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On Sunday, September 11, 2016, we tackled the weighty issue of religion and politics. In the morning service, I preached from 1 Peter 2:13-17, in order to help us think biblically about how Christians should relate to governing authorities and how to think about the upcoming presidential elections. If you would like to listen to that message, you can find it here: Thinking Biblically About Government and Politics (1 Peter 2:13-17).

On Sunday evening, we had the privilege of hosting a forum on God and Politics. You can find it here: High Pointe Forum on Christianity & Politics. Pastor Ben Wright’s 35 points were so helpful that I asked his permission to provide them to you in full. Here they are below. Please carefully, thoughtfully, and prayerfully work through each one.

9/11/16 God & Politics Forum | 35 principles Christians can agree on

Why do we need to talk about this?

  1. We have to because Jesus Christ reigns over all. As his ambassadors, our job is to live as his representatives and declare his message.

What’s government for?

  1. Government’s mission to punish evil and reward good (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17).

Should we be favorably inclined toward government?

  1. Almost any government is better than no government.
  1. Because we are a representative or constitutional democracy, the responsibilities delegated to government in Scripture fall ultimately to American citizens.
  1. We owe government prayer, taxes, respect, and honor.
  1. You are not in sin if you oppose elected officials or their policies. You are in sin if you do not honor them and pray for them.
  1. Christians should be engaged in politics and government.
  1. Opportunities abound at local levels to engage influentially.
  1. It is right to be grateful for how our government has fought evil and promoted good.
  1. It is easy for white middle class people to believe our government did a great job fighting evil and promoting good throughout our history.
  1. Whatever era of American history you look back to as the ideal certainly wasn’t ideal for everyone. In every era, people have suffered under injustice that was tolerated, if not propagated, by our government and our culture.
  1. It is possible to be both compassionate & treat people with the dignity of divine image-bearers, and at the same time to favor enforcing the law & supporting law enforcement.
  1. Government is neither the fundamental problem nor the fundamental solution.
  1. Politicians often identify real problems but propose terrible solutions.
  1. We should be grateful but realistic, knowing government officials are fallen humans, just as we are.

 How might we be thinking poorly about Christianity & politics?

  1. Our membership in a church and our citizenship in Jesus’ Kingdom are more fundamental to our identity than our American citizenship (When we forget this, we are thinking poorly about Christianity & politics).
  1. It is possible, if not common, for Christians to prioritize political convictions over the Church’s mission.
  1. What happens in elections has zero impact on Jesus’ promise to build his Church and the Holy Spirit’s work to make that happen.
  1. Our political opponents are our neighbors, not our enemies. They are people we are sent on a mission to reach, not to war against.
  1. Religious freedom is good and desirable.
  1. God doesn’t need religious freedom in America to accomplish his plan.
  1. It is possible to possess righteous anger over government’s failure to fulfill its God-given mission.
  1. Other people may perceive real failures of government that are invisible to us, and we should learn from them.
  1. Unrighteous anger reveals how shallow is our trust in God.
  1. It is dangerous, if not common, to treasure American laws and freedom more than souls being set free from the penalty of sin and power of the devil.
  1. It is possible, if not likely, to cast a morally justifiable vote while possessing immoral motivations.
  1. People who argue there’s only one choice for Christians to make in this election year are placing a constraint on the Christian conscience that Scripture does not permit.
  1. Disagreements among Christians over how to vote often emerge less from disagreements over principles, and more from disagreements over how we weigh our principles.
  1. We need to figure out what principles we really stand on. Until then, we should guard our pronouncements.

