stunning clarity. Having spoken at length about how husbands and wives must relate to one another, Paul says this: “This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.” (Ephesians 5:32). This is why, just a few verses earlier, he said that husbands must act like Christ and wives must act like the church. Because this institution was created by God to play out the most sacred drama – the gospel drama – before a home and before a world. So Christians can never, ever accept homosexual marriage, because it fundamentally upends the gospel drama. It destroys the gospel picture that God created marriage to be. And so that will never be marriage.

I am setting reminders on my calendar to republish this each year for the next five years, because saying it once won’t be nearly enough. I will need to lay my eyes on these words again and again myself, and I’m guessing you will too. And when we read it, we will remember that God always has the highest card to play, that He always plays trump, and that He will act at just the right moment.

“Why do the nations rage, and the people plot a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying, ‘Let us break Their bonds in pieces and cast away Their cords from us.’ He who sits in the heavens shall laugh; the Lord shall hold them in derision. Then He shall speak to them in His wrath, and distress them in His deep displeasure: ‘Yet I have set My King on My holy hill of Zion.’… Now therefore, be wise, O kings; be instructed, you judges of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and you perish in the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him.” (Psalm 2:1-6, 10-12).

Brothers and sisters, our duty is to declare the truth of Scripture, never letting the light of that truth be extinguished by even the greatest multitude, and to pray fervently that when our God acts, it will be to grant repentance and faith to those enslaved to sin, and not to send the judgment we so richly deserve. May we be found laboring tirelessly towards those ends!

Voice Obedience, Soft Voice, First Command

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

Scott and Dan are both in Harrisburg, PA for the “History of America” conference. Scott sent this from a message that was given by Paul Jehle last night:

“The pilgrim church was a holy commonwealth. They trained their children by voice obedience in a soft voice on the first command. Parents were put in stocks if a child disobeyed in public.”

Wow – voice obedience, soft voice, first command. However near or far from it we are, THAT IS THE TARGET. We need to be nearer and nearer and nearer to this target. When we can give instructions in a soft voice that are followed immediately the first time, it is likely that we have secured what Paul calls “in submission with all reverence” (1 Timothy 3:4). It is every child’s duty before God to honor his or her parents, and it is the duty of every godly parent to work diligently to secure that honor. That is part of what it means to “bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).

So if we have in any way succumbed to thinking that the dutiful parents are the ones who are loudly and angrily correcting and commanding their children, we need to retrain our brains to think more biblically. Often the parents who are parenting most closely to the counsel of the word of God aren’t noticed at all, because they are able to direct their children once with a soft voice. The hard work of parenting – and hopefully of discipleship – has been done at home, and the wise and judicious use of the rod is yielding good fruit in public settings. This amazes worldlings when they see it, by the way.

May we be so thorough in parenting according to the Bible that our normal pattern is voice obedience, soft voices, and one-time commands, and the rare exception is public disobedience that requires a raised voice and retiring to a place of privacy where sterner discipline can be administered.

Now that is a target fully worth aiming at!

Profile of the Evangelistic Church

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

This was my topic for the NCFICWhite Unto Harvest” conference (October 2012), and it was a great honor and pleasure to speak about some of the things God has been doing in our midst. Happy reading!

In the category of evangelism, most local churches acknowledge the need for God to make us what we have not been. We look at our history, and it is painfully obvious that we need for God to give us progress. A lot of progress.

For churches like that, 1 Thessalonians 1:5-8 is an encouraging text. Paul writes, “For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance, as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake. And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe. For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything.” This precious local church received the pure gospel, they were firmly established in that gospel, and then it sounded forth in every place. The evangelistic church is not a mirage! Paul founded one and watched it come to maturity and fruitfulness.

May God give our local churches this testimony, as godly people in years to come see what God has accomplished among us. May they see that we have received a pure gospel, that we have been firmly established in it, and that this gospel has sounded forth in every place.

