Resurrection and Life

The resurrection of Jesus is a celebration of life. That life, however, cost Jesus everything. Rick Warren and Kurt Bubna capture the events surrounding the resurrection which leaves us with hope through the Gospel. May your faith be strengthened as you celebrate the event that changed the world forever. Pastor Chris
 
 

 
 “Two thousand years ago, in the Middle East, an event occurred that permanently changed the world. Because of that event, history was split. Every time you write a date, you’re using the resurrection of Jesus Christ as the focal point.  What’s so important about Easter? It’s important because it proved that Jesus was who he claimed to be. He was God in the flesh, and he came to earth to save us.  Three events occurred in a dramatic succession on that Easter weekend: the trial of Jesus, then the death of Jesus, and finally the resurrection of Jesus. Let’s look at each of those events and their implications.
    “The Trial:  Jesus actually went through six trials. In that one night, he was brought before Annas, Caiaphas (the high priest), the Sanhedrin (the religious Supreme Court), Pilate (the governor of Jerusalem), Herod (the governor of Galilee), and then back to Pilate. At the end of those six trials, what did they find to accuse him of? Nothing. He had done nothing wrong. They brought in people to make up phony charges, but those didn’t stick. Finally they convicted him on one count: claiming to be the Son of God. That’s the sole reason Jesus went to the cross. They didn’t like that claim.  Everyone who has ever been presented with Jesus has already made some kind of decision about who he is. You either believe he’s a liar, or you believe he’s a lunatic, or you believe he’s the Lord. It can’t just be: “I believe he was a good teacher.” He couldn’t be just a good teacher, because a good teacher would not say, “I’m God, and I’m the only way to Heaven.” A good person would not say that unless it was the truth.  Jesus claimed to be the Savior of the world. In John 12:47b, he is recorded as saying: ‘I have come to save the world and not to judge’ (NLT). He allowed himself to be put on trial so there would be no doubt about who he was. He could have stopped the trial at any moment. He knew he would be proven guilty and put on the cross — but he allowed it to happen. It was all part of the plan.
     “The Death:  After a night of beatings and mocking, after being crowned with painful thorns, Jesus was crucified. Crucifixion is probably the most brutal and torturous death penalty ever devised by men. His hands were stretched out wide against the cross and nailed through the two bones in each wrist. As the nails went through this part of the flesh, they would strike the nerve that travels up the arm and cause excruciating pain.  If you hung this way for any period of time, the muscles around your chest cavity began to be paralyzed. You’d be able to breathe in but you couldn’t breathe out. Death on a cross would have been a simple matter of suffocation — except the Romans didn’t want to make it that easy. They’d take a person’s knees and bend them a little bit and nail the feet to the cross. So a man would hang there in absolute agony until the pain in his chest was about to explode — and then he would lift himself up on his nailed feet to grab a breath. When the pain in his feet grew unbearable, he’d let himself back down again — until the pain in his lungs became unbearable. It was an incredibly torturous event. Eventually, the soldiers would break the legs of the criminal to hasten death by suffocation.  In the case of Jesus, they didn’t have to break his legs, because he had already died. But just to make sure, they stuck a spear in his side. Water and blood came out of the chest cavity, which, doctors say, only happens if the heart rips. You can call it what you want, but Jesus died of a broken heart.  Why did Jesus have to die? Because he alone was able to pay for our sins. We deserved punishment, but Jesus paid the penalty.
     “The Resurrection:  After Jesus died, they took his body down and put him in the tomb, and a giant millstone was set in front of the cave. The religious leaders — worried that Jesus’ body might be stolen — asked for Roman guards to be posted in front of the tomb. They didn’t want him coming out! But of course, he did.  You know the story. But it’s important to remember that Easter is not some memorial to a nice, good religious teacher who lived 2,000 years ago. It’s a celebration of the fact that he is alive today. I’m living proof — and so are the billions of  Christians who will celebrate Easter this weekend.  ‘By being raised from the dead he was proved to be the mighty Son of God, with the holy nature of God himself’ (Romans 1:4 TLB).
     “Easter is the Good News about God’s Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who came as a human baby, born into King David’s royal family line. Four historical records say he showed himself to 500 people at one gathering. Can you imagine witnessing his death and then seeing him walking around Jerusalem three days later? What an amazing thing! When Jesus was hanging on the cross, the skeptics and critics mocked him and in effect said, If you’re the Son of God, why don’t you just pull yourself down from that cross? Why don’t you just come down and show that you’re really God? Jesus had something more spectacular planned. He essentially said, I’m going to let you bury me for three days, then I’ll come back to life to prove that I am what I am.  What does this mean to us today? In one sense, Jesus Christ is still on trial. He’s on trial in the heart and mind of every person who has not yet acknowledged him as the Son of God, the Savior of the world.
     “What’s your verdict? You see, Easter really boils down to only two issues. One, is Jesus who he says he is? Is he God? Or is he a lunatic or a liar? And two, if he is who he says he is, when are you going to start following what he says to do with your life?”


Salvation

The teaching of the Bible on the topic of salvation has been a benefit to believers during this age of grace. Two ways that biblical salvation has been explored has been by examining the subjects of justification and sanctification. Below, Greg Herrick, explains those two topics in a way that I trust will strengthen your faith in Jesus and build your understanding of this important subject of the Bible. Pastor Chris
 
 
 
 
Justification
 
“The doctrine of justification is crucial to a proper view of the gospel and is not simply a doctrine developed in the heat of the battle in Galatians. Several things should be noted briefly about this doctrine. 
Firstjustification refers to a legal declaration by God that our sins—past, present, and future—are forgiven through Christ and Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us. Second, it is a once-for-all decision to declare (not make) us righteous in his sight so that there remains no longer any legal recourse or accusation against us. This is the meaning Paul intends when he asks in Romans 8:33-34: “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? God is the One who justifies.” Third, since justification involves forgiveness of sin and dealing with actual condemnation, it ultimately settles the question of our guilt; we are no longer in a state of guilt. Fourth, we possess, in God’s sight, the righteousness of Christ, and since God views it this way, this is indeed reality. It is not fiction as some have argued, but real, though the doctrine of justification does not deal directly with practice, but standingbefore God’s holy law. Our standing has been forever changed and we are no longer guilty; the law no longer has recourse against us. Fifth, justification comes through faith and not by works as Paul makes clear in Romans 3:26-28; 4:4-5. We do not earn this standing, but rather it is credited to our account through faith in Christ. Sixth, it is dangerous to the purity of the gospel of God’s grace to introduce ideas of moral improvement into the doctrine of justification. While justification is related inextricably to sanctification, they are not the same reality and should not be confused. Justification does not mean that God infuses righteousness into us in order to prepare us to receive his grace (which is really not NT grace at all). Again, justification deals with our legal standing and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us; it does not refer directly to our day to day growth in the Lord. Seventh, there is an eschatology to justification. As N. T Wright says, “The verdict issued in the present on the basis of faith (Rom 3:21-26correctly anticipates the verdict to be issued in the final judgment 
on the basis of the total life.”
 

The doctrine of sanctification can be spoken of in three tenses. With respect to the past, we have been set apart, both to belong to God, positionally speaking, and to serve him, practically speaking. We were sanctified at the moment of conversion and were declared legally holy and belonging to the Lord (1 Cor 6:11). With respect to the future, we will be totally sanctified someday in our glorified bodies. At that time our practice will completely match our position or standing before God. At the present time we are being sanctified, that is, increasingly being transformed into the image of the Lord (2 Cor 3:18). Thus the nature of sanctification is transformation; we are being progressively conformed into the image of the Son who died for us. This is God’s decreed purpose (Rom 8:29). 