 Conclusions

  1. It is possible, if not likely, that in this election Satan is executing a strategy designed to divide the Church & distract it from its mission.
  1. From an eternal perspective, we should be far more concerned about the disunity of the Church and distraction from our mission than the disintegration of historic American political principles.
  1. Christians need to be people who are committed to work through these issues without allowing them to divide us.
  1. The normal standing of Christians is on the margins of society. We should expect opposition and suffering.
  1. Anger, fear, and despair over the loss of a privileged standing are not marks of people who understand what it means to follow Christ. They may be marks of people who treasure American citizenship more than citizenship in the kingdom of God.
  1. If this election season drives American Christians to dislodge our hope in political parties and presidential candidates and to fix our hope on the gospel of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, then this election season will be God’s grace to his Church.
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“Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry!”
(1 Corinthians 10:14, ESV)

In a city full of temples for false gods (Poseidon, Aphrodite, Asklepios, Apollo, Demeter, Kore . . .), the apostle Paul warned the Corinthians to flee idolatry (1 Cor. 10:14).  Paul’s heart was to present everyone mature in Christ (Col. 1:28-29), so in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Paul exhorted the Corinthians to run in such a way as to win the prize!  The Corinthian Christians found themselves at a crossroads – whether to continue in Christ or be swept away by their idolatry just as had happened to Israel (1 Cor. 10:1-5).  Paul urged them to press on!

Now, we may not have temples to such gods in our cities, but rest assured that we have created manageable deities that function similarly; therefore, we require the same warnings today.  In such a context the Bible’s message is clear: Those who crave sin, that is idolaters, will not enter into the kingdom of God. This is a consistent warning from the apostle Paul (Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 5:3-5).  It is because of such sinful cravings that the wrath of God is coming (Eph. 5:6).

This is the example (type) unbelieving Israel leaves for us (1 Cor. 10:6-11).  Unbelieving Israel loved self and pleasure and craved sin (Ex. 32-Golden Calf; Num. 25-Baal of Peor; Num. 21-craving food and water; Num. 11-craving food and grumbling) more than they craved God – this is idolatry!

This is the danger in which the Corinthians found themselves (1 Cor. 6:9-10).  If the Corinthians persisted in craving sin, which is idolatry, then like Israel before them, they too would be disqualified from entering God’s kingdom (1 Cor. 10:5).  Paul’s basic argument is that you cannot participate in Christ (represented by the celebratory meal-Lord’s Supper) and at the same time participate in demons (represented by the celebratory meal in the temples) (1 Cor. 10:14-22). The sad truth is that we face the same danger today in our culture (Matt. 6:24), though not with physical idols.  Our temptation is with idols of the heart.  The evidence of our idolatry is in the sacrifices we make to our substitute gods: marriage, children (born and unborn), health, work, play, money, possessions, power, popularity, etc.

If this is the case (that we are prone to idolatry of the heart), then what can we do?  What must we do?  Paul points us in two directions.  First, Paul warns that we should take heed lest while we think we have stood, we fall (1 Cor. 10:12).  In other words, we should examine ourselves (2 Cor. 13:5).  I suggest we begin with examining ourselves in order to identify and expose our idols.  Secondly, we are to flee idolatry (1 Cor. 10:7, 14).

In next week’s Straight to the Heart, I will define idolatry in order that we may identify and expose our idols by asking certain questions of ourselves.  Then the following week I will address the issue of fleeing idols.  In the meantime, I highly encourage you to do three things:

  1. Listen to Tim Keller’s address at The 2009 Gospel Coalition Conference where he addresses the issue of idolatry – “The Grand Demythologizer: The Gospel and idolatry: available at http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/resources/video/The-Grand-Demythologizer-The-Gospel-and-Idolatry.
  1. Read David Clarkson’s sermon titled, “Soul Idolatry Excludes Men from Heaven,” available at http://spurgeon.wordpress.com/2009/04/24/david-clarkson-soul-idolatry-excludes-men-out-of-heaven/
  1. Read Tim Keller’s Counterfeit Gods.
Categories : Church, Resources, Theology
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“And these words that I command you today . . . You shall teach them diligently to your children . . .”
(Deuteronomy 6:6, 7, ESV).

In our study of Proverbs, we have been continually reminded to instill the truths of God’s Word in the hearts and minds of our children. This initial instruction is the foundation upon which we will appeal to our children as they grow in physical, emotional, and spiritual maturity. On behalf of the pastors at High Pointe, I want to offer a brief list of some reading materials that parents may find helpful. You should work through these materials to make sure they are biblically sound as they lay out particular doctrines and that they will be of benefit to your particular child(ren). Don’t just take my word for it, be a discerning reader!

