Friday, September 29, 2017

Atonement, sin, the cross and the true gospel.

A little over six and half years ago my family and I stepped into an unknown land.  We had no idea what was in store for us.  It was very much a time of uncertainty for us.  We had no idea how everything would pan out.  Part of the reason that even got us thinking of cross cultural service was my own personal experiences.   Through them I got this burden to see gospel churches planted.  It is so amazing to look back on divine providences and the counsel which ended up bringing us here 9000' in the Anders mountains of northern Peru.  It has been an incredible journey so far.  One filled with highs and lows.  Never did we imagine we would be doing what we are doing.  The first Sunday of September was our five year anniversary of planting our first church.  By God's grace it is a church that preaches the gospel of God's free grace.

For the benefit of the world wide church, there has been a resurgence in conversations about the gospel, gospel preaching, gospel centered ministry and everything alike.  I personally have received from so much of the material out there.  One thing I wanted to be true to in ministry, and still do, is the gospel.  Many things pass for gospel that in all actuality are not gospel.  We must never confuse the benefits of the gospel or by products of the gospel as the gospel.  It is easy to preach about the blessing of the gospel (and we should).  It is easy to share all about the wonderful results of trusting in the gospel (and we should).  But we can never confuse the results of the gospel with the gospel itself.  There is a very real and great temptation to soften the message of the cross.  The message of the cross is offensive.   The message of God's free grace to sinners isn't something that is easily preached or received.  I think many people take the sting out of the message and try to make it less offensive and soften the message, with maybe the best intentions.  They want to see people trust Jesus so they talk about the blessing of the gospel or results or other facets.  They will tell you to pray a prayer and then you are saved and all this type of stuff.  All the while never even giving the gospel or the demands of discipleship.  I am so blessed in my life to have been (and still am) surrounded by and discipled by,  incredibly gospel centered men.  Certain individuals have poured into me and I have great models to look and pull from.  Years ago, I was sitting in a class on a Sunday afternoon and one of those men who pastors a church in Half Moon Bay said something that I can still hear in my head as clear as if I was sitting in that room right now.  He said "I like to preach about the blood and the cross and sin."  That has profoundly shaped me and the way I view ministry. Possibly that class on a whole, more than anything else has shaped me into who I am as preacher.

Recently in our pastoral training program that we facilitate, we were discussing being ashamed of the gospel.  Talking about why and what that might mean or look like in their ministries.  After some good natured banter I said listen guys, it can be very easy to be ashamed of the gospel.  Maybe not in our minds, but by our actions.  Tons of the methods that people have developed are because of shame of the gospel.  I was very honest.  I asked do I desire a big church?  If I answer yes, why?  I could say oh because then more people are coming to Christ and hearing God's word......bla bla bla. I said all the proper answers.  But then  I said we need to examine our motives.  Cause in my pride, I would love to have a huge church.  But why?  So I could say look at me?  So I could say I am so effective?  Why?  There is a fine line there.  And I told them, I could have a big church if I wanted.  I really could.  I have no doubt I could get our church to explode.  How?   By softening the gospel.  By getting away from the gospel.  By preaching to the felt needs of people.  By preaching on the blessings of the gospel only.  I could teach a series on how to have a better sex life (sex sells!).  I could do a series on how to better yourself.  You know, self improvement, people eat that up.  I could teach a 7 step course to financial freedom and how to give you a better life and build better relationships.  Our church would grow!  There is no question about it.  But is that being a faithful minister of Christ I asked?  And that is a question I ask myself everyday as I rise.  Am I being a faithful minister of Christ?