 
Sanctification
 
Sanctification in the present time, then, is the process of transformation into the image of Christ and the efficient cause of this glorious change is the Spirit living in us (2 Cor 3:18). He mediates the presence of Christ to us and unfolds the moral will of God to us (John 16:13-141 Cor 3:16; 6:19-20). The Spirit uses the people of God (Col 3:16), the word of God (2 Tim 3:16-17), circumstances God ordains to mold and shape us (Rom 8:28), and the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Matt 28:19-201 Cor 11:23-26). We are on his potter’s wheel, not a treadmill; relationship, transformation, and holiness are the goals, not exhaustion.

Therefore, the purpose for which the Spirit is aiming in our lives is Christlikeness and the degree to which we are conformed to him is the degree to which we are sanctified. The fruit that should characterize our lives, then, ought to be love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control (Gal 5:23-24). The root of this transformation lies in our co-crucifixion and co-resurrection with Christ (Rom 6:3-4), and the process is never completed in this life (Phil 3:12-13). Nonetheless, we shoot for perfection (1 Peter 1:15-16), knowing that such will not be the case until the Savior comes from heaven to transform our lowly bodies (Phil 3:20). Until then, the process is colored by struggle against the world (1 John 2:15-16), the flesh (Rom 8:6-7Gal 5:17), and the devil (Eph 6:12). 

Our role in the process of sanctification relates directly only to the present time. It involves mortifying the deeds of the body, that is, putting to death those things that belong to our earthly (carnal) natures (Col 3:5) and conversely, putting on Christ (Rom 13:14). If, by the Spirit, we put to death the misdeeds of the body, we will certainly enjoy all the power, comforts, and joys of the spiritual life (cf. Rom 8:13). We must remember in our struggle against sin (and, for righteousness), however, that we live in relationship with God on the solid foundation of justification. Though we strive to please him, it is not so that he will become our Father and take us in, rather it is because he has already declared his Fatherhood over us and because he is the One who works in us to this end. Again, our responsibility can be summed up in the word: “cooperation.” God is the one who works in us both “the willing and the doing” (Phil 2:12-13).”



The Blessing of Peace

One of the more beneficial topics in the Word is the biblical teaching on peace. Often peace is understood as simply the absence of conflict. But that reduces peace to a single concept, which is contrary to the biblical understanding of peace. Mark D. Roberts, in the post below, unpacks for us the depth of peace as revealed in the Word. May your life reflect the peace of Christ as He rules in your heart. Pastor Chris 
 
 

The Zealot desire for “peace” apart from Roman rule ultimately led to the destruction of Jerusalem by Rome, a sad fact of history that is memorialized on the Arch of Titus in the Roman Forum.

Peace Among People, Part 1

“Peace with God and peace within our souls do not exhaust the potentialities of peace through Christ. Scripture connects inner peace specifically to peace among people: “Let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are all called to live in peace” (Col 3:15). If divine peace reigns within us, it should touch the rest our lives, especially our most important relationships in

family, among friends, and in church

. But the peace Christ impacts an even broader set of human relationships than these.

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians lays the spiritual foundation for peace among people. After first showing that the death of Christ leads to our personal salvation (Eph 2:4-10), Ephesians 2 goes on to explore the corporate implications of the cross, focusing on the fundamental division between Jews and Gentiles. 

For Christ himself has made peace between us Jews and you Gentiles by making us all one people. He has broken down the wall of hostility that used to separate us. By his death he ended the whole system of Jewish law that excluded the Gentiles. His purpose was to make peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new person from the two groups. Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death, and our hostility toward each other was put to death (Eph 2:14-16).

The death of Jesus not only brings reconciliation between individuals and God, but also creates reconciliation among people by exploding the hostility that keeps us from living peacefully together. It’s crucial that we pay attention to what Paul is teaching here because sometimes we get so excited about the personal relevance of the cross that we neglect its corporate implications. We end up proclaiming the possibility of peace with God and peace within ourselves without mentioning peace among people.

But God’s plan for you includes more than reconciliation with him, however essential and foundational this reconciliation is. On the basis of peace with God, you can have peace with others as well, an essential dimension of God’s perfect peace. Notice, too, that peace among people is not limited to a few close relationships. It transforms the relationship between Jews and Gentiles. It impacts races, ethnicities, and even nations. The Old Testament foresaw that the righteous king who comes humbly, “riding on a donkey . . . will bring peace to the nations” (Zech 9:9-10). When Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, he came to die so that God’s peace would pervade all peoples and nations. 

I didn’t always think of God’s peace in this way. I grew up focusing on Christ’s provision of peace with God, within my own soul, and with my closest companions. Biblical passages that spoke of the social and political dimensions of divine peace could be reinterpreted to fit my preconceived notions of peace. I could easily ignore the texts that connect peace with righteousness and justice, or else relegate them to the future when Christ returns. 

But when I was in graduate school, my best friend was a Mennonite pastor who conceived of God’s peace much more fully. While not denying the central importance of peace with God or the blessings of inner peace, Tom spoke passionately of the broad dimensions of biblical peace. He helped me take seriously passages from Scripture that I had ignored or misinterpreted, especially the latter half of Ephesians 2, which shows how Christ’s death makes peace between hostile peoples. He also showed me the rich meanings of the Hebrew term shalom, a word that I had understood to refer primarily to the absence of conflict. Through Tom, I realized that I had truncated biblical peace to fit my own values, needs, and preconceptions. By his influence, I came to embrace the richer and truer sense of biblical peace, recognizing its interconnectedness with righteousness, justice, and wholeness in all of life.  

Peace Among People, Part 2

In my last post I began to lay out some of the broader implications of Jesus’ life and death. He came to bring peace, not only between God and people, but also among people. Jesus Christ died on the cross and rose from the grave to restore peace to a broken world. Wherever there is conflict, whether inside individual hearts, or within families, or among brothers and sisters in church, or between different ethnic groups, or even between warring nations, Christ “wages peace” as his disciples wield the paradoxical power of the cross. This power is paradoxical because victory comes through the embodied proclamation of Christ’s own powerlessness.

It would be a great error to think of the social dimensions of peace as simply whitewashing social evil in a grand attempt to “make nice.” It’s all too easy for us to confuse peacemaking with “nice-making.” This was also true in Jesus’ own day. Some Jews believed that, if he were the Messiah, Jesus would usher in a season of painless prosperity. To these mistaken folk Jesus said, 

Do you think that I have come to bring peace on earth? No, I have come to bring strife and division! From now on families will be split apart, three in favor of me, and two against – or the other way around. There will be a division between father and son, mother and daughter, mother-in-law and daughter-in-law (Luke 12:52-53).

Does this passage contradict everything else we have read about the peacemaking work of Christ? No, because it must be interpreted in its unique context. Jesus is speaking in Luke 12 to those who expected a superficial peace, a peace that was really no peace at all because it failed to deal with the true cause of human brokenness. Many of the Jews in the first-century equated peace with the expulsion of the Romans. “Get rid of foreign rule and we’ll have peace,” they thought. But Jesus came to bring an unanticipated kind of peace. His peace would address the root cause of human suffering. His peace would be offered to people who were not Jews, even to the hated Romans. 


 

As Jesus pursued his peculiar peacemaking mission, he engendered plenty of strife. His failure to fulfill Jewish expectations led to his being rejected by his own people, while his insistence on the presence of God’s reign brought about his crucifixion at Roman hands. It would have been so much easier for Jesus if he had simply joined the Zealots, who fomented violence against Rome, or the Sadducees, who tolerated partnership with the Romans, or the Pharisees, who by the time of Jesus focused on personal piety instead of social reformation. But Jesus was unwilling to settle for a peace that was no peace. He resolutely pursued the all-encompassing peace that comes only when sin is abolished and God’s rule is reestablished on the earth.

Jesus’ statement about strife and division should warn us not to equate the absence of conflict with true peace. There are families, for example, which appear to be peaceful only because the head of the household is a tyrant who uses emotional and sometimes physical violence to institute order. Churches sometimes pride themselves on avoiding conflict, but they do so only because the pastor has learned to silence open discussion through his authoritarian leadership. And there are nations that are not at war, but in which wholistic peace cannot be found. 