One thing for sure, you should be reading Scripture with your family on a regular basis, and you can enhance your family Scripture reading with helpful devotional material. Beware of children’s material that merely promotes moralism. I prefer books that help explain the storyline of Scripture (biblical theology) and present a BIG God! Here are some helpful suggestions:

General Resources

1. God, Marriage, and Family: Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation by Andreas J. Köstenberger

2. Gospel-Powered Parenting: How the Gospel Shapes and Transforms Parenting by William P. Farley

3. Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp

4. Instructing a Child’s Heart by Tedd and Margy Tripp

5. Age of Opportunity: A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens by Paul Tripp

6. Answering Your Kids’ Toughest Questions by Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson

7. Preparing Your Teens for College: Faith, Friends, Finances, and Much More by Alex Chediak

Devotional Resources for Use with Younger Children

1. Catechism for Boys and Girls (available at our information table)

2. Leading Little Ones to God by Marian Schoolland

3. The Child’s Story Bible by Catherine Vos

4. The Big Picture Story Bible by David Helm and Gail Schoonmaker
*High Pointe pastors highly recommend this resource for use with younger children.

5. The Big Picture Family Devotional by David Helm

6. Long Story Short: Ten-Minute Devotionals to Draw Your Family to God by Marty Machowski

7. Old Story New: Ten-Minute Devotionals to Draw Your Family to God by Marty Machowski

8. Window on the World: When We Pray God Works by Daphne Spraggett and Jill Johnstone

Devotional Resources for Use Older Children

1. Grandpa’s Box: Retelling the Biblical Story of Redemption by Starr Meade

2. Give them Truth: Teaching Eternal Truths to Young Minds by Starr Meade
*Starr Meade has many helpful resources, including “God’s Mighty Acts” series.

3. Big Truths for Young Hearts: Teaching and Learning the Greatness of God by Bruce Ware

Resources for Use with Pre-Teens/Teenagers

1. Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper

2. Bible Study: A Student’s Guide by Jon Nielson

3. What’s Your Worldview?: An Interactive Approach to Life’s Big Questions by James Anderson

4. Sex is not the Problem (Lust Is) or Not Even a Hint by Joshua Harris

5. Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World by C.J. Mahaney

6. Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will by Kevin DeYoung

7. Am I Really A Christian by Mike McKinley

8. When People are Big and God is Small: Overcoming Peer-Pressure, Codependency, and the Fear of Man by Ed Welch

9. Resisting Gossip: Winning the War of the Wagging Tongue by Matthew Mitchell

Moms and dads read Scripture with your children regularly and supplement Bible reading with the catechism and devotional reading. This list of resources is in no way exhaustive, but it lists some of the most helpful resources High Pointe pastors recommend. So, for example, we highly recommend David Helm’s The Big Picture Story Bible for use with younger children. It helpfully explains the stories of the Bible with a view to how Christ is revealed from Genesis to Revelation. Likewise, Starr Meade has written much helpful material that our family has personally used with great benefit.

Each family must find a time, a place, and a plan that works best for them. I pray that these resources may be of as great a benefit to you and your family, as they have been to ours, as you seek to raise your children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

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May
23

Cultivating a Culture of Peace

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“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” (James 3:17-18, ESV)

The gospel is a gospel of peace. It declares that since the time of Adam’s sin we have been born into this world as God’s enemy: hostile in mind and engaged in evil deeds (Colossians 1:21) against God (Romans 8:7). The most holy God had every right to declare the differences between Him and us irreconcilable. Yet, in His wisdom and love God chose to reconcile us to Himself through Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 2:5). By judging our sin at the cross of Christ, Holy God is able to reconcile to Himself us who receive Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf by faith.
Through Christ, we who have been reconciled to God have also been given a ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-21). As ministers of reconciliation, we proclaim this gospel of reconciliation to the world in order that all peoples may be reconciled to God through the death of Christ. But our ministry of reconciliation does not end there, for we must continue living in the light of the reconciling work of Christ. Consequently, we must live our lives reconciled to one another.