When we look at how the Apostles did ministry we see that the focus of their preaching was the cross.  They had an atonement centered message.  They gloried in the message of the cross.  They could not live without it and they were willing to die for it.  And because they were, they exposed themselves to hardships, persecutions and even death.  See, the message of the atoning death of Christ for sin is the heart the Apostles gospel and that is to be the cornerstone of the Christian faith.  When we strip all that away, there is NO GOSPEL.  Jesus told people to count the cost before following.  We don't see much of that in our modern evangelicalism.  We have a tendency to emphasize the benefits of the gospel but not the gospel!  So many preach this easy believism.  Just pray this prayer and wah-lah you are a Christian.  It is like this magic formula.  We had dinner the other night with one of the elders of the church and his wife and we were talking about that subject.  Especially in this culture, to ask someone if they want to trust Jesus and pray this prayer, 99% of the time it will happen.  This is a people pleasing culture.  I told them I could get the whole restaurant at that point to pray the prayer.  It just doesn't hold weight here.  Besides we are called to make disciples not converts.  Yes it is great when someone trusts Christ.  We never want to minimize that.  In Luke's gospel it says there is rejoicing going on in heaven when one sinner repents.  But why do we make such a huge deal about the initial steps?  I think that we should make such a greater emphasis on the finishing steps.  Who celebrates because someone started a marathon?  It doesn't matter how well we start.  What matters is how we finish!  That is a great thrust of the Scriptures.  And many people, tragically, will not finish the race set out before them.  And many times, it is because they don't know the race they are entering.  Lloyd Jones (another one of those shaping influences who I was introduced to through PB on those Sunday morning classes) had grave concerns over this type of evangelism.  He said "I can sum it up by putting it like this: I feel that this pressure which is put upon people to come forward in decision ultimately is due to a lack of faith in the work and operation of the Holy Spirit. We are to preach the Word, and if we do it properly, there will be a call to a decision that comes in the message, and then we leave it to the Spirit to act upon people. And of course He does."  This is what we have done in our church.  We preach, we pray that the Spirit would do His work and we trust in the power of the gospel.  To God be the glory, we have seen people trust in Christ, but I am more concerned in how they walk and persevere than their initial trust.

Several of the pastors in our program use tactics and methods to get people to make professions of faith. Other ministries around here do the same thing.  There are issues within the church that are reasons to divide over.  Methodology for the most part wouldn't be one of them.  I have great desire to set aside many of the non essentials to have unity.  There are certain doctrines that we don't need to be dogmatic about. With that said,  I would probably only attend one or two of the churches that are represented in our pastor training program.  But through this program pastors are becoming more grounded in the truth and developing a true gospel centered ministry.  That is one of the biggest goals of the program.  We aren't pushing a certain methodology, but pushing the gospel.  But one methodology we want to stay away from is any one that creates a false hope or false sense of security or false converts.  Lloyd Jones talks about how the Puritans in particular were afraid of what they would call "a temporary faith" or "a false profession." There was a Puritan, Thomas Shepard, who published a famous series of sermons on The Ten Virgins. The great point of that book was to deal with this problem of a false profession. The foolish virgins thought they were all right. This is a very great danger.  Never do we want to be guilty of producing this temporary faith or false professions.  We are to preach to the minds and to the hearts and let the Spirit do the work of drawing that person to Christ.

Lloyd Jones says "the order in Scripture seems to be this – the truth is presented to the mind, which moves the heart, and that in turn moves the will."  When we preach the gospel, the gospel will do its work.  We, like the sower in the parable, just sow seed.  Scatter and let God through the Word by the power of the Spirit operate.  These six years have been a learning process.  It will continue to be.  There are times when I am so over my head and under water that I don't know how I managed to get some air.  I expect many more days like that.  I have made many mistakes and I know many more are to come.  But one thing I know and believe with all my heart, the only thing profitable that I have to give is the gospel.  The same gospel that my mentors have preached.  The same gospel that the Apostles preached.  The same gospel that our Lord Jesus Christ preached.  The more I study it and read it and meditate on it and trust in it, the better I will be in giving and sharing and persuading and trusting in it myself.  I am grateful for those who have gone before me and who have shaped and molded me.  I am grateful for the small amount of influence I have in the lives of thirty pastors in this area to speak of these matters with them.  I heard someone say the gospel is great and all but we need to help the people on a more practical level.  Listen, ALL practical matters of the Christians life flow from the true gospel.  We never move beyond it.  The gospel is not just for non believers or new believers.  Matter of fact if you get tired of hearing the gospel, you need to seriously have a soul searching time.  The gospel should never be old or boring or unexciting.  We do not meet Christ at the cross and then move past it or outgrow our need for it.   One preacher said "All of our blessings are blood bought.  And the only hope of avoiding false doctrine and heresy such as legalism or license to sin (abused grace), is to continually treasure the cross and the tremendous price of Christ's atonement."   This is why we don't preach the moral code of Jesus or the example Jesus as the essential Christian message.  The true message we need to preach, trust, and love is the atoning death of Christ on the cross.  As difficult as that is.  As hard as it can be.  As offensive as it might be.  That is the message.  Christ and Him crucified.  When I stand before the throne of God, I will not be judged on my "numbers" but I will be judged on my faithfulness.  And it is not faithfulness in the things that I think are important but faithfulness to what Christ deems important.  So I will maintain by God's grace to be faithful to the gospel of our glorious Lord Jesus!