When we look for peace, we must keep before us the concept we find throughout Scripture. True peace will always include right-relationships, just treatment of all persons, wholeness in all dimensions of life, and divine blessing to boot. Sometimes the path to true peace must pass through strife and division before it arrives at its destination. 

What does all of this mean for you personally? It means that, no matter how much you enjoy peace with God and within your own heart, you must also pursue the corporate aspects of shalom. In a nutshell, you must be a peacemaker.” 



The Harvest is Great

Jesus asked his disciples to pray that the Lord would send forth His laborers into the field to harvest souls for His glory. Yesterday morning we examined one of those people the Lord sent into His field, the Apostle Paul. In Acts 9, Luke tells of Paul’s salvation experience and subsequent ministry. 
Below, Steve Jennings wrote an article about the need to be not only passionate about missions but prepared for missions by being established in the faith. May the article encourage your faith as it did my faith. Pastor Chris
 
 

“Here am I, send me.” Isaiah 6:8

“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray for the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers into his harvest.” Matt. 9:37-38

“These passages of Scripture have been slapped on the prayer cards of many hopeful missionaries getting ready to enter the field. They’ve been burned on the hearts of many churches and people who recognize that we Christians have been given a task: to make disciples of all nations.

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These nations were sadly neglected by the church for generations, so it is praiseworthy that, in recent generations, we have corrected our “mission drift” and pursued with vigor its task to make known to a watching world the wisdom of God (Eph 3:10).

But, in my admittedly few years working among the nations—square in the middle of the 10/40 window, surrounded by Unreached People Groups—I cannot help but wonder if the corrective has corrected too much. It appears the pendulum has swung too far the other way and needs a few nudges itself.

The Great Commission is immense, and just like any immense task it requires vision, dedication, and a lot of manpower. That being said, there are many times when I want to stop and say to the Western church: “Stop sending them! Stop sending under-qualified missionaries!”

To be sure, the workers are few, and the harvest is great. But that does not mean that more workers are necessarily better. It seems that the impatience that so marks the current generation has infiltrated the missionary movement under the guise of “urgency.” This impatience, rather than being curbed by church leaders, is often fostered and even encouraged.

And the result?

A lot of people are going to the nations who, frankly, shouldn’t be going—at least not yet.

Here’s the question I wish more churches would consider: Why would you send someone to plant churches abroad who you would never hire as a pastor or nominate as a lay elder? Why does it seem that “passion” rather than proven faithfulness is the main criterion for sending men and women to support those church planters? Why on earth is the bar set lower for the frontlines than it is for the local church?

The challenges of frontier ministry, its stresses and temptations, are very real, and time and again people are sent to face those challenges who have much zeal but lack understanding. So the wise man rightly said by the Holy Spirit,

“Desire without knowledge is not good, and whoever makes haste with his feet misses his way” (Prov. 19:2 ESV).

This proverb sums up the state of missions among some missions enterprises very well: desire without knowledge. And desire without knowledge in the business of missions is dangerous, even spiritually deadly.

This field that is white for harvest is being filled with laborers who destroy the crop, those who misuse or disuse the tools God has given them. Imagine a field full of people swinging a scythe in the wrong direction and sometimes from the wrong end. And too often—if I dare drag out the metaphor a bit further—they are not using the scythe at all. Their hands are empty—not a pretty picture.

It seems to me that many churches and sending agencies don’t spend enough time teaching people to discern between wheat and weeds. So, lacking discernment, these missionaries sheave weeds and write home about their sowing successes. Again, we as the church have been given a mission, a way in which we are to walk, but many feet that set out to proclaim the gospel of peace miss their way because they have desire without knowledge.

Indeed, the workers are few, but our impatience has become our undoing. When churches have initiatives to send a certain number of people by a certain time, their desire to meet that goal can short circuit discipleship and thus propel people into the field that will both be harmed and cause harm.

Instead, we should look to Paul as an example of zealous patience. From the moment of his conversion, he was told his purpose. But you’ll see in Acts that it was more than ten years before his first missionary journey. In the interim, he spent three formative years in Arabia, time in his home city of Tarsus, and finally a season at the church in Antioch until he was sent out with Barnabas. This is Paul, mind you, who at conversion already had an immense knowledge of the Scriptures. It appears Paul did not begin his mission in earnest until he was sent by his “home” church of Antioch at the Holy Spirit’s leading through the elders and congregation.

If you speak to an older generation of missionaries, you’ll find that in by-gone days Bible college was a requirement. If you read the biographies of guys like Adoniram Judson, you’ll find that ordination was required. But these days, once a church gives approval, folks can pass a few evaluations and attend a two-week boot-camp and be rather quickly approved for the field. Such a convenient and streamlined system is meant to enable more and more people to go to the unreached.

But more is not always better.

The challenges people will face as they take the gospel to hard places will require character that is mature and proven. The questions missionaries will be asked by those whom they evangelize will often require a theological knowledge that is deep and wide. And the raging enemy that is encountered requires a faith that is dug down deep.

Pragmatism is rampant in overseas ministries because too often ministers don’t really know how to talk about their God. Heresy proliferates because they don’t really know their message. Worldly living prevails because so many missionaries are spiritually immature and practically unaccountable. Church, stop sending people who don’t know their God, don’t know their message, and don’t know what it is like to submit to authority. Please, for the sake of God’s glory, stop.

Desire is commendable, but desire comes and goes. It is calling that should be required and celebrated. Not just any “calling,” mind you, but a calling rooted in truth and affirmed by others, particularly those who know you well and have for a long time, one that has accompanied years’ worth of fruitfulness, that has as its chief aims the glory of God and the sure promises of the gospel as revealed in Scripture.

Local churches should take the long view in their missions work, faithfully making many disciples who are able to go out and persevere in faithful gospel ministry. They should labor for quantity without sacrificing quality by a single degree.

It should be no wonder that the attrition rate among missionaries is so high, that doctrinal ambiguity is so pervasive, and that missionaries falling into gross sin is so common. People are sent that should not be sent because churches are sending people too soon.

So, at this point I want to leave behind a few suggestions on how to prepare people to go to the nations:

1) Teach them well so that they will be able to teach others well; don’t send them until they have shown they can do the same. (2 Tim. 2:2)

2) Make sure that they are able to articulate sound doctrine and refute false doctrine. An inability to answer objections and correct falsehood is a recipe for disaster when encountering other religions or worse—other errant missionaries. (Titus 1:9, Eph. 4:14)

3) Make sure they are able to submit to biblical authority. Are they mavericks who have never really had their autonomy challenged? If this is the case, they need to spend some time with gladly submitting to accountability before they can be sent with confidence. (Heb. 13:17-18)

4) Connected to #3 is the need for proven godly character. This is something that can only be ascertained over an extended period of close interaction and persistent discipleship, not a session with a counselor and a personality profile. Unchecked sins get worse on the frontlines, not better. (Heb. 12:1)

5) If you would not make a man an elder in your church, then don’t send him to plant churches anywhere, much less overseas. If you are sending someone who isn’t elder material or isn’t quite there yet, then I would suggest sending them somewhere with an established church where you know their spiritual development and ministry will be seen by faithful shepherds. (Heb. 10:24-25)

6) The aim of every pioneer worker you send should be one of two things: joining an existing church or gathering believers to start a new church as soon as possible. If there is no church, then I would suggest moving with a core of people as opposed to individually. No Christians were meant to be alone. Ecclesiology and missiology should be inseparably intertwined. Churches plant churches. Para-church organizations should serve the valuable and specialized role of helping churches do this job, not overtake them. (Acts 20:28, 16:13)

7) Finally, let there be consensus in the sending church that these people being sent are called and ready. This will safeguard the ones being sent and give them an amazing boost of encouragement that they are part of something bigger than their own ambition, which can easily fade or redirect quickly. (Acts 13:3)

I write this not out of a desire to dampen a church’s missional drive, but to encourage a long view with enduring faithfulness as the aim. We run a marathon, not a sprint. Ministry is the same way. Godly urgency embraces careful preparation for ministry. This truth becomes unclear if the main aim of our sending is an always-growing number of converts. Instead, the main aim of our sending should be the glory of God—and it is for that we must prepare and be prepared.

