Monday, July 28, 2008

Mexico Update 28 July


Today our groups started their work in the respective ministries with the churches. We had three groups working in different areas of Acapulco. My group is working in VBS at La Esperanza. We had 50 children this morning in a very well-organized VBS. An excellent group of leaders is involved in this VBS complete with Bible Stories, Crafts, Music, and Games. The theme is Sigueme (follow Me). In addition to the VBS, we did a family conference tonight. Several couples joined us for a focus on dealing with anger in the family (Ephesians 4:26-32).










Another group did some painting at Iglesia Esmirna. They will continue this work tomorrow.
A third group is helping with VBS in two locations - Iglesia Monte Sinai and a mission area called Las Brisas.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Mexico Update 27 July

Today we began with worship at La Esperanza. We enjoyed singing and worshiping the Lord with our Mexican brothers and sisters. I preached on redemption from Colossians 1:13-14. A sister named Lourdes Montoya who was my first translator nine years ago translated for me today.

After the service, we paired up with the church members and handed out invitations to VBS and the marriage conference. We went into a neighborhood called Colosso where there are 40,000 people living in multi-housing units. We went to a market and near a Wal-Mart type store. We did a lot of walking and sweating. It was a true Mexico experience complete with all the sights, sounds, and smells of this busy city.

Tomorrow we will split into our three teams for VBS, construction, and the marriage conference. Thank you for your continued prayers.





Thursday, July 24, 2008

Hasta Luego

My blogging may be sporadic at best for the next week or so. I am leaving Saturday with a group from our church for a week of mission work in Mexico. We will be helping with two VBS projects, a family seminar, a leadership seminar, and some light construction/maintenance work.

It has been our joy to work with a group of churches in and around Acapulco, Guerrero for the last seven or eight years. There is something special about being able to build relationships and partnerships in gospel ministry with other congregations and church leaders. In addition to our work in the Acapulco area, we also support Seminario Teologico Bautista del Sur (STBS). This seminary is strategic to the work in Geurrero and other parts of southern Mexico.

We will have the joy of working with our church planter in Mexico, Robb Hazen. Robb and his wife Vicky will join us in Acapulco to assist our team. Robb and Vicky are planting a church in Tumbiscatio, Michoacan, Mexico. It is located in a mountainous area about 9 hours northwest of Acapulco. Robb and Vicky are working in a city where there is no evangelical work. Robb and Vicky are both graduates of STBS.

Pray for our mission team as we seek to sow the seed of the gospel through these various projects. If I get a chance, I'll send some updates from the field during the week.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Connection between Sorrow over Sin and the Joy of Salvation

Last Sunday I preached on the first beatutide. Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." The first characteristic of those who possess the kingdom is their conscious embrace of their spiritual poverty before God. Like beggars who sit by the road depending on the kindness of others for bread, those who possess the kingdom of God realize that they are spiritually bankrupt and dependent on God's mercy for salvation.

A quote from Spurgeon over at Pyromaniacs this week got my attention. Spurgeon said,

Though I rejoice in sudden conversions, I entertain grave suspicions of those suddenly happy people who seem never to have sorrowed over their sin. I am afraid that those who come by their religion so very lightly often lose it quite as lightly.

I like deep ploughing. Top-soil skimming is poor work; the tearing of the soil under surface is greatly needed. After all, the most lasting Christians appear to be those who have seen their inward disease to be very deeply seated and loathsome, and after awhile have been led to see the glory of the healing hand of the Lord Jesus as he stretches it out in the gospel.

There is a connection between how deeply we feel our sin and how joyfully we value our salvation. Whose joy is greater, the person who gets a Band-Aid or the person who gets a bone marrow transplant? The more clearly we understand our spiritual poverty and desperation, the more highly we value the saving mercy of Christ.

Evangelical culture is awash in too many Osteenisms. Too many preachers want us to focus on the "champion within us" while they try to pump up our self-esteem. This seems to be quite contrary to the poverty of spirit which Jesus says must characterize all who enter the kingdom of God. The gospel does compel us to look inside. It compels us to see inside ourselves not the answer to our problems, but the problem itself - our sin. Once we come to terms with our spiritual destitution, we are compelled to look outside ourselves and find the forgiving mercy of a crucified and risen Savior.