Even though we Christians have been reconciled to God through Christ, far too many professing Christians still live in conflict with others. Such conflict is manifested in marriages, homes, workplaces, even church relationships. Unfortunately, many of us address such conflicts according to worldly wisdom rather than heavenly wisdom. This is why Christians have as many divorces as non-Christians, why they stop talking to fellow Christians, why they leave churches over conflict, and why churches even split over conflict.

What kind of Christian testimony do we offer this world if we are reconciled to God through Christ but fail to be reconciled to one another? One of the most powerful witnesses we can provide our community is the witness of reconciled relationships that flow from being reconciled to God. If we are to live in such an atmosphere, then we must cultivate a culture of peace. According to Ken Sande, author of The Peacemaker, a culture of peace is a culture where “people are eager and able to resolve conflict and reconcile relationships in a way that clearly reflects the love and power of Jesus Christ” (291). If we are to cultivate such a culture of peace, then we must have a biblical strategy for resolving conflict. Sande offers the following counsel (the four “G’s”):

Glorify God (1 Corinthians 10:31). Our entire lives must be motivated by a desire to glorify God. Get the log out of your eye (Matthew 7:5). We must first look at our own hearts in order to discern our contributions to conflicts. Gently restore (Galatians 6:1). The Bible gives us clear instruction in approaching those with whom we have conflict. Go and be reconciled (Matthew 5:24). Once we have addressed conflict, we must be willing to restore relationships.

Let us cultivate a culture of peace in our local churches. May we be about God’s glory, and address conflict biblically by first looking at our own hearts, then approaching one another with the goal of reconciled relationships that give evidence to the fact that we are a people reconciled to God through Jesus Christ.

 

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From The Transforming Community: The Practise of the Gospel in Church Discipline (85-92)
By Mark Lauterbach

The church must be a place where people can grow, can begin as immature, and come to maturity. No matter where we draw the line of “when to speak to a brother” we must do so in a context of the Gospel and knowing that we are all maturing in Christ. Every day believers need the Gospel.

The new community is not a place where people are perfect. It is a place where people are honest about their sin. It is not a place of perfection, but of humility and the cross.
Mark Lauterbach

How to wisely address concerns about sin with brothers and sisters in Christ:

1. It should be evident we are dealing with sin, not violation of church taboos or traditions [or personal preferences]. “Make sure that the sin you are seeing in the other can be addressed by reading a verse of Scripture, without commentary” (86).

2. Guard the church against an atmosphere that is always pointing out sin (Matthew 7:1-5). “The call to reprove my fellow believer for sin must be put in the context of the call to encourage them and build them up” (88).

3. Remember that the general tone of the New Testament is encouragement. “I find it helpful,” notes Lauterbach, “to assume that another believer wants to please God. Therefore, they welcome my encouragement. The attitude behind reproof is to help them grow in Christ, which they want to do” (89).

4. Remember there is sin that is the normal lapse of the believer in their state of remaining sin. “The first question to ask is simple: Is this sin I am seeing part of the ordinary stumbling of the Christian? If so, then I need not speak to it immediately. Is it hardening their hearts or are they judging it themselves? If the latter, I may forbear” (89).

5. Remember to take into account the work of the Spirit. “[The Spirit] is wisely shaping us into the likeness of Christ in his sovereign love. Rather than expose all our corruption at once, he is gentle. To see ourselves as God sees us would undo us. He points out one thing at a time. As I intend to reprove someone or speak to them of my concern for them in sin, I must be aware of this” (90).

6. Where the believer is judging his sin and admitting it, I have no reason to be harsh. “They, like me, are seeking help and encouragement to keep on fighting the holy war. It is not helpful to rub salt in a wound” (92).