So let’s feel the urgency, but not at the expense of wisdom. The glory of God is at stake.” 



Seeds of the Gospel

The biblical presentation of sowing the seed of the Gospel can startle believers. Often the writers of the New Testament describe the suffering and hardship that believers endured for the cause of Christ. A byproduct of a godly life is persecution, which often spreads the Gospel. Tertullian commented on this phenomena when he said, “the blood the church is seed”. Recently, I read an article from Voice of the Martyrs that described how the suffering of some believers had lead to the seed of the Gospel being sown in the hearts of others. May the article encourage you to be courageous in your faith so that you might share the Gospel of Jesus with others. Pastor Chris
 
 

KENYA: THE NIGHT HINDI CHANGED

“The Christians and Muslims of Hindi had lived side by side for decades in the dusty trading center at the end of a rutted dirt road on Kenya’s coast. Most of the villagers survived through sustenance farming, living off the produce from their small plots of land.

But on the night of July 5, 2014, many of the villagers’ lives were forever changed.

As the villagers slept, invaders from Somalia, just 65 miles away, stole into town. They went from farm to farm, ransacking and burning homes, stealing food and even killing some of the villagers. At least 22 people were killed.

holding chickens
Samuel Kang’ethe and his mother, Jane, now have a small business raising poultry, with assistance from VOM.

It was after 10 p.m. when a group of about 50 Somali warriors reached the farm of Jane and Samuel Kang’ethe. After hearing a commotion near the road, Samuel went to investigate and was immediately shot to death. Jane, their children and grandchildren ran for the cover of some nearby bushes, but not before their oldest son, Kimani, was shot in the stomach. The family could hear the invaders looting their farm as they hid nearby, fearing for their lives, for more than 90 minutes.

The next day, the family joined about 5,000 other Hindi residents at the local prison, considered the safest place in town because of the police presence. The families were too traumatized and scared to stay at their homes, and many people had lost everything. VOM and others provided immediate relief in the form of food, clothing and mattresses.

Nearly everyone in the village was affected by the attacks, and healing took some time. Jane told a VOM worker that she took comfort from something she heard at a VOM-sponsored seminar. “They said Scripture says God is a husband to the widows, and do not worry about what you shall eat or drink, because God cannot leave you,” Jane said.

“For the last two years, we have been getting these aids and help from brothers we didn’t know,” said John Njenga, a local pastor. While the food aid was essential for survival, ongoing counsel and encouragement have greatly helped the Christians commit to staying in the area and reaching out to their Muslim neighbors.

Pastor Njenga also serves as headmaster of the local primary school, and all of the Christian students received VOM Christmas Care Packs in 2015. Like most of the children there, 10-year-old Mary Bestinah received the first Bible she’d ever owned, The Action Bible, in a Christmas Care Pack. Today, her favorite Bible story is of David and King Saul.

Pastor Njenga believes that the suffering they’ve experienced has lifted the Christians to a new spiritual level. He also has noticed that Muslims in their community are more open to the gospel as a result of the incredibly damaging attacks by Muslim, Somali warriors. “We are reaching them,” he said.”



Death to Life

How do you breath new life into a church? Tom Rainer recently wrote a brief article that listed some common characteristics of churches that came back from the brink of death. The list is thought provoking as we consider ways to increase our outreach with the Gospel. May your faith be challenged as you ponder his thoughts on the subject. Pastor Chris
 
 
 
 
Common Characteristics of Churches that have Gone from Death to Life.
  1. “A prolonged period of prayer. The members knew that only a miracle of God could save their church. So they decided to set aside a period of prayer, usually a few weeks or a couple of months. Members would gather after the worship service. Some would gather in homes. They would admit their total dependence on God. And they would place everything about their churches at His mercy and in His will.
  2. A covenant to forsake self. When a church dies, there is the predictable prologue of self-centered, self-serving membership. Church members argue about the style of music, the length of the sermon, the types of ministries and programs, and even the type of furniture in the church. Membership becomes about me, myself, and I. In the resuscitated church, the members covenant to put self last. They agree they will not demand their way, but seek to put others first. Some of the churches even create a written covenant.
  3. A willingness to kill sacred cows. This process is often an extension of the previous commitment. As the members covenant to forsake self, they commit to doing away with programs, ministries, events, rooms, furniture, or anything that has become a sacred cow. They often don’t see those sacred cows until their eyes have been opened in the prolonged period of prayer.
  4. A commitment to see through the eyes of the outsider. As the members continue to forsake self, they begin to ask how the church is viewed from the perspective of the outsider. They may actually engage a person to visit their church and share their experience. It is amazing to see how this process transforms facilities, worship, greeters’ ministry, and children’s ministries, to name a few.
  5. An agreement to connect and invite. Members commit to be intentional about developing relationships with people outside the church. They set prayer goals of how many people they will invite to church each month. The church begins moving from an inward focus to an outward focus.
  6. A decision to move beyond the negative naysayers. This core of members realizes that not everyone will be on board. There will always be those who view church as a spiritual country club with perks and privileges. Indeed, in most of these resuscitated churches, there was stiff resistance, adamant opposition, and financial threats. But the members were loving but firm. No longer would their church be controlled by the naysayers, critics, and bullies. They would stand together and stand with others who were attacked and maligned.”


The Great Commission

Over the last 10-15 years, I have grown in my appreciation for 9Marks ministries. Their dedication to the Lord, His Word and the advancement of the Gospel through healthy churches has consistently encouraged and challenged my faith. The post below is from Mark Dever. It discusses how local churches can fulfill the great commission – together. I hope it challenges your thinking as it did mine. Pastor Chris
 
 
 

“The Great Commission does not call for churches to act like the department of motor vehicles. Nor does it call for them to act like information booths. Now I have one more for you: the Great Commission does not call churches to act like professional sports teams.

The staff of my church likes to make fun of me for not knowing much about sports, which might be fair. But I do know the goal of every sports team is to win the championship. A team will try to hire the best players, build the best training facilities, and optimize its coaching staff all to win its league’s top trophy. Sure, a team is glad other teams exist. Without them there would be no league. But its main goal is to beat those other teams.

shutterstock_127409168Now, I doubt very many, if any, churches explicitly think to themselves, “We have to beat those other churches!” But let me ask a couple of diagnostic questions to test for an our-team-is-best mentality:
  • Do you happily give away your best players to other churches?
  • Do you rejoice if, after praying for revival, revival comes to the church down the street? (Thanks to Andy Johnson for this great question!)
  • Do you pray regularly for the church down the street as well as the other churches in your city?
  • Do you give any portion of your budget to revitalizing old or raising up new churches in your city, around the nation, or abroad?
Too often, a grotesque competitiveness between churches marks evangelical churches. But a Great Commission church does not compete with other gospel-preaching churches because it knows every gospel-preaching church is playing for the same team.

GREAT COMMISSION CHURCH = CHURCH PLANTING CHURCH

Here’s the broader point: a Great Commission church is an evangelizing and discipling church, but it is also a church-planting and church-revitalizing church. It wants to see the kingdom of God grow through its own ministry, but it also wants to see the kingdom expand beyond its own walls through other churches.

So a Great Commission church is interested in facilitating lots of evangelistic activity going out from itself in order to draw outsiders back to itself. But it is also interested in seeing its efforts culminate in planting or supporting other local churches. It is not satisfied with its own health, it wants to see lots of other healthy, Bible-believing, gospel-preaching congregations.