I was assigned the task of profiling the evangelistic church. Why? Is it that I lead a church which has arrived in this category, so that I can simply exhort other local churches to be like us? Certainly not! If you speak with the members of our congregation, the consistent self-analysis will be that when we were planted a year and a half ago, we were pitiful, and now we are mediocre. So we are not boasting in our mediocrity, but we can point with gratitude to progress that the Lord has given us, and it gives us hope to aspire to so much more, based on the pattern of God’s faithfulness that we have already seen.

There are a few important topics that this article simply presupposes, and doesn’t address. First, it is the pure gospel in view. That is certainly not a given, in this day when so many false gospels are welcome in the evangelical world. Second, a local church which is a mighty voice for the gospel is dominated by people who are actually born again. This too is no safe bet for the modern local church. Finally, evangelism is simply the starting point of the Great Commission, a subset that is only a sliver of what it means to disciple the nations.

Where to Start: Repentance

As I begin to paint the picture of the evangelistic church, there is an absolutely essential starting point, and if we miss this then we miss all. It stems from what Jesus says in Matthew 22:36-40, when asked this question: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

How should this be applied to the Great Commission, and evangelism in particular? In this way: Evangelism is a natural, inevitable outflow, not a separate category. If our churches are genuinely evangelistic, it will be because the love of God and neighbor pulses in warm hearts. Can it be said that we love God with heart, soul and mind, and yet His praise is never on our lips when we are engaged in conversations with the lost? Inconceivable! Can it be said that we love our neighbor when we are so governed by the fear of man that our “comfort zone” is more precious to us than an eternal soul? Unbelievable!

If we intend to become evangelistic, we have to understand why we have not been evangelistic. It will not do to simply say, “We need to make progress,” or “Evangelism is a shortcoming.” The truth of the matter is that our history is displaying the great sin of lovelessness, and we must repent. Our greatest need isn’t a great strategy or a training program, it is repentance. If we start anywhere else, we end up with a lot of short-term activity with no long-term change. To take our place in the Great Commission, we desperately need the long-term change.

Face the facts, brothers and sisters. Our love for God isn’t what we thought it was. Our love for our neighbor isn’t what we thought it was. The outside of the cup looks fine, but the inside needs attention. We should be broken by the implications of our coldness towards evangelism and repent. Then and only then are we ready for progress.

One thing I have learned in life is that, in any category, there are a very few levers that determine success or failure. True in business, true at home, true in relationships, true in evangelism. Pull those few levers with all your might, and you’ll be successful. Ignore them but pull the hundred smaller levers instead, and you’ll fail. Obviously, given that Jesus said all the Law and the Prophets hang on these two great laws of love, love is one of those very few levers that must be pulled with all our might.

Step Two: Fear God

Consider the words of Jesus in Matthew 10:28, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” Evangelistic churches have corporately gotten a grasp of this! If you look across the broad landscape of those churches, you find that God looms large and man is a small thing. Why don’t we share our faith? We’re petrified, and most of the time we don’t even really know why. Speaking to people about their soul is just scary, that’s all.

But when we fear God as we ought, we don’t fear man, because the fear of God is a controlling fear, a master fear that subjugates all of those other fears of circumstance and people that would otherwise rule us. And here is what we find: You don’t die. In fact, rather than being killed by proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ, we are exhilarated and wonder what we were afraid of anyway!

Are you willing to live in slavery to the fear of man for another decade? Another year, month, week, minute, second? By the grace of God, not me! May God cause us to fear Him in a way that makes our comfort zone nothing in our own eyes.

Why haven’t our churches been evangelistic? Because we haven’t loved God or neighbor as we ought, and we haven’t feared God as we ought. It seems to me that these are the two big levers that will determine our success or failure. Are you surprised? Did you think I was going to spend the space on technique? Undoubtedly there are many tools that can help us be effective in how we share the gospel, but our big problem is that we share the gospel (or that we don’t, to be precise).

If our two primary levers are love of God and neighbor and the fear of the Lord, how do we stoke those fires? Attention to the ordinary means of grace: prayer and the word. Go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place. Open His word and become like a tree planted by rivers of waters, yielding its fruit in season. Nothing cultivates love for God and fear of God than being in His presence and considering His character and His ways. Love for neighbor, and specifically evangelism, will flow from that.

