Sabbatical

My church has graciously granted me a 3 month (!) sabbatical. I am very grateful. Though that does not mean I should necessarily take a sabbatical from this blog, I am planning to do so. I have been trying to post twice a month for the last couple years, and it has been a blessing to be able to do so. But I will take a break from this blog until early October. I would appreciate your prayers for a fruitful time of rest

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What short-term missions teams want you to know if you are hosting us

I have had the opportunity to travel to Central Asia the last few years to help several Christians in their efforts to reach the unreached. It has been a great blessing to be a part of. I realize there are many different situations, but having been a part of at least seven or eight short term mission trips, here are a few things I think every faithful short term team would want you to know, if you are either a missionary on the field, or a local church inviting us to come help you in your work:

  • We are so thankful for you! You are likely a part of the few who felt the burden to not stay, but rather to go. That means you likely sacrificed in ways most of us never will, all for the sake of the gospel. Thank you for being on the front lines of the Great Commission!
  • We do not want to be a burden. We are only coming because we think we can help you. We would not come unless you invite us. So please do not invite us simply because you think that is what you are supposed to do. If you are having to create work for us, do not invite us. If you have more work than you can handle, that is exactly why we hope to come.
  • We are willing to lead or follow during the trip. Just be clear about what you want. As a local church, we have our sights set on preaching the gospel to unbelievers, discipling believers, and organizing local churches. We are happy to lead in that. But since you are on the field in a context that is foreign to us, we are happy to follow you. Let’s just communicate clearly.
  • We are willing to pay for as much as we need to. Let’s simply communicate clearly about that as well
  • We do not want to sightsee. Please do not feel like you have to show us around. We are there to work, not play.
  • At the same time, we are not there to work 24-7. We will benefit from as much rest as is normal for the Christian life.
  • We are a local church. You are likely a missionary without normal church life, or a young church who needs help growing ecclesiologically. One of the goals in missions should be to establish healthy local churches. That means by God’s grace we have something to offer you missiologically. Please do not be offended if we try to offer it. We are simply trying to do our job, and trying to help you do yours.

I cannot stress to you how thankful we are for you, and how much we love praying for you. I look forward to discovering how God used all our efforts together to grow the Church

Reflections on our church retreat

We just had our second annual church retreat/camp. We were blessed to be able to bring a speaker from my former church for the second straight year. Pastor Ryan Fullerton brought great teaching on building a culture of evangelism. A few reflections:

  • I pray every single one of our members have these words ringing in their ears in every relationship with non-Christians: connect-God-man-Christ-response
  • I pray for every single one of our children to be saved, and that we have a culture that says, “I welcome advice in parenting”
  • Preaching the gospel to yourself is how you will persevere in this life, and we cannot expect to be effectively evangelistic if we are not rejoicing in our own salvation
  • Ryan Fullerton is still my favorite preacher in the world

Listen to his Sunday sermon here

Why weekly Lord’s Supper

We recently moved to weekly Communion on Sunday mornings. The two best reasons I have ever heard for not doing it weekly:

  1. It will become less special
  2. In order to really guard the Table, we should do it less

Regarding number 1, is there really anything else that we treat like that? Regarding number 2, is there really anything else we treat like that? For both, I think the answer is to just do it well every time. I try to kiss my wife goodbye everyday when I go to work. As long as I really mean it, I think it is a valid kiss. And even sometimes when my mind is not as fully there as it should be, it is still a good thing.

To those I will add one more possible reason for not doing it weekly: in Calvin’s Geneva, the civil government did not allow it. Ok, maybe in that case, that is a good reason to not do it weekly.

Outside of that, there are a lot of reasons to do it every time the church gathers for worship on the Lord’s Day:

  1. It appears to be the NT pattern (Acts 2.42, Acts 20.7)
  2. As often as you do it, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes (1 Cor 11.26). I repeat, as often as you do it, you proclaim the death of Christ!
  3. It forces Christians to examine themselves every week
  4. It helps non-Christians in attendance see who the Body of Christ is, and understand they are not a part of it yet
  5. It is the central benefit to church membership- anyone under the discipline of a church should be barred from the Lord’s Table; taking the Lord’s Supper once a month is like barring everyone three times a month

I could go on and on. It really comes down to what you think “this is my body” and “this is my blood” really means. Unless you say “I think Jesus meant this is not his body and blood,” I think you always give up a good thing if you do not practice it on any given Sunday.

What exactly is the Lord’s Day gathering?