Such a church encourages other evangelical churches and plants, even if they are several blocks away. And it prays for them by name. It is willing to send out good folks who will help those other churches. It also works to plant or build up other churches on the other side of the world.

A Great Commission church works and prays to raise up men qualified to be elders, and then selflessly sends them out.

It works to align its budget with these Great Commission priorities. Some money is kept for ministry in its own location, but some money is assigned to helping other works, both near and far.

It works to reclaim dying congregations wherever it can.

It works in all sorts of public and private ways to cultivate this team mentality with other gospel-centered churches among its own members. The members and leaders are as happy about a new gospel-preaching church as they are about a new restaurant opening in a land of starvation.

So what does a Great Commission church do? I want to offer four strategic steps.

CULTIVATE A CULTURE OF DISCIPLING

First, a Great Commission church will cultivate a culture of discipling among its own members. It helps every member own the responsibility for helping other believers grow in the faith. Pastors equip the saints for the work of ministry, says Paul (Eph. 4:11-12), which means the work of the ministry belongs to all the saints. The whole body, speaking the truth in love, grows as it builds itself up, each part doing its work (Eph. 4:15-16; see also 1 Cor. 12,14).

Discipleship is my following Jesus. Discipling is me helping someone else follow Jesus (e.g. 2 Tim. 2:2). And in a Great Commission church, older men in the faith disciple younger men, and younger women seek out the older women. For instance, if you are a single woman, you might offer a stay-home mother in your church help with the laundry in exchange for the opportunity to ask lots of questions! If you are a lay-elder teaching an adult Sunday School class, you are sure to recruit a junior teacher. And your goal, in a sense, is to train and hand over the teaching job to him. Then you can go and start another class and bring on another junior teacher.

A Great Commission church possesses the geographic sensitivity implied by Jesus’ command to “Go.” For those who stay, therefore, “going” may well mean moving closer to the church or groups of its members. That way it is easy to minister to others throughout the week. Where do you live? Are you helping to cultivate a culture of discipling in your church in where you chose to rent an apartment or purchase a home?

A Great Commission church should be uncomfortable, even provocative, for a nominal Christian. If you show up as such a guest in such a church on Sunday only as part of your casual religious duty, you may not like it very much. You would be welcomed, but its members would not be what you are about. They are about giving their whole lives to follow Jesus, and they commit to help one another follow Jesus. Such a commitment and such activity is part of the very culture: intentional questions, meaningful conversations, prayer, and continual reminders of the gospel.

Take a look at Robert Coleman’s Master Plan of Evangelism, Colin Marshall and Tony Payne’s The Trellis and the Vine, or my own Discipling for more on this topic.

CULTIVATE A CULTURE OF EVANGELISM

Second, a Great Commission church will cultivate a culture of evangelism. On the one hand, members know that the gospel will be preached in every weekly gathering. So they are excited to invite their non-Christian friends. The gospel radiates through the singing, the praying, and every sermon.

Are you confident that any non-Christian you bring to your church will hear the gospel? If not, what can you do about it?

On the other hand, a Great Commission church works to train its members in evangelism, because it knows they will collectively see more non-Christians throughout the week than will ever be able to fit in the church building. So “success” in evangelism is not simply bringing your non-Christian friends to church so that they hear the gospel. Success is sharing the gospel with your non-Christian neighbors and friends.

So the church works to equip its members in evangelism so that they know how to share the gospel with others. My own church does this through adult Sunday Schools devoted to evangelism. I try to model how to engage with non-Christians in my preaching, particularly in the way I explicitly address non-Christians. We try to equip our members by offering them evangelistic tools like “Two Ways to Live” or resources like “Christianity Explained” or “Christianity Explored.” We hand out lots of Greg Gilbert’s Who Is Jesus? to members for them to give to their non-Christian friends. We also share about evangelistic opportunities through our Sunday evening meeting. Hearing and praying for other members’ evangelistic opportunities encourages people’s own attempts to spread the good news.

What does the Great Commission mean to you? It means Jesus has called you to be a disciple-maker. He calls you to both evangelize unbelievers and disciple the believers. You should be doing this personally—at home, at work, in your neighborhood, among your friends. You should be doing this in and through your church.

Therefore use your fellow church members to help you. Invite an elder to lunch, and ask him for counsel. Share and pray with your small group. Go out and evangelize with your friends.

For more on this topic, look at any book by Mack Stiles, especially Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus, or my book The Gospel and Personal Evangelism.

WORK TO REACH THE UNREACHED THROUGH MISSIONS

A Great Commission church, third, works to reach the unreached through missions. What’s the difference between missions and evangelism and church planting at home? Really, missions is just what we call evangelism and church planting when it travels across ethnic, cultural, and typically national boundaries.

Jesus commands us to “go and make disciples of all nations.” I have not said much on this topic because so many other books cover this idea so well. But it’s hard to know how a church might read this command and not commit itself to taking the gospel to nations that have never heard the gospel before.

No congregation can aim everywhere around the planet. Therefore I think churches are wise to concentrate their own mission efforts on a few places. My own church, for instance, concentrates on several countries in the so-called 10/40 window, which is that region of the Eastern hemisphere between 10 and 40 degrees north of the equator. It’s the area of the world where there are the fewest percentage of Christians.

If you are a member of our church, and you express an interest in pursuing missions, we will be able to put more of our resources behind you if you go to one of the locations we already invest in. We are simply unable to sponsor a hundred people going a hundred different places. By that token, we prefer supporting few missionaries with more money rather than lots of missionaries with only a little money. That enables the missionaries we do support to spend less time raising money and more time doing the work of church planting. Plus, it helps us to have a relationship with them and offer accountability.

Our church works with missionaries directly, and we work through missions organizations like the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board. We also work with amazing groups like Access Partners, who helps to place business people in strategic spots around the world in their business vocations, so that they can assist the long-term missionaries on the ground.

What role should you have as an individual Christian helping your church to reach the unreached? Certainly you should pray for your church’s missionaries. Get to know them when they are on furlough. Perhaps look into short-term mission trips that will allow you to support the long-term workers. Read missionary biographies. And maybe think about going. We will come back to that question a couple chapters from now.

There is one last thing you and your church can do for reaching the unreached: look for internationals in your own city. My own church works hard at reaching international students, but what international groups live in your city? If you reach them with the gospel right there in your hometown, there’s a pretty good chance that the gospel will spread back to where they came from.

Take a look at John Piper’s Let the Nations Be Glad for more on this topic.

WORK TO STRENGTHEN OTHER CHURCHES

Churches commonly have a missions budget line. I think it’s worth adding a “Fostering Healthy Churches” budget line as well. Working to strengthen other churches is a fourth practice of Great Commission churches.

My own church uses this line for supporting a number of things, such as our pastoral internship program. We pay twelve guys a year to do an internship with us, most of whom end up pastoring or otherwise serving other churches.

We also use the line to support the ministry of 9Marks, a ministry devoted as a ministry to building healthy churches.

We intentionally structure our staff so that guys get trained and are sent out. Pastoral assistants serve us for 2 to 3 years and are then expected to go. Assistant pastors serve us for 3 to 5 years and then go. Only myself and the associate pastors (together with any non-staff pastors or elders) are expected to remain in our church long-term. The rest we equip to go.

Our church sponsors weekend conferences, where pastors from around the world join us for our regularly scheduled meetings as well as several special lecturers and times of Q&A. I also participate in weekly phone calls with several other networks of pastors from around the world for the same purposes. Each one of these conversations gives me the opportunity to pray and work for healthy churches all around the world.