Next: Depend on God

Let’s agree: When you launch the Apostle Paul on his first missionary journey, you get to be called an evangelistic church. Now consider the account, recorded in Acts 13:1-3: “Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away.”

They are waiting but ready. They are ministering to the Lord, fasting, and praying with all diligence, ready to act on whatever God would have them do. They listened. God spoke. They did. And the world was turned upside down. This is an instance where a mighty work of evangelism wasn’t initiated by “evangelistic activity,” at least not as we might define that term. It was initiated by waiting on the Lord through prayer and fasting. They were ready, but they were not thrashing around, executing whatever idea willy-nilly. Can it be said that we do more thrashing than praying? I think most of us would have to plead guilty. Evangelistic churches trust God, not themselves. They fast. They pray.

Of course, this is simply a subset of loving and fearing God, but it is worth a specific mention. May God fashion us into local churches who patiently labor in prayer, ready at any moment to obey. Does that mean that we do nothing until we sense the leading of the Lord? By no means! But it does mean that we allocate lavish amounts of time, individually and corporately, to seek the Lord and be before Him in humility. In our desire to be more faithful in proclaiming the gospel, we dare not simply launch a program and declare victory. There is so much more to Great Commission fruitfulness than generating activity. Wait on the Lord. Fast. Pray. Then go with the good news of Jesus Christ on your lips.

Something You Can’t Supply: Gifted Evangelists

In Ephesians 4:7-8,11-12, Paul describes something that we can’t do. We don’t even play a part. He says this: “But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore He says: ‘When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men.’… And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ”.

A key element of local churches being equipped for evangelism is the placement by God of gifted evangelists. He Himself gives evangelists to churches in order to equip the saints to go and do likewise. So the text clearly isn’t saying that evangelism is the exclusive domain of a few gifted souls. The Great Commission is a commandment to every follower of Christ until He comes again. But God has supernaturally given some of His people the ability to do with relative ease and effectiveness what is relatively difficult and ineffective for the rest of us. We watch them in action and we are helped. They push us out of our comfort zone, stirring us up to love and good deeds. We should praise God that He has given these gifted evangelists to His church, helping us to be more obedient and more faithful. The body of Christ is indeed edified by their presence.

My experience over a couple of decades is that this coin has two sides. On one side is a gift given to the church for the equipping of the saints, an invaluable blessing. Sometimes the flip side is a youthful zeal that hasn’t been seasoned by much wisdom in the faith yet. Maybe this gifted evangelist has this formula embedded firmly in the brain: evangelism = street preaching, and if you aren’t doing it, you are the worst kind of compromiser. He has lost sight of the fact that he is operating in an area of supernatural gifting, and he hasn’t yet learned to appreciate progressive sanctification. He might be more impatient with his brethren than he ought to be.

What should the more mature do then? Be mature! Put your arm around that young zealot and give him the lenses through which to see his brothers and sisters in Christ, and the mercy and patience of Christ that he also enjoys. Believe me, to whatever extent he needs your wisdom, you need his zeal tenfold. Don’t despise the misdirected zeal, but gently redirect it.

Our Church: A Case Study

We needed progress, and we had been praying for progress, and it was the arrival of some gifted evangelists that God used to really move us forward. I praise God for sending them. I trust we will never be the same.

Here are some reflections on our experiences over the past year and a half:

–  It all started with “a bad idea.” One of our gifted evangelists wanted to buy a gas grill and a trailer, and set up in a parking lot on main street to serve hot dogs to the community on Monday nights. Being a know-it-all (as opposed to all-knowing), I knew that wouldn’t work. On the other hand, it was something, and we were doing nothing in the category of public outreach. As it turned out, week after week it totally exceeded all of my expectations. Anywhere from fifteen to thirty people from the community, people we would never have had contact with, would come, sit in a chair, and eat hot dogs with families from the church. The gospel was (and still is) regularly and boldly proclaimed.