What it is not:

  • an evangelistic rally of some sort- any church who makes Sunday morning more geared for the non-Christian than it is for the Christian is at best a parachurch ministry
  • the church- we often say “let’s go to church” on Sunday morning. We kind of know what we mean. Or do we? Any church who thinks of “church” as mainly Sunday morning is confusing a little bit what the church does versus who the church is

What it is:

  • the main gathering of the church (Acts 20.7)
  • a mixed gathering in most places I know of, where it is mostly the church, often mixed with visiting Christians looking for a church, and almost always mixed with some unbelievers who either think they are Christians or are looking into Christianity
  • a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus (Matthew 28)
  • the main time of the week where the flock (Christians) are to be fed, pray together, fellowship, and break bread together (Acts 2.42)
  • a great time for unbelievers to be saved (1 Corinthians 14.25); the church should evangelize 7 days a week, and they should not depend on the preacher to evangelize their friends, and Sundays are mainly for Christians to get fed. BUT, it is still a perfect time for the unbeliever to hear a skillful delivery of the gospel, and to see what the gospel does to the Church.
  • It is a time of worship! It is for God. It is to please Him. It is to approach and engage the living God in exactly the way He desires to be worshiped. Every decision about Sunday morning that does not begin with God in mind is a decision starting off on the wrong foot.

What we try to do on Sunday morning is make it so for God, that it will automatically be foreign to the unbeliever. If an unbeliever ever feels right at home in our worship gathering, something is seriously missing. One of the things we have been trying to communicate recently to guests is that if they are not a Christian: 1) We are so glad they came! 2) Until they become a Christian, they can only observe worship; they cannot truly participate.

May the Lord increase the number of His worshipers on the Lord’s Day!

What does “God so loved the world” mean?

It is so easy to think John 3.16 means “God loves every single human being so much” and leave it at that. But it has to mean more than that. It says “God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son.”

It still might be easy to think it means “God loves every single human being so much, so He gave Jesus.” But it has to mean more than that. It says “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son.” John 3.16 starts with the word “for”! And right before that, Jesus says, “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up.” So just like Moses lifted a bronze serpent (a symbol of a cursed and defeated enemy) for the life of the Israelites, so Jesus must be lifted up (on the cross, as a crushed enemy of God!) for the life of believers. God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son to die!

It still might be easy to think it means “God loves every single human being so much, so He gave His Son to die.” But it has to mean more than that. For what does dying have to do with love? If you know the gospel, you know that Jesus died in the place of sinners, so that sinners would not have to die. So that does sound loving. But John 3.16 says “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son (to die), that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.”

So many conclude John 3.16 means “God loves every human being so much, so he gave Jesus to die in their place, to give them a chance to be saved.” That is where good old fashioned logic helps. In John 3.16 God’s love leads to the sending of the Son, which leads to every believer being saved. The end of God’s love is every believer being saved. Go ahead and read John 3.16 again, and see if that is not what it actually says. In other words, God’s love does not merely produce a chance. God’s love produces salvation for believers!

Good Friday is good because it is the day God loved the world!

Struggle with vs living in sin

If you cannot distinguish between struggling with sin vs living in sin, you undercut much of the work of the church. Consider the following:

  • “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9.23)- Suppose a person professes they want to follow Christ, but looks at pornography everyday, and you say to him/her, “Let me help you turn away from sexual immorality,” and they say to you, “everybody struggles with sin.” Are you just going to say, “yes, you’re right,” or are you going to help them deny self?
  • “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples” (John 8.31)- Suppose a married couple says they are disciples of Jesus, but they fight all the time, so they are getting a divorce, and when you press them on the covenant they made before God, they say, “we’re all sinners. What makes my sin worse than yours?” Are you just going to say, “you’re right, all sin is equal,” or are you going to help them abide in Christ?
  • “How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6.2)- Suppose a girl wants to get baptized, but lives with her boyfriend, and when you call her to repent she says, “we all struggle with sin; give me time to grow.” Are you going to say, “yes, you’re right, we all struggle with sin,” or are you going to call her to stop living in it?

The final judgment will be a judgment for the “cowardly, the faithless, the detestable…murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars” (Revelation 21.8). For those who struggle with sin, there is good news: trust in Christ and you will be saved! Then the Church can help you struggle against sin for the rest of your life.

For those who live in sin, you still have time to repent! But if you refuse to repent, that’s you in Revelation 21.8, no matter how much you say you love Jesus. God knows the difference between “struggle” and “living.”