Much of the work we do of strengthening other churches through church planting and church revitalizing we do in our own area, which is the topic of the next chapter. (That whole chapter, in other words, is an extension of this section.) But we do some planting and revitalizing around the world, too. For instance, we sent one brother, John, to a church in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, when that church was looking for a pastor almost a decade ago. God has used John in mighty ways to revitalize that international church. One of his key elders, who helped to bring John there, was Mack, an old friend of mine. Once John and Mack got the church to a healthy place, Mack and another brother, Dave, left the church to plant another church 30 minutes away. We also sent a former pastoral assistant and a former intern to help Mack and Dave in that new work. Simultaneously, we sent another former pastoral intern to plant yet another church in another city of UAE.

Now we have three healthy churches up and running in this Muslim country. None of this was a part of some grand plan of ours. In fact, neither the one revitalizing opportunity nor the two planning opportunities were initiated by us. We were just there to pray, help, and send financial and human support where we could. By the way, a number of our members have relocated their jobs to the UAE to help the work of these churches. Our church gains in no particular way other than the sheer joy of seeing God’s kingdom expand in this foreign land.

A lot of these examples have focused on what I as the pastor have done. But assuming you are an ordinary church member, what can you do to help strengthen other churches, whether in your area or around the world? Obviously, you can pray for other works personally. You can pray for other works with your family at dinner. You can support other works financially.

Certainly you should be careful about criticizing other churches. Yes, there are places where your church’s practices or secondary doctrines might differ from those of other churches. And yes we have deliberate reasons for those areas of disagreement. I am not telling you to throw those disagreements out the window. But keep in mind that those secondary matters over which your church might disagree with other churches are as never as important as the gospel we all share. So guard against a critical spirit, and look for ways to rejoice in shared gospel partnerships.”



Speaking the Gospel

There is no greater imperative in the New Testament than sharing the Gospel with people. Often, however, that imperative gets lost in a blizzard of worthwhile activities or excuses that attempt to assuage our conscience. Recently, I read a brief post about Gospel fluency from Jeff Vanderstelt. I hope the portion copied below will encourage your faith as much as it did mine. Pastor Chris
 
 
 
“To become fluent in a new language, you must immerse yourself in it until you actually start to think about life through it. Becoming fluent in the gospel happens the same way—after believing it, we have to intentionally rehearse it (to ourselves and to others) and immerse ourselves in its truths. Only then will we start to see how everything in our lives, from the mundane to the magnificent, is transformed by the hope of the gospel….
 
I’m convinced more now than ever that people need to be equipped to speak the gospel into the everyday stuff of life. We live in a day and age where people are asking questions, but often we don’t have the answers. Instead of giving transforming information—a transforming hope—we often give people moralism or legalism. We tell them to try harder or to change their behavior, but what people need is not behavior modification—they need heart transformation.

We as a church need to grow in what it looks like to speak the truths of the gospel into the everyday stuff of life. To speak the truth of Jesus’s life, death, resurrection, present work on our behalf before God the Father, and future return to make all things new. 

And it’s not just the church— need it. I need to learn how to speak the truths of the gospel into the everyday stuff of life because I struggle with unbelief. I struggle with putting my confidence in my behavior instead of in Jesus and his work on my behalf. I often believe that it’s my work that saves people instead of the work of God that saves people. I need the gospel, we need the gospel, and the world needs the gospel. 

But we need to know how to speak the gospel fluently to the everyday stuff of life—the stuff that people struggle with, the unbelief they feel and experience, and the real issues our society is walking through. You and I need to grow in being gospel-fluent people.” 



The Lord’s Table

Once a month BBC celebrates the Lord’s Table. This special gathering of our church family helps us to remember that Jesus is at the center of our lives both individually and corporately. I am thankful for that reminder. The article below, written by Watchman Nee, was an encouragement to my faith and I hope it will encourage your faith as well. Pastor Chris
 
 
 
 

“The Supper Instituted by the Lord 

Let us first see how the Lord instituted the supper. This is one supper which all the children of God in the church must attend. It was set up by the Lord Jesus on the night before His death. Since He was crucified the next day, this was His last night on earth and also His last supper with His disciples. Although He still ate after His resurrection, this nevertheless was His last supper, for a resurrected man can either eat or not, as he chooses. 

How did this last supper come about? The Jews keep a festival called the Passover which commemorates their deliverance by God from slavery in Egypt. God commanded them to prepare a lamb for each house and in the evening of the fourteenth day of the first month they were to kill the lamb and put its blood on the two side-posts and on the lintel. They should eat the flesh on that night with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. After they came out of Egypt, they were ordered to keep the feast each year as a remembrance. So, to the Jews the paschal lamb is something retrospective. Because of God’s great deliverance, they recall that great event every year. 

It so happened that the night before the death of the Lord Jesus coincided with the eating of the paschal lamb. There was nothing special in His taking the paschal lamb with the disciples, for it was simply keeping the feast of the Passover. But immediately afterwards, the Lord established His own supper, thus implying that He desires us to partake of His supper even as the Jews eat the paschal lamb. 

As we compare these two, we see that the Israelites keep the Passover because they were delivered out of Egypt, and that God’s children today partake of the Lord’s table because they too have been delivered. The Israelites had a lamb; we too have the Lamb whom God appointed. We have today been saved from the world, delivered from the power of Satan, and become wholly God’s. We keep this feast as the Jews kept the Passover. 

  1. SUPPER IS A FAMILY MEAL

What does supper signify? Why do we call it the Lord’s supper? It is a worldwide custom that supper is especially considered a family meal. At lunch, the members of the family often cannot assemble together. In the land of Judea at noontime, some of the family would be shepherding, some fishing, and some tilling. Most of them would eat their lunch outside, for it would be impossible to go home. So lunch is not a family meal. Neither is breakfast a family meal for at that time people are thinking of the day’s work instead of the rest afterward. Other than those who are sick, people usually take their breakfast hastily. Supper, however, is the most special of the three daily meals, for at that meal the whole family, young and old, gathers together to eat. 

  1. SUPPER EXCLUDES THE THOUGHT OF WORK

Having finished a day’s work, people no longer think of the work before them; rather, they are occupied with the thought of rest. Supper is the time when the whole family gathers together and eats at leisure after the day’s work is done. In instituting His own supper, our Lord desired His people throughout the earth to see that this is, indeed, a family meal in God’s house. It does not include any idea of work. It just sets forth the thought of rest. During breakfast and lunch, one’s mind is always occupied with work; but by supper, everything has been done. One is prepared to retire after eating. God’s children should gather and partake of the Lord’s supper with a similar inward sentiment. 

Dual Meaning of the Lord’s Supper 

  1. REMEMBER THE LORD

The basic thought of the Lord’s supper is to remember the Lord. The Lord Himself says, “This do in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:24b). He knows how very forgetful we are. Do not think that because we have received such an abundance of grace and experienced such a wonderful redemption that we will never be able to forget. Let me warn you that men such as we, are most forgetful. For this reason, the Lord especially desires us both to remember Him and to remember what He has done for us. 

The Lord wants us to remember Him not only because we are so forgetful, but also because He needs our memory. In other words, He does not want us to forget Him. The Lord is so great and so transcendent that He could let us forget Him and not be bothered by it. Yet He says, “This do in remembrance of me,” thus revealing how condescending He is in desiring our remembrance. 

That the Lord wants us to remember Him fully is an expression of His love. It is the demand of love, not of greatness. So far as His greatness is concerned, He can afford to be forgotten by us. But His love insists that we remember Him. If we do not remember Him, we will suffer great loss. If we do not remember Him often and keep the redemption of the Lord always before us, we will easily be conformed to the world and become contentious toward the children of God. Thus we not only need to remember Him, but are profited by so doing. It is a means by which we may receive the grace of the Lord. 

In connection with the Lord’s desire for us to remember Him, there is another point worth noticing: as the Lord formerly humbled Himself in order to be our Savior, so today He humbles Himself in asking for our remembrance. As once He condescended to save us, so today He condescends to ask for our hearts. He wishes us to remember Him as long as we live on earth. He wants us to live before Him and remember Him week after week. Thus we derive much spiritual benefit. 