My wife and I have an inside joke. I’ll be sitting with my feet up. She’ll be working away, busy as a beaver. She’ll ask if I would do this or that, always something minor that would help with her big list. Without exception, I will roll my eyes and say, “Do I have to do EVERYTHING?” Without exception, she will reply, “No, just SOMETHING…” Then we have a good laugh. It is that way with local churches and evangelism. It is an endless work, but we don’t have to do everything, just something. Sometimes it helps to just get moving. And yes, I perceive how this could be seen as a contradiction to the admonition to wait on the Lord, fast and pray. Trust me, it isn’t.

–  We have found evangelism to be self-feeding. Here is what I mean. A person feels paralyzed by the prospect of sharing the gospel, but from love of God and neighbor, and out of a healthy fear of the Lord, they do it. Now, is that person much more inclined to do it again, or much less inclined? Much more inclined by a factor of a hundred! It is exhilarating to hear the gospel on your own lips, and the accounts of all the ways God has been good and faithful to you. It reminds you of what it was like to be without Christ, and gives you a love for souls in that condition. Once you get started, you feel the momentum instantly. It makes you wonder what all the fuss was about, why all the worry, and it puts you on the lookout for the next opportunity. Are you tired of that nagging feeling that you have an area of major disobedience in your life? Then get rid of it!

–  Once you start, opportunities abound. Are you near a nursing home? That’s where the widows are! Go be a blessing to them. The nursing home that we approached was happy to have us come and conduct a brief weekly service. The gospel is preached, hymns are sung, the elderly are loved and honored. One of our families, headed by a gifted evangelist, wanted to serve a meal and preach the gospel in the common area of local government-subsidized housing. Several families rallied around that, and it continues today. What is the limit to the places with people who need the gospel? You don’t even need to leave your home. Bring your neighbors and co-workers to your dinner table, clear away the dishes and have family worship after the meal, show them a functioning Christian family that gathers daily to worship God together. You will be surprised at how many people have never once seen that.

–  This is not at odds with family discipleship. It is not “either/or,” it is “both/and.” In fact, it is a critical element of family discipleship. Don’t leave your family to go do evangelism (though that may be appropriate or even necessary from time to time). Find ways to engage in evangelism together. That does two things. First, it communicates to our children that we are deadly serious about obeying the Lord’s commandment to disciple the nations. The value of that cannot be underestimated, and the lack of it is a catastrophic gap in bringing up children in the training and admonition of the Lord. Second, it readies the next generation to engage in the Great Commission. If our children have been at our elbows a hundred times as we have proclaimed the gospel, they will be ready themselves. For a while, they will just be observers, but the day will come when they will be able to enter the fray as well.

–  Training is a lousy substitute for doing. Yes, there is a place for resources and studying and training, but some of the best training happens by doing. We can never let the lack of training be our reason for neglecting to share the gospel. Every Christian who has felt the crushing weight of the holiness of God and their own desperate need to be pardoned has the wherewithal for evangelism. Pray, then get to it.

Conclusion

So what is the profile of the evangelistic church? As in all things, the Bible defines it.

–  The evangelistic church is filled with people who have received a true gospel, have been firmly established in that gospel, and then sound it forth (1 Thessalonians 1:5-8).
–  The evangelistic church is growing in the great commandments of love (Matthew 22:36-40).
–  The evangelistic church is growing in the fear of God (Matthew 10:28).
–  The evangelistic church is seeking the Lord through prayer, fasting, waiting (Acts 13:1-3).
–  The evangelistic church has received gifted evangelists from God (Ephesians 4:7-12).

In Romans 1:16, Paul writes, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.” May our churches cherish the good news of Jesus Christ as the great treasure that it is, and may God make us bolder and bolder in the proclamation of it. I know this will be to the glory of God, and that it will result in the joy of His people.

 

Jason Dohm
Sovereign Redeemer Community Church
Youngsville, NC

A Sifting Time Ahead

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

I am part way through “When a Nation Forgets God”, a book by Dr. Erwin Lutzer, the senior pastor at Moody Church, Chicago, Illinois. Dr. Lutzer portrays Germany during the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party, showing that many of the trends in modern America correlate with that time in German history. His point is not that today’s America is the same as Nazi Germany, but that our trajectory is similar. In other words, if we continue down this same track, the American church can expect to face similar challenges. The question: Will we be ready?