A true grasp of sin and the gospel does not lead to morbid, brooding, joyless people who are pickled in negativity. But neither does it lead to a cosmetic, fluffy, unstable sort of spiritual giddiness. What a real view of sin and the gospel produces is deep-seated, satisfying joy in the Savior whose death on the cross both washes away our sin and clothes us in His all-sufficient righteousness.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Woodrow Kroll on Biblical Illiteracy

Last Thursday it was our church's privilege to host an event sponsored by our local AFR affiliate (KCFN 91.1). The event was called Firm Foundation. One of the special guests at this event was Dr. Woodrow Kroll from Back to the Bible. Dr. Kroll preached a challenging message on the issue of biblical illiteracy. He stated some statistical research from Barna, Gallup, and the research arm of Back to the Bible which reveals that people are ignorant of the Bible. This problem is not confined to the general culture. Rather, the evidence suggests that it is a problem among evangelical church-goers as well. This problem has resulted in a lack of discernment which Dr. Kroll described as a failure to find "true north" on spiritual matters.

Dr. Kroll stated seven problems resulting from biblical illiteracy:

1) It has caused moral apathy among Christians.
2) It has robbed us of answers to the key questions of life.
3) It has hastened the dumbing down of the church.
4) It creates a lack of intimacy with God.
5) It decreases the value of Christianity among other religions.
6) It diminishes the urgency for evangelism.
7) It hampers our ability to find true north spiritually.

After expanding on these seven woes of biblical illiteracy, Dr. Kroll went on to suggest seven things each person can do to recover spiritual "true north."

1) Read the Bible to be transformed not just informed.
2) Read the Bible to metabolize it.
3) Read the Bible by tithing your time to God.
4) Read the Bible for God's purpose not yours.
5) Read your Bible and chart your spiritual growth.
6) Read your Bible and make it personal.
7) Read your Bible and make a covenant with God to do it.

Research done by Back to the Bible showed that a person who engages with Scripture at least four times per week shows a marked difference in their lifestyle. His message was a good reminder that the church will always be spiritually anemic and even inept without regular engagement with God's Word.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Treasure in Clay Jars

Yesterday I had the privilege of visiting one of our elderly church members. She is 80 plus years old and battling cancer. She cannot walk, get up out of bed by herself, or do any of the routine tasks most of us take for granted. If she goes anywhere, it is in a wheelchair assisted by others. Her children are taking turns caring for her in her apartment. Hospice also comes in periodically.

When I came into the little apartment, she was lying on the sofa. Her daughter helped her up into the wheelchair. After she got situated in the chair, we exchanged pleasantries. She then began to talk about how good God has been to her. She spoke of the joy God has given her. She said that all her life God has showered her with His love. Smiles and tears punctuated the expressions of gratitude for God's working in her life.

She talked about her children, her church, her college roommate, and other things which were the tangible reminders of God's love to her. Then, she said something that jolted me. She said that her cancer was a gift from God. What? Cancer a gift? Yes. How so? Because, she said, it humbled her and made her dependent on the Lord. She mentioned how her son often comes to see her and leaves passages of Scripture for her to read which she cherished.

Later, her son arrived and we talked some more. He brought out the picture of her baptism. Her son had the privilege of baptizing her (and later, his father as well). Again, she smiled and rejoiced in the Lord with the memories of her baptism. We read some Scripture and prayed together and I left. I had come to encourage her. I left having been encouraged by her.

Reflecting on that visit, it occurs to me that she was a living testimony of the power of the gospel and the presence of Christ in a life. To borrow language from Paul, clearly her "outward man" was wasting away. But her "inward man" was being renewed day by day. The treasure of Jesus was being openly displayed through the clay jar. The entire time I was there she never complained. She hardly talked about her cancer other than to speak of how God was using it as a blessing to her life.

Thank you Lord for the gift of that visit to me. Thank you for giving me an example of how to see all of my life through lens of Your goodness and power.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Conservatives Preaching Like Jeremiah Wright

Russell Moore has a provocative article in Touchstone about the similarities between Rev. Jeremiah Wright and many white, conservative preachers. Moore is spot on in this article. He points out how there are two brands of liberation theology. One brand, characteristically seen on the left, uses Jesus to promote liberation from an oppressive system. The other brand, normally seen on the right, uses Jesus to promote liberation from personal problems through the American dream. In either case, Jesus is marginal to the focus of the preacher. The gospel is not the point of the message, it just becomes a framework to promote a cause.

Moore puts his finger on one of the primary dangers of politicizing the pulpit - the danger that the gospel will become tangential to the pulpit when it ought to be central. Dr. Moore puts it this way in the article:

Just take a look at the best-selling authors in Christian bookstores. Listen for a minute or two to the parade of preachers on Christian television and radio. What are they promising? Your best life now. What are they preaching about? How to be authentic. How to make good career choices. How Hillary Clinton fits into Bible prophecy.

How many times have we heard conservative preachers use the Bible in exactly the same way that Jeremiah Wright uses it? Wright uses the Scripture as a background to get to what he thinks is the real issue, psychological or economic or political liberation from American oppression. Others use the Scripture as a background to get to what they think is the real issue, psychological or economic or political liberation through the American Dream.