7. Sometimes we must intervene quickly. “Some sins have an unusual seriousness (and danger) to them. If I see a friend flirting with someone of the opposite sex, it is not time to be patient. It is time with wise and gracious words, to intervene, see if suspicions are correct, and seek their repentance before adultery is committed” (92).

May the Lord grant us the grace to speak to one another in love about sin.

 

Categories : Church, Resources, Sermons
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Unlike many Roman Catholics, I grew up very devout.  I remember a kind, retired priest taking me under his wing and showing me the ways of the Catholic church.  Much of what drew me in as a young teen was the mystery of God and the reverence with which this particular priest approached God.  With time, however, the more questions I had, the more the mysteries began to dissipate in the light of God’s Word.  I don’t want to rehearse my personal journey out of the Catholic church here; what’s important to note is that theological mystery is good for the Catholic church and many Catholics are content to live “in the dark” about what the Catholic church explicitly teaches in many areas.

I, for one, am glad the Pope said what he said concerning atheists and eternal life.  To many in the secular media, the Pope’s admission that atheists who follow their conscience are heaven-bound will sound like a new and welcome break from the dogma of conservative Catholicism, represented most recently in Benedict.  The media elites will celebrate Pope Francis as a liberal breath of fresh air in the stuffy halls of the Vatican.  Others within evangelicalism will be aghast at such an “admission” and rebuke the Pope for diverging from Catholic dogma.  However, this Pope has duped both the secular media and conservative evangelicals if they think the Pope has said anything new or controversial.  In fact, what Pope Francis stated has been the normative teaching of the Roman Catholic Church since Vatican II.

In Lumen Gentium, Chapter 2-On the People of God, Canon 16, the Catholic Church teaches:

Finally, those who have not yet received the Gospel are related in various ways to the people of God.(18*) In the first place we must recall the people to whom the testament and the promises were given and from whom Christ was born according to the flesh.(125) On account of their fathers this people remains most dear to God, for God does not repent of the gifts He makes nor of the calls He issues.(126); But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Mohamedans, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind. Nor is God far distant from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, for it is He who gives to all men life and breath and all things,(127) and as Saviour wills that all men be saved.(128) Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience.(19*) Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life. Whatever good or truth is found amongst them is looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel.(20*) She knows that it is given by Him who enlightens all men so that they may finally have life. But often men, deceived by the Evil One, have become vain in their reasonings and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator.(129) Or some there are who, living and dying in this world without God, are exposed to final despair. Wherefore to promote the glory of God and procure the salvation of all of these, and mindful of the command of the Lord, “Preach the Gospel to every creature”,(130) the Church fosters the missions with care and attention.

So yes, since Vatican II the Catholic Church has taught that anyone who has “not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God” may be saved.  So long as those who know not, deny or are ignorant of God “strive to live a good life,” they will merit eternal life because the church sees this “goodness” as “given by Him who enlightens all men so that they may finally have life.”  When Pope Francis admitted that atheists who follow the dictates of their conscience go to heaven, he was merely quoting Catholic dogma.  Here is the pertinent statement:

Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience.

However, it’s not just atheists who go to heaven according to the Catholic Church; it is also Jews, Muslims (Mohamedans), those acknowledging their creator and those seeking an “unknown god.”  Anyone, anywhere who sincerely seeks truth, light will find life according to the Catholic Church.

To be sure, the Roman Catholic Church teaches that salvation is only through Christ’s sacrificial and atoning work on the cross.  So the Catholic Church teaches that salvation is through Christ and no other.  However, the Church would say that one does not need to express explicit faith in Christ to be saved.  This is the official position of the Catholic Church: inclusivism.  Evangelicals have argued that the Bible teaches that salvation is only through Christ’s sacrificial and atoning work on the cross AND that one must believe in Christ, receiving his cross work on their behalf and turning away from a life of sin: exclusivism or particularism.

Recently, some “evangelicals”, like the Catholic Church, have also embraced inclusivism: i.e., John Sanders (1991), Clark Pinnock (1995)Terrance Tiessen (2004).  Unfortunately, their influence has grown.  However, it’s not hard to understand why.  You only have ask a number of people in your church the age-old question about the man on the deserted island who’s never heard of Christ and never will.  What happens to him?  What happens to those who never hear the gospel?  It is an emotional question, and we are inclined to give an emotional answer.