As part of his analysis, Dr. Lutzer gives the history of two German pastors who were prominent during this time: Martin Niemoller (a name I don’t know) and Dietrich Bonhoeffer (a name everyone knows). In 1934, seeing what was on the horizon, Niemoller said the following in a sermon to his church:

“We have all of us – the whole church and the whole community – we’ve been thrown into the Tempter’s sieve, and he is shaking and the wind is blowing, and it must now become manifest whether we are wheat or chaff! Verily, a time of sifting has come upon us, and even the most indolent and peaceful person among us must see that the calm of a meditative Christianity is at an end… It is now springtime for the hopeful and expectant Christian Church – it is testing time, and God is giving Satan a free hand, so he may shake us up and so that it may be seen what manner of men we are!… Satan swings his sieve and Christianity is thrown hither and thither; and he who is not ready to suffer, he who called himself a Christian only because he thereby hoped to gain something good for his race and his nation is blown away like chaff by the wind of time.”

It is hard to read this quote and not think that such a time will be upon us in our own lifetime, or if you’re an optimist, in the lifetime of our children. Will we be ready? If we aren’t asking the question, what is the likelihood we will be? I want to be a genuine Christian, seeking the Lord and being sanctified by His Spirit day by day. Then I know I’ll be ready. I want the same for my family and our church. I know that God will make us ready to serve Him faithfully in the midst of trial and persecution if we call on Him now. In Matthew 7:7-8, Jesus exhorts us, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” I intend to ask, seek, and knock, knowing that our Father gives good things to those who ask Him. Join me.

I also commend the book to you. Happy reading!

J.C. Ryle Warns Against Driving a Hard Bargain

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

First, this post signifies that I am back in the blogosphere. My last post was October 10, 2012, and it was sparse before that. Self-admittedly, that is pitiful. So while I’ll never be up for blogger of the year, I am rededicating myself to regular entries because there are simply too many benefits to the thinking and precision required by the discipline of writing. Even if no one ever reads a single entry, I will be more well thought-out, more precise, and more articulate on the topics I undertake. Those things are all important.

Now to a piercing quote from J.C. Ryle:

“I do urge on every professing Christian who wishes to be happy, the immense importance of making no compromise between God and the world. Do not try to drive a hard bargain, as if you wanted to give Christ as little of your heart as possible, and to keep as much as possible of the things of this life.” (Holiness, chapter 10)

I will save you the commentary on how hard this hits me personally, and get straight to the question: Do you find yourself wanting to give Christ as little of your heart as possible? There is only one solution: REPENT. True repentance secures times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord (Acts 3:19, and though this verse speaks of the initial repentance of salvation, it is also true of the ongoing repentance of believers as they are sanctified).

Finally, a dear friend and Deacon of the church had a celebration to honor the contributions of J.C. Ryle on May 10, Ryle’s birthday. Though he has now been dead for more than a century, his writings may be having a greater impact now than at any other time. I am a grateful student.

J.C. Ryle Birthday Cake

(Yes, the books were edible!)

 

The Great Commission and Repentance

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

I am getting more and more excited about the upcoming “White Unto Harvest” conference, and I suspect I’m far from alone. In preparing for the address I will be giving – “Profile of the Evangelistic Church” – I have been assessing my own history in the category of the Great Commission. Here is my conclusion, and where I believe we must start: Repentance is required.

It will not do to simply resolve to make progress, or even to admit that evangelism has been a significant shortcoming. We do need to make progress, of course, and for most of us evangelism has in fact been a major shortcoming, but leaving it at that is woefully insufficient. Why? Because there is grievous sin that needs to be acknowledged and forsaken. One fact is clearer to me now than it ever has been, which is that the Great Commission is the natural and inevitable outflow of the Great Commandments.