Soli Deo gloria

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Developing a culture of prayer

Every day is one day closer to the time we leave Cajamarca, Peru and head to Valdivia, Chile.  It has been crunch time for me and I don't see the load changing soon.  While my teaching schedule is now significantly reduced, other responsibilities have increased.  I only teach two more Sunday mornings and maybe two or three more times at our Firm Foundations classes on Wednesday nights.

So my load of work isn't with studying and prepping for teaching, it is with making sure all our leaders are understanding their roles and responsibilities.  I am not at all concerned with the messages that will be coming from behind the pulpit.  Our guys have an incredible grasp on the Scriptures and are grounded in the truth and are very gospel centered.  I guess you could call it our mission statement for RCC, but we have this framed on the wall when you walk into our church and we all passionately believe this must take place and all our leaders hold to this:

While you may learn some good things like historical background on the text, how to be a better person, or how to date and marry well, none of those things are the primary purpose of preaching.  Without Jesus, none of those things matter.  Since Jesus is what we all need, and since the Bible is about Him, we preach Jesus from the Bible every Sunday.

So while us leaders meet and discuss issues and practical theology and where we stand, we all have a clear vision and heart to preach Jesus and Jesus alone.  Next week, I think I will talk more on that because I don't want to get on a rabbit trail right now, but the work right now isn't of that nature.  I am not working with their sermons or theological understanding.  The work is just talking over simple things.  Showing up on time (very counter cultural in Peru), guarding their hearts, praying for members of the church and taking more responsibility in their personal discipleship of members.  We have been talking about all the logistics of the financial issues of the church and how money will still be coming in to cover costs of ministry.  We are discussing who is going to be taking over children's ministry, orphanage ministry, and scheduling and all of those things that to be honest I am not the best in.  But these are areas that need to be nailed down and understood.

I couldn't be prouder to see our guys stepping up to the plate and taking ownership and grabbing ahold of the ministries they have been entrusted with.  But what I have seen that has most blessed my heart is the leaders desire to have a culture of prayer.  It shows that they understand that the church is the Lord's and they need His grace and power to do what it is they are called to do.  I love seeing this. 

As I look back on planting this church, I do believe one area that I failed greatly in was developing a culture of prayer within the church.  I am not saying I didn't pray or anything like that.  I prayed and still pray.  I am desperate for the Lord and nothing that has happened would have ever happened if we didn't pray.  But, I think I prayed more out of fear or because I had no idea what I was doing or things like that.  I thought maybe the church would just have a culture of prayer.   It wasn't something I focused in on.  We have corporate prayer time before each Sunday service, but it was never something that was an emphasis if that makes sense? By the Lord's grace, our leaders have now developed their own desire to pray as leaders and as a church and several within the church are seeing the importance of corporate prayer, but I failed the Lord's people in that area greatly.  And so when we head to Valdivia, our church will have a culture of prayer.  It will be a priority as much as preaching the gospel!  Prayer, both corporate and individual, will be a major focus of RCC Valdivia.  

It is totally by the Lord's grace that RCC BaƱos del Inca has been established and is flourishing.  Truly the Lord has done a great work and it is humbling to play a small part in it.  It was definitely by His might and His power.   I told the pastors in our ESI training, which I will get into next week talking about preaching and ministry, but I told them we need to glory in our redeemer.  I see so many people promote themselves and what they do and even exaggerate and claim things that aren't theirs or claim things that other people do and say they are the ones doing it.  It is sad and shameful. One thing is for sure when it comes to us and all that has taken place here, WE DID NOTHING!  It was all of the Lord and we just happened to be in the right place at the right time and people sacrificially have given to this work.  Even though I never developed a culture of prayer, we prayed and it was prayer that opened the gates.  Don't misunderstand what I am saying.  I am not saying we name it and claim it and all that garbage, but I am saying when we pray it shows how desperate and dependent we are on Jesus.  Prayer is the life line of the Christian and it sure is the life line of any true ministry and church.  This is something I knew, and believe, but I don't think I truly conveyed that to our people.  But our Lord is gracious and has shown them.