Nevertheless, we must work through the difficult topics and teach what the Bible says rather than shrouding difficult doctrines in mystery.  Mystery only works when people ask no questions.  Even hard questions deserve answers. When we think carefully about the difficult question concerning the fate of those who have never heard the gospel, we should be moved to feel the urgency of the church’s mission.  The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.  However, if it doesn’t matter whether or not people hear the gospel and place explicit faith in Christ for salvation, then we will do more harm than good when we go on mission, for if we go and they reject Christ, then their fate will be sealed.

A Couple of Resources for Thinking Through Pluralism, Universalism, Inclusivism & Particularism

Faith Comes by Hearing: A Response to Inclusivism, edited by Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson.

Is Jesus the Only Savior? by Ronald H. Nash

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Jesus on Every Page

I just received my copy of Jesus on Every Page by David Murray.  I highly recommend it to all who want to understand how to read the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, with a view to Christ.  Here’s my endorsement:

Much has been written for seminary students and pastors on interpreting all of Scripture with a view to Christ.  Unfortunately, very little has been written with the average Christian in mind.  In Jesus on Every Page, David Murray sets out to correct this deficiency by sharing his own journey of discovery and providing ten simple ways to see Christ in the Old Testament.  No longer is the person in the pew left to wonder how the preacher got to Jesus from that text in Leviticus about dietary restrictions; she will be able to make the connections herself.  I hope you will read Jesus on Every Page and embark on your own “Emmaus road” and discover that the entire Bible, both Old and New Testaments, tells the story of Jesus.

Categories : Commentary, Resources
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Yesterday I argued that we are to expect persecution because the environment we have been sent into is one of hostility (Matthew 10:16).  If we are to expect persecution, then we should prepare ourselves for it.  But how?  In a day in which some young “radical” Christians are prepared to charge the gates of hell with water pistols or be “dropped” into Al Quaeda camps with nothing but a Bible, Jesus offers some surprising instructions.

Preparing for Persecution

Be wise and full of integrity (Matthew 10:16)!  Jesus commands his followers to be “wise as serpents” and “innocent as doves.”  Snakes are crafty, cunning, even wise.  When a snake coils up and prepares to strike, it is because it senses a threat.  A snake’s “instinct is one of self-preservation” (France, Matthew, 390).  Yet, this command to be “shrewd” is tempered by the next command to be innocent like doves.  Doves were considered pure animals for a variety of reasons.  So then, like snakes we are to wisely avoid confrontation, not foolishly seeking death; but like doves, we are to be pure in our mission efforts and deal with our opponents with integrity.

John Nolland in his commentary on Matthew captures this well (pg. 423-24): “The wisdom called for from the disciples will involve anticipating danger and avoiding it whenever possible, but not in such a way as to undercut their mission priorities.  The innocence called for will involve a consistent integrity that is prepared to suffer rather than compromise and which is careful to give no grounds for legitimate legal objection to the action of the disciples.”  In other words, to be wise and full of integrity is a call to anticipate danger but avoid it whenever possible without compromising the mission.

The best example I have witnessed of such shrewdness that is full of integrity has been among our Cuban brothers.  Those brothers whom I have had the privilege to know are humble men who navigate through the territory of a government that is hostile to the gospel.  Sure, the government wants to put on a face of religious freedom to the world, but the reality is that local governing officials can make it difficult for local church leaders and churches.  Our Cuban brothers are faithful to King Jesus, while also submitting to the governing authorities as appropriate.  One example of the shrewdness that Jesus calls us to was when the government demanded that there be no new building of churches.  The brothers submitted to that government demand.  Yet, rather than complain about this circumstance, pastors continued the mission by spreading the gospel through house churches.  Thus, a wide-spread house church movement has taken place on the island nation because our Cuban brothers were as shrewed as snakes and as innocent as doves.