The Great Commandments

When asked which is the great commandment in the law, Jesus responded this way: “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40). The two greatest commandments are commandments of love, and they perfectly summarize all the Law and the Prophets. And they stand in priority. First love God. How? With an all-consuming love – heart, soul, mind and strength. Then love your neighbor. How? As yourself, meaning “a lot.” Two great commandments, supreme and inseparable.

How Does This Relate To The Great Commission?

Okay, so I’ve only said what every Christian already knows, which is that loving God and loving neighbor is the supreme summary of what God requires of us. So what? Here’s what: the Great Commission is simply an extension of this, not a separate category. If I love God with all of my being, His praise is on my lips incessantly. If I love my neighbor as myself, I care deeply about his eternal condition and open my mouth with the mighty remedy of the gospel. Loving God without speaking of His greatness, His ways, what He has done through Christ? Inconceivable! Loving neighbor without speaking to his desperate need? Unbelievable!

Our gospel failures represent more than needing progress. They are indicators that our love for God isn’t what we thought it was, and neither is our love for our neighbor. To persist in the faith without the gospel on our lips is to reveal a profound inconsistency that will have to be dealt with. It can’t simply be swept under the rug as we drum up a new wave of evangelism.

Why It Matters

If we skip repentance and go straight to activity, our new found evangelistic zeal will be short-lived. We’ve all been in the church with the strategy-of-the-year, and we need for the Great Commission to be infinitely more than that. It starts with repentance. My silence reveals that I have not loved my God as I ought. My apathy and fear of man reveals that I have not loved my neighbor much at all, let alone as myself. Friends, this is sin. Long held sin. Revealing and humiliating sin. If we are going to be different five years from now, ten years from now, we must own our sin and then forsake it. Mourn, and then by the grace of God, by the Spirit of God, change.

Brothers and sisters, this is our finest hour, if we will follow the author and perfecter of our faith. There is nothing more exhilarating than to demonstrate a true love for God and for our neighbor by engaging the lost with the gospel for the glory of God. May God give us the grace to love more, spending and being spent for this Great Commission.

The Great Commission

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

In just a few short hours, I will board a plane with Scott Brown and two young men from our congregations and start the two-day journey to Malawi Africa, where we will engage in ten packed days of evangelism and discipleship. Accordingly, here are five thoughts about going to the nations:

  1. Going is a privilege. Imagine the privilege of being an ambassador for a great king. Actually, we don’t have to imagine it. We are it. 2 Corinthians 5:20, “Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.” Knowing Jesus Christ, and the joy that He brings wherever His atoning mercy and government spreads, makes the Great Commission not a task but the Great Privilege. I can’t wait to get there and share the good news with the lost.
  2. We are going in order to give. Looking back on the last decade, I am so grateful that God has firmly established biblical teaching for the reformation of the family among us. He has given us something so practical and helpful to impart to brothers and sisters in another nation, and we know from our own experience that it will be a blessing to marriages and families as we preach in churches and conferences in Malawi. May God use this time mightily to revive and strengthen Christian families there.
  3. We are going in order to receive. Having been on similar trips before, I know we are likely to be the great recipients. God has been firmly establishing particular and precious truths among our brethren in Malawi, and we will be carefully watching and listening, hoping to identify and acquire them. I already know that these are joyful men, humble men, praying men, and I need that to rub off on me. We will be on the lookout for other areas where they excel us so that we can grow and progress in our faith.
  4. Brotherhood is an amazing joy. This past November, five of these brothers from Malawi were with us in North Carolina for nearly a month. We know them. We love them. My family was one of the host families, and the man who stayed with us lost his guest status early in his stay, becoming family in a profound sense. Getting off the plane in Malawi and embracing these men will be a special moment. I have missed them.
  5. Why wait? The Great Commission – making disciples, baptizing, teaching them to obey all things that Jesus Christ has commanded us – is the great occupation of the church. Not one of us can wait for a mission trip to another continent. It is a sin to wait. How foolish to wait for a grand event far away when our neighbors, our co-workers, our children, are perishing in their sins, without Christ, without hope and without God in the world (Ephesians 2:12). The Great Commission must not be a separate category, waiting for the next special event – it must be a part of every Christian’s DNA, having a significant impact on how we spend each day.
We covet your prayers for the power of the Holy Spirit in all our doings there and for exponential fruitfulness for the kingdom of heaven, and we hope to share many stories of God’s faithfulness when we return.