As I continue to work with our leaders on the transition of the church, I am so grateful to our Lord that even though I failed greatly in establishing a culture of prayer, He is!  Even when I am unfaithful, He remains faithful.  In my weakness, His power is made perfect.  I have learned a lot over these last 5 years of planting a church.  I have made many mistakes and I will make many more on the next one, but I am excited to plant another one once again.  

Friday, September 15, 2017

Not sure

Where do I begin?  Do I express how our days are rapidly coming to an end in Peru?  Do I cry about how sad that is making all of us?  Do I write about how excited we are to get to Valdivia and start a new work?  Do I vent about how I can't wait to leave Peru because I am tired of being associated with certain individuals and always having to say, "no we are not with them"?  Do I say I can't wait until we don't see people who are "smiling faces" like the song sings about?  Do I begin by saying how hard it is to leave Peru because all the Lord has done here and what not?  Do I say we have so many mixed emotions and do not know how to deal with them?  I just don't know!  I sat down at my computer this morning at 7:45 to write out my heart.  In the past it has always helped me to work through what I am feeling by writing out my thoughts.  I have written severals posts this morning and deleted them.  It is now almost noon.  I still haven't be able to process or clearly express myself.  I am sure glad I finished my sermon for Sunday yesterday.  At this point I don't even know if I could manage to put a sound message together.  This is uncharted territory for me and my family.  Leaving Peru is the hardest thing we have ever had to do.  It is harder to leave Peru than it was leaving California.  Yet at the same time we are excited.  It almost makes me feel guilty that I am excited.  Most of the excitement though isn't about moving back to a coastal town or a town that has sausage.  I am excited about starting a new work and those challenges, but more than anything I am just tired of being here and seeing people and what they do and the talking that goes on.  We never try to air out our dirty laundry or speak to much on the hardships because......really what good does it do.  I internalize a lot.  I try to hold my tongue and never speak ill because gossip is an ugly sin.  But I will say that I believe it is the Lord's grace that we go through certain trials and circumstances, but it takes the proper perspective to see that.  I am glad to see true colors and all of that because it makes it easier to leave.  Being surrounded by it, it is hard to keep your nose out of it.  But once we are gone, the only thing we will hear about from Peru is from our church and our people.  One of our national leaders told us the other day that he doesn't want to have any part of anything that is not from us or our sending churches.  With us gone, it will make it so much easier for RCC to be independent from anyone else in this area.  So that makes me excited, but then I think about all our people who we have invested in and have come to love so deeply.  I think how my daughter who was born here is so proud to say I am Peruvian!  I think about the simplicity of life here.  I think of how blessed we are to be part of such a loving and selfless church.  It brings tears.  How are things going to look in Chile?  Not sure!  It definitely won't be a Peruvian church we will be part of.  So we will have to learn how to "do" church again.  One thing we never wanted to do here was export American evangelicalism but  to bring biblical Christianity.  We see too many people try to make "American Christians".  I read a thought provoking statement the other day by David Platt who is president of the IMB.  He said "we desperately need to explore how much of our understanding of the gospel is American and how much is biblical."  Wow!  This is one of the things that irritates me about so much I see.  Yet, I need to make sure what we do isn't because we are American or because of church tradition but because it is gospel.  So I have fears about Valdivia.  But I know that if I take the path of Paul, and decided to know nothing among anyone except Jesus Christ and him crucified, I am going in the right way.  One of the greatest complements I have received was the other night at our elders meeting.  One of our elders said that our church is a church that preaches Christ and Him crucified and only that.  We have seen lives change.  People have come to trust in Christ.  We don't have people raise their hands.  We don't post pictures about how someone came to know the Lord or said some prayer.  Especially in this culture.  People will tell you anything because they are people pleasers.  And besides,  how do you know if the seed fell on good soil?  You don't!  We preach Christ and Him crucified at RCC and that will continue.  In Valdivia, church will look different, but one thing will remain the same.  We will preach Christ and Him crucified.  We are not doing what we are doing to build our kingdom or our church or our style of American evangelicalism.  We have had challenges here with all of that.  It is hard to leave, but at the same time it is easy.  I don't know what is in store in Valdivia, but I do know the Lord is moving us and our days are coming to and end here.  Well, that it is it.  I don't know what I have even just wrote or expressed or if it makes sense.  I typed out what I was saying and I won't even go back and edit it because this is the rawest form of who I am.  I just hope that in it and in some small way you see my open heart and my desire to honor Christ in all we do.  But I also hope it reveals ways you can be praying for us.