I have learned much from our Cuban brothers.  Whenever we travel there, they help us obtain religious visas from their government so that our visit is recorded and legal.  Additionally, we also make sure that our government knows of our visits.  We want to be above reproach, submitting to both governments as appropriate, so as to provide a faithful and consistent witness to the governing authorities there and here.  Unfortunately, I’ve run into Christian groups from the United States seeking to minister on the island while violating the laws of both the Cuban government and ours.  I don’t think that is either wise or innocent.  It provides a terrible witness and compromises the mission.

Be on the lookout for hostile people (10:17-18, 21-22)

Even when we submit to governing authorities, however, it doesn’t meant that it will always work out as we had hoped.  Jesus reminds his followers that we are continually to be on the lookout for those who would want to do us harm.  It is possible that some of us will be handed over to “religious” authorities, should such exist (10:17).  In Cuba, for example, the Communist government has a religious affairs office through which all religious visas must be approved.  Technically, they are governing authorities with oversight of religious activity.

It is possible that some of us will be brought before governing authorities (10:18).  Once, while on one of my early visits to Cuba, I was given a citation to appear before officials at the department of immigration.  Much to my surprise, it was a department run by the military.  I first appeared before an enlisted official before finally ending up in a Lieutenant Colonel’s office with our entire team.  Never once did I have to face fear of imprisonment or life.  The conversations were cordial and calm without any threats; it was merely a meeting to intimidate our team by informing us as to what we were permitted to do and not do.  However, I have to confess that I failed in that instance to take advantage of the opportunity to give testimony to our Lord.

Sadly, there may be instances when even those closest to us may turn against us and turn us over to officials for punishment (10:21).  The reality is that because we declare allegiance to King Jesus, all will hate us (10:22; cf. John 15:18-26).  Nevertheless, we have the assurance that those who endure to the end will be saved (10:22).

When we understand our mission and the hostility of the environment into which we are sent, we will not only expect persecution, we will prepare for it.  As we prepare to face hostility in this world because of our allegiance to King Jesus, may we continually walk in wisdom and integrity so that we may know how to respond when the time comes.

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As I preached through Matthew 10:16-33 this week, I was reminded of this passage from John Piper’s Future Grace (pg. 346):

In Ermelo, Holland, Brother Andrew told the story of sitting in Budapest, Hungary, with a dozen pastors of that city, teaching them from the Bible.  In walked an old friend, a pastor from Romania who had recently been released from prison.  Brother Andrew said that he stopped teaching and knew that it was time to listen.

After a long pause the Romanian pastor said, “Andrew, are there any pastors in prison in Holland?”  “No,” he replied.  “Why not?” the pastor asked.  Brother Andrew thought for a moment and said, “I think it must be  because we don’t take advantage of all the opportunities God gives us.”  Then came the most difficult question.  “Andrew, what do you do with 2 Timothy 3:12?”  Brother Andrew opened his Bible and turned to the text and read aloud, “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”  He closed his Bible slowly and said, “Brother, please forgive me.  We do nothing with that verse.”

I’m afraid that living in a prosperous, Christ-haunted American culture allows us to do nothing with 2 Timothy 3:12.  I was reminded of this very fact in my own life this week.  Our ice maker has been broken for a while, so we’ve had to buy ice trays and continually fill them up.  I got frustrated when I went to fill my cup with ice, only to find out that all the ice trays had been emptied, but no one had filled them up – no ice!  Then I read the story of Asia Bibi in the New York Post: the Christian woman in Pakistan who was essentially arrested because she was thirsty and drank water from a Muslim-owned well.  I got upset over lack of ice; she was arrested because she lacked water and quenched her thirst from a Muslim well.  As American Christians we need to consider 2 Timothy 3:12 and many other passages that remind us that it is not only granted to us to believe but also to suffer for the sake of Christ (Philippians 1:29).  One such passage is Matthew 10:16-33.