Either way, Jesus is a way to get to what the preacher deems really important, be it national health care or “your best life now.” Either way, the end result is hell for the hearer who accepts this gospel, regardless of whether God damns or blesses America.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Another Must Read from Paul Tripp

Justin Taylor has been posting on a new book by Paul Tripp called Whiter than Snow: Meditations on Sin and Mercy. The book is based on Psalm 51. The following is an excerpt from the first meditation in the book. Tripp is writing about a time when he was confronted by a friend about sin in his life.

Isn’t this interesting. Rather than appealing to the mercy of the Lord in the face of my sin, what I actually do instead is function as my own defense lawyer and present a list of arguments for my own righteousness. The theology behind the defense is that my greatest problem is outside of me, not inside of me. In so arguing, I’m telling myself that I don’t really need to be rescued by the Lord’s mercy. No, I’m telling myself that what I need to be rescued from is that sinner in the room who caused me to respond as I did.

Here’s the point. Before you can ever make a clean and unamended confession of your sin, you have to first begin by confessing your righteousness. It’s not just your sin that separates you from God, your righteousness does as well. Because, when you are convinced you are righteous, you don’t seek the forgiving, rescuing, and restoring mercy that can only be found in Jesus Christ.

As the hymnwriter said, "Prone to wander, Lord I feel it..." Tripp's story could by my story as well. How often do we find our first reaction to the Lord's discipline in our lives to be one of rationalizing and defending ourselves. I look forward to reading this book as an instrument in God's hand for my spiritual growth.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Don Whitney on Church Discipline

Baptist Press provides a summary of Don Whitney's teaching about church discipline at the annual Founders Conference. It is a good read on a subject which is becoming more and more discussed in SBC circles. Dr. Whitney has written some excellent books on spiritual disciplines including:

Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life
Spiritual Disciplines for the Church
Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health
How Can I Be Sure I'm a Christian
You can learn more about Dr. Whitney's ministry at www.BiblicalSpirituality.org.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The Holy Spirit versus Doctrine?

Another outbreak of "revival" called the Florida Healing Outpouring is occurring in Florida under the leadership of Todd Bentley. Thousands of people are attending his meetings and seeking healing and other spiritual experiences. There are claims of healing of broken elbows, Hepatitis C, heart problems, and even raising the dead. Bentley has had face-to-face encounters with Jesus, Paul, and various angels. Bentley even visited the cabin where Paul lives in heaven and discovered that Paul and Abraham are co-authors of the Epistle to the Hebrews (forget the fact that Abraham was dead for 2000 years before Paul was born).

Bentley eschews the idea of subjecting these claims to doctrinal review. He states, “To apply doctrine to the response of God in our lives is wrong. For someone to assume that something that happens to us isn’t of God because it’s not in his or her doctrine or knowledge of Jesus is, in my opinion, to grieve the precious Holy Spirit.” Why is it that the extreme charismatic healing types always pit doctrine against the Holy Spirit? It is because a rigorous doctrinal evaluation of these claims will prove them to be outrageous and false.

Bentley says that he seeks God for revelation. Whether that revelation comes to him through an angelic visitation or some other source, he doesn't care. Like the thousands who flock to his meetings, Bentley is driven by an experience-based form of Christianity rather than a biblically-based one. If the experience doesn't exactly conform to the revelation of God in Scripture, he will conveniently look for a new revelation from God that confirms his experience. This opens the door to all sorts of emotionalism and extreme experientialism.

The bottom line of this kind of theology is to elevate me and my judgment above the Word of God. It is pitting the Holy Spirit against doctrine. A quick reading of 2 Peter 1:16-21 demonstrates the nonsense of this approach. Peter, an eyewitness to the majesty of Jesus at the transfiguration, said that the Scriptures were a more sure word upon which to base ones faith. What an experience the transfiguration was. But Peter said the sure Word of Scripture is what we do well to pay attention to. Peter refused to pit his experience against the Word. Rather, he put the Word as the final arbiter of the accuracy of his experience.

Extreme experiences have always been a danger during times of true revival. Jonathan Edwards wrote extensively about this during the Great Awakening of colonial times. He wrote The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God to answer critics and bring balance to the public's understanding of the Awakening. Edwards argued that "bodily effects" were not the distinguishing marks of true revival. Rather, it was things such as repentance, humility, love, and the pursuit of holiness which accompany true revival.

Stories of healed diseases, heavenly visitations, and angels sprinkling gold dust over a congregation are indeed amazing. But any preacher, pastor, evangelist, or spiritual leader who asks you to trust his experience over the clear teaching of Scripture is not a true man of God. Don't be sucked into a version of Christianity which turns you into an experience junkie.