 

Living in Close Quarters

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

THIS JUST IN: Local church life isn’t for the faint of heart. There are people in those churches, and that means challenges for everyone who dares to engage in a meaningful way. That is as much a reality as gravity. What will we do with this reality? By the way we order our lives, we are choosing one of these options:

Option 1: Forget It

Simply exempt ourselves from it all. The bride has spots and wrinkles, so just steer clear. Sorry, not an option for Christians. Baby Christians might think like that, but people who have lived with that view for a long time need to be asking serious questions about why they are still so disconnected with the mind of Christ. Though she does have spots and wrinkles, Jesus Christ isn’t running away from His bride, He is running towards her: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:25-27).

This text helps correct our inclinations to exempt ourselves from the local church in two ways. First, it forces us to consider that we, each of us individually, contribute to the spots and wrinkles. Not the nebulous “them”. The specific “me”. A heaping helping of humble pie is essential for life in close quarters. Second, if the goal is to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ and to have His mind, we need to see the church, and that means our local church, through His lenses of the ongoing, progressive sanctification that He is accomplishing in His people.

Option 2: Find the Perfect Church

There was a perfect church – God walked with Adam and Eve in the garden in the cool of the day for two whole chapters, and then came chapter three. Sin entered the world, and churches have never been the same. Deal with it. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be careful about what church we join, and I’m not saying people can never leave one church for another. I am saying that too many people have wasted too many years chasing a fantasy. Find a sound church and literally spend your life there, by Paul’s definition: “And I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I am loved” (2 Corinthians 12:15). As you can see, Paul did not suffer from naivety about church life. He simply pressed forward anyway.

Option 3: Keep It Unreal

Sinners in the church? No problem, we can just keep interaction at the surface level. Pre-damage control, as it were. Minimize the contact, minimize the risk. That way we can love doctrine without having to love people. But wait – isn’t the doctrine so we can love people? Matthew 22:36-40, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

If love for God and neighbor is the great frame for all of this law that we are so eager to parse and nuance, if love is the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13:10), then loving the law of God without loving each other – as the Bible defines love in 1 Corinthians 13 and elsewhere – is way worse than silly. And for anyone who thinks they can nurture love for God while staying above messy entanglements with fellow believers, check 1 John 4:20, “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?” It is clear that love for God and love for each other have an unbreakable connection, and that this isn’t cotton-candy emotion only love, it is meat-and-potatoes sacrifice for each other love.

A local church where everything operates at the surface level is a Frankenstein of our own creation, not the Bible’s. Search the New Testament for the phrase “one another” and feast your eyes on how God actually wants us to live together.

Option 4: Embrace, Cultivate, and Maintain the Close Quarters

Oh, that God would give us hearts so full of His forgiveness, grace and love that we could look at the inherent dangers of living in close quarters and say “BRING IT ON!” Let it be said that I feel the full fury of the proverbial three fingers pointing back at me. What rises in my heart during the inevitable dust-ups that occur when we live together in close quarters condemns me for my own lack of love. But I have hope, because I know that I need to be different, I want to be different, and little by little I am starting to be different.

What about you? God brings His people together into close quarters for His own purposes. Proverbs 14:4, “Where no oxen are, the trough is clean; But much increase comes by the strength of an ox.” Do we want clean, or do we want strength for the kingdom of God? We have a big commission, a Great Commission, and when we settle for clean, we must understand how much strength is lost.

Trust God. He is right about the way we should live together. He is teaching me how to live in close quarters in a local church for His glory, and He is teaching you the same. Don’t exempt yourself. Call off the search for the perfect church. Commit yourself to a sound one and get below the surface in close quarter relationships for a long time. When we do that, though life together won’t always be “clean”, we will have the strength for serving God that we need and want.