 DISASSOCIATES YOU FROM THE WORLD 

One cardinal value in remembering the Lord lies in the fact that the world will not be able to exert its influence continuously upon you. If every few days you remember how the Lord died for you and received you, let me tell you, the world will have no place in you. Since my Lord suffered death here in the world, what have I to say? If they had not killed my Lord, there might still be some ground for them to talk with me. But now that they have already killed my Lord and His death is exhibited before me, I have nothing more to say and no way to communicate with the world. I cannot have any fellowship with it. This is one of the prime benefits of the breaking of bread. 

 DISPELS DIVISION

Remembering the Lord has another spiritual value: it makes strife and contention and division impossible among God’s children. When you are reminded of how you have been saved by grace and you find another person with you who is likewise reminded, you are both one before the Lord. When you contemplate how the Lord Jesus forgave the myriads of your sins and you see another brother coming to the supper who has also been bought and redeemed by the precious blood, how can you bring in anything to separate you from him? How can you divide God’s children? For the past nearly two thousand years, many controversies among God’s children have been settled at the Lord’s supper. Many unforgiven things, even things unforgivable, and many lifelong hatreds have disappeared at the Lord’s table, for it is impossible not to forgive when, in remembering the Lord, you are reminded of how you have been saved and forgiven. Can you be forgiven your debt of ten thousand talents ($10,000,000) by the Lord and yet grab another servant by the throat demanding payment for a hundred shillings ($18) (see Matt. 18:4-35)? 

 ENLARGES YOUR HEART

Another advantage in remembering the Lord is that each one who remembers Him will quite naturally have his heart enlarged to embrace all children of God. It is but natural to see that all who are redeemed by the Lord’s blood are the beloved of the Lord; therefore they are also the delight of my heart. If we are all in the Lord, can there be jealousy, reviling and unforgivingness? How can you continue in strife with the brother or sister who sits next to you at the Lord’s supper? What right do you have to demand anything of your brother when you recall how many of your sins have been forgiven? If you insist on strife, jealousy, and an unforgiving spirit, you will not be able to remember the Lord. 

Every time we gather to remember the Lord, we are bidden to review His love once more. We should re-examine the corruption of the world and the judgment upon it. We should renew the conviction that all the redeemed are beloved of the Lord. Every time we remember the Lord, we review His love, how He loved us and gave Himself for us. In love, He descended to hades for us. The world has already been judged, for it crucified our Lord. But all of God’s children are our delight, because they have all been bought by the Lord’s blood. How can we hate them? How can we harbor any thought of hate? 

All that we have mentioned above is included in the meaning of remembering the Lord. The first and foremost significance of the Lord’s supper is, “This do in remembrance of me.” Let us further point out that it is absolutely impossible for us to remember one whom we do not know or of whom we have no experience. For us to remember a person or an event presumes that we have a personal knowledge of him or of it. So, when the Lord commands us to remember Him, He is merely reminding those of us who have already met Him at Calvary and have received grace from Him. We come to remember all that He has done for us. Like the Jews remembering the Passover, we consider in retrospect. Because we have come out of Egypt, therefore we come together to remember this fact. To remember is to look back.

  1. PROCLAIM THE LORD’S DEATH

The Lord’s supper has a second meaning. This is found in 1 Corinthians 11:26: “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink the cup, ye proclaim the Lord’s death till he come.” We need to proclaim or exhibit the Lord’s death that all may see. 

What causes people to be idle or unfruitful? It is that they have forgotten the cleansing of their former sins (see 2 Pet. 1:8-9). For this reason the Lord calls us to remember Him, saying, “So long as you live on earth, you must love Me and constantly remember Me. Remember that the cup is My shed blood and the bread My broken body.” This refers to our experience, and this must come first. Afterward we have the teaching that the cup and the bread exhibit the death of the Lord.

Why do the cup and the bread represent the Lord’s death? Because the blood is in the flesh. So when blood and flesh are separated, it means death. Today the blood and the flesh are separated, for the blood is in the cup while the flesh is in the bread. When one looks at the wine in the cup, he sees the blood. Likewise, when he looks at the bread, he sees the flesh. Thus he does not need to be told that His Lord has died for him. As he notices that the blood is no longer in the flesh, he realizes that death has come. Must the Lord tell you that He has died for you? No, He only needs to say, “Drink the cup and eat the bread,” for these proclaim His death. Blood here and flesh there—this speaks of death. 

What do the eating of the bread and the drinking of the cup signify? The Old Testament informs us clearly that the bread was made of grain. The same word was used when the Lord told the Israelites that after they entered into Canaan they would eat the old grain of the land. In looking at the bread, you see that the grain has been crushed. In looking at the cup, you see that the grape has been pressed. In this crushed grain and this pressed grape, you see death. Hence the Lord says, eat the bread and drink the cup. 

Except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it is but one grain. Likewise, unless a grain of wheat is crushed, it remains a grain and cannot be made into bread. Unless a cluster of grapes is pressed, there will be no wine. The Lord, speaking through Paul, says that as you eat the bread and drink the cup, you are proclaiming His death. If the grain wanted to preserve itself whole, there would not be any bread; if the grape insisted on keeping itself intact, there would not be any wine. It is only as you eat the crushed grain and the pressed grape that you proclaim the Lord’s death. 

From a human standpoint, God has left nothing on the earth other than the cross. The work of the cross is finished but the sign of the cross remains. Indeed, many today have forgotten the cross, but not the believers. To them, the cross is something forever remembered. Every Lord’s day we see in the Lord’s supper the cross of the Son of God exhibited in the church. This suggests that though we may forget everything else, we must remember the fact of our Lord’s death for us. 

Suppose you bring your parents, children, or relatives who do not know the Lord to the gathering for the breaking of bread. Seeing such a meeting for the first time, they invariably will ask, “What is the meaning of the breaking of bread and the drinking of the cup?” You answer, “The cup represents the blood and the bread the flesh. Since the blood and the flesh are separated, this is death.” To those unbelievers who come to the meeting, you point out that in so doing you exhibit the Lord’s death. 

We not only must go out to preach the gospel, gather people in to hear the glad tidings, and have the word preached by those who are gifted, but we also must let the Lord’s table proclaim the good news. It is a great thing if we can convince people that what is placed before them is not a ritual but an exhibition of the Lord’s death.

We must proclaim this death until the Lord comes again. I like this thought for it associates the supper with the Lord’s return. I wonder if you appreciate the supper. Supper is the last meal of the day. Daily I take my supper; the Lord’s supper I take weekly. The night is dark and the day has yet to dawn. For these two thousand years, the church has never eaten breakfast. She has been and still is only taking supper, the last meal. Till He comes, the night remains dark. But soon the day shall dawn, and no one will need to eat supper again. Who eats supper in the early morning? Soon we shall see the Lord face to face. Remembrance will be lost in sight. We will see Him whom we love. 

May we see from the beginning that in remembering the Lord we are remembering the Lord’s death. This will naturally turn our eyes toward the kingdom, toward the day when we will go to be with the Lord. The cross always leads us to His return; it invariably ends in glory. No one can remember the Lord’s death without lifting up his head, without saying, “Lord, I want to see Your face.” When the day comes that we do see His face, all things (including this remembrance) shall pass away. So, in remembering the Lord, we exhibit His death till He come. Today we have nothing to do but to wait for His return. “



Church Leadership

The New Testament, especially the Pastoral Letters, identifies two positions in the Church. One is Elder, who is also referred to as Overseer or Pastor. The other position in the Church is Deacon. Below is an article from Daniel Wallace that provides a biblical perspective on the position of Deacon. I hope the article will further equip you in the knowledge of the Truth so that you might continue to faithfully follow the Truth. Pastor Chris
 
 
 

“I. Inductive Biblical Study

The pattern of church leadership that the New Testament follows finds its seeds in the earliest period. In Acts 6:1-6 we read of the frustration of some members of the early church for not having their needs attended to. Because the church had grown so large, the twelve apostles were not able to handle all the physical needs of the body and proclaim the word. They knew that if they neglected the ministry of the word the church would suffer: “It is not right for us to give up preaching the word of God to serve tables” (v 2). They asked the congregation to choose seven men—men of good reputation and sound character—to perform this task of serving tables. The verb “serve” in v 2 is διακονέω (diakoneo). The cognate noun is διάκονος(diakonos), from which we get “deacon” (cf. 1 Tim 3:8). This word διάκονος does not always have such a technical nuance in the NT. It simply means “servant” in many passages (e.g., Matt 20:26; 22:13John 2:5Rom 13:4), “minister” in others (e.g., 2 Cor 3:6Eph 3:7Col 1:25).