Expecting Persecution

Jesus reminds us in Matthew 10:16 of the environment of mission – we are sent out as sheep in the midst of wolves.  You have to pause and consider the imagery: defenseless sheep in the midst of a hungry pack of wolves ready to devour.  To be sure, Jesus is speaking directly to the twelve about to embark on their Galilean mission, but he is also speaking of a time beyond this particular mission, a time after his resurrection as we see in the book of Acts.  Jesus’ followers are sent on mission in the midst of a hostile environment.

Why the hostility?  Because mission is a warfare declaration in which we announce the arrival of King Jesus and call people to change allegiances.  We are calling on people everywhere to renounce their loyalties to whatever kings and kingdoms they serve and to bow down to King Jesus instead (Psalm 2).  Then, we are to train these new recruits to be faithful subjects in the heavenly kingdom (Matthew 5-7) and faithful soldiers in King Jesus’ army (2 Timothy 2:3).

It’s important to note that our battle is not against people, for “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).  In other words, we are making war on this cosmic evil kingdom and its king.  But, “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 raided against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”

Our weapon is the gospel which reminds all people everywhere that King Jesus has come and humbled himself as a servant to receive the death penalty on behalf of sinners in order deliver them from the bondage that the evil king has over them (Hebrews 2:14-18).  We announce our king and call on people to renounce theirs!

So, mission is warfare.  We are “dropped” into a war zone where the cosmic evil powers want to destroy us and will do so by blinding the minds of unbelievers and using religious and governing authorities to do so (Matthew 10:17-18).  Therefore, we should expect persecution.

Brothers, what do we do with 2 Timothy 3:12?  Let us prepare ourselves and our people to face persecution whenever it may come.

Categories : Missions, Resources, Sermons
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Aug
28

What is the Mission of the Church?

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“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son
and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
(Matthew 28:19-20, ESV).

            On Sunday morning, we began an important three sermon series on the mission of the church from Matthew 10.  If you missed the first message, you can listen to it here: What is the Mission of the Church? (Matthew 9:35-10:15)  In this message I argued, among other things, that while all Christians are called to witness, some are called to go to other cultures where Jesus Christ has not been named and where there is little gospel presence – those called to go and sent by the church are called missionaries.

The harvest is plentiful . . .  According to the Joshua Project, there are presently 6,909 unreached people groups in the world.  A people group is a particular group of people who share ethnicity and language (ethno-linguistic).  Unreached means that less than 2% of a people group are gospel Christians.  In our world of 7.13 billion people, 3.96 billion are part of unreached people groups.  That means that approximately 56% of the world population is within the unreached category.  Additionally, 3,010 people groups are not only unreached, they are also unengaged, meaning that there is no Christian witness among them.  The unreached, unengaged total a population of just over 195 million people; that’s roughly two thirds of the population of the United States.  Yes! The harvest is plentiful!

But the laborers are few . . .  While in 2010 the United States sent out over 127,000 missionaries, the fact is that according to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity (CSGC) at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, “the ten countries with the most non-Christians in 2010 were home to 73% of all non-Christians globally.  Because many of them deny or restrict missionary access, however, they received only 9% of all international missionaries.”  On the flip side, would you like to know what country received the most missionaries in 2012?  According to a Christianity Today article, it was “the United States, with 32,400 sent from other nations.”  There may seem to be a lot of laborers generally speaking, but where it counts, the laborers truly are few!

Let us ask God for more laborers in strategic places . . .  Jesus asked his disciples to pray for more laborers.  We should do the same.  Let us ask our Father to send more laborers to take the message of king Jesus to places where He has not been named and where there is very little gospel presence.  And let us send and support these missionaries with prayer and finances so that they may be free to focus on the mission to make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey everything Jesus has commanded.

What do missionaries do?  To help our thinking as to what missionaries are called to do on the mission field, I want to recommend you read Kevin DeYoung’s great blog post on that subject.  You can read it here: The Goal of Missions and the Work of Missionaries.  May the Lord grant us much grace and favor as we seek to proclaim Jesus and call all peoples to repent and believe in Him and live a life worthy of this gospel in the midst of local, healthy congregations.

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