The question then arises: How should we relate Acts 6 to the doctrine of ecclesiology and to a proper understanding of church leadership? Three options present themselves: Acts 6 gives an essential pattern of church leadership, a valid option of church leadership, or an incidental description that is perhaps irrelevant for church leadership. Further, a combination of these three may be in place (e.g., the number seven seems to be incidental, while the character qualifications of these servants seems to be essential).

Exegetes are divided on this issue, but many see some sort of non-binding pattern in Acts 6. Two things are key in determining this: Luke’s literary purpose in Acts and parallels with later NT writings. Luke describes many things that are almost certainly not valid in the ongoing ministry of the church (e.g., the initial communism of the church, Spirit-baptism aftersalvation). Thus one must be careful to distinguish those things that seem to have abiding significance from those that do not. One way to get a clue is to look at Paul’s letters. After all, Luke was one of Paul’s traveling companions. When we see parallels in Paul’s letters to what takes place in Acts, there may be a connection. Thus, the fact that deacons in 1 Tim 3:8-13 are to be godly men apparently in charge of the physical and financial well-being of the church1is a strong indicator that the pattern set forth in Acts 6 is no accident. As George Knight points out, “The linguistic connections with those who are in 1 Tim. 3:8-13 described with the noun διάκονοι and the verb διακονεῖν (used in a technical sense) is striking and is in accord with the division of labor in conceptual terms in Acts 6.”2

We will develop this point later, for three key issues are still at stake: Is it significant that the church only added deacons once it reached a certain size? Is it significant that the congregation voted on who should serve the tables? Is it significant that only men were chosen in Acts 6?3

The second passage of note is Phil 1:1. Paul addresses the saints at Philippi “together with the bishops and deacons.” Thus, a twofold division of leadership is clearly seen. (Incidentally, bishops were the same thing as elders.4) The church at Philippi was probably not very large, though it was well-established. Paul established the church on his second missionary journey. The Jewish element in the city was small enough that no synagogue was found. But Paul found some women who were responsive to the gospel. The church began. By the time he wrote the letter to the Philippians, the church was already ten years old.

The third significant passage is 1 Tim 3:8-13. The third chapter of 1 Timothy addresses two categories of leaders in the church, bishops (elders) and deacons. We have already noted the connection between this text and Acts 6. Suffice it to say here that deacons were assumed to be part of the leadership of the church at Ephesus.

Knight concludes: “These three passages show, then, a twofold division of labor in early, middle and later time periods in the NT church, in key cities in three various geographical areas (Palestine, Greece, and Asia Minor), and in both Jewish and Greco-Roman settings.”5

The problem is that few other places seem to speak about deacons. The following is an exhaustive list of all potential passages.

Rom 16:1

“Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae” (NRSV). It is of course possible that Phoebe was a servant in the church, a minister of sorts. Whether the term is meant to be taken technically is difficult to tell.

Eph 6:21

“Tychicus . . . is a dear brother and faithful deacon in the Lord.” Again, it is probable that διάκονος simply means “servant” or “minister.”

Col 1:7

“Epaphras . . . is a faithful deacon of Christ on your behalf.” The same problem occurs. This most likely refers to Epaphras as a minister, not a deacon.

Col 4:7

“Tychicus . . . is a beloved brother, a faithful deacon, and a fellow-slave in the Lord.” See discussion at Eph 6:21.

Of these four passages that speak of three individuals (Phoebe, Epaphras, Tychicus), the best candidate for the meaning “deacon” is Rom 16:1, for this is the only text in which the term is related specifically to a church. However, the fact that both Acts 6 and 1 Tim 3 speak of the deacons as adult males suggests that the office was limited to the men.6 It is best to discuss this issue in the larger context of the role of women in the church.

The lack of mention of deacons in NT passages where elders or bishops are mentioned should also be noted. Acts 14:23, for example, records Paul and Barnabas appointing elders in newly-established churches, but not deacons. Other passages discuss the leadership of the church, though arguably the elders are the only ones explicitly mentioned because the issues involved are those that elders rather than deacons would decide on (e.g., Acts 11:30; 15:2, 4, 6, 22, 23; 16:4; 20:17; 21:18Jas 5:141 Pet 5:1, 5). It is interesting that 1 Tim 5:17, 19 fits this pattern. In the same book the qualifications for elders (bishops) and deacons are mentioned, but two chapters later only elders are discussed. If chapter three were missing from our Bibles, what kinds of conclusions would we make from their lack of mention in chapter five?

The most instructive text along these lines is Titus 1:5. Paul instructs Titus to appoint elders in every town. The qualifications list in Titus 1:6-9 parallels 1 Tim 3:1-7. But there is no corresponding list for deacons. Why? The church on Crete was relatively young, while Ephesus had a long history and had been, in fact, Paul’s base of operations for nearly three years. It seems likely that for new churches only elders were needed. As a church grew, deacons would be added to the leadership so that the elders could devote themselves more to prayer and teaching. This follows the pattern of Acts 6.

Finally, it should be noted that other terms for church leaders are sometimes used in the NT. In 1 Thess 5:12 we read of “those who labor among you and have charge over you in the Lord.” No other description is given of these leaders. Paul had spent apparently only a few weeks in Thessalonica (cf. Acts 17:1-10), yet appointed leaders before departing. Most likely only elders are in view here. Hebrews 13:7 says, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you.” Again, elders seem to be in view here.7

II. Conclusions from the Biblical Study

A. First, it is evident that the early church did not always have deacons. Acts 6:1-6 and Titus 1:5show this, as do apparently Acts 14:23 and 1 Thess 5:12.

B. It is also evident that deacons were added when the need was felt. That need was in relation to the duties of the elders. When they got detoured from a ministry of prayer and the word, the diaconate was created.

C. There seems to have been a variety of means by which deacons were put in place. In Acts 6, they were elected by the congregation. (Yet even here, the apostles first suggested and permitted such a congregational vote.) But in 1 Tim 3, it is likely that Timothy himself appointed them. This is due to the fact that (1) the parallel in Titus 1:5 involves the appointing of elders by Titus, (2) nowhere do we read of elders being elected (cf., e.g., Acts 14:23), and (3) there is no differentiation between deacons and elders in 1 Tim 3 in terms of how they get into office. In the least, Acts 6 is not a sufficient basis to argue that deacons must always be elected by the congregation.

III. Practical Suggestions for Today’s Church

The results of this study can be applied to today’s church in terms of flexibility and purpose. There should be flexibility in whether to have deacons or not; there should also be flexibility in the means of selection. What guides the former is the task of the elders: if they get distracted from devoting themselves to prayer and the word, they need deacons. What guides the latter is the preference of each individual church.

As a postscript, the addition of deacons to a church really shows how vital is the ministry of prayer and the word among the elders (not just the pastor). Too many elder boards deal with petty issues that shackle them, hindering them from their primary duty. Indeed, too many elders, though godly, are really not “able to teach” (1 Tim 3:2Titus 1:9; cf. Heb 13:7).”