A Greek Guide to Getting Close to Jesus (Part One)

Today’s message from John 12:20-26 is now on the website. You can listen to the audio here.

My synopsis of the text was as follows:

The Spirit of God working through John wants us to go with the Greeks. He would have us express the same desire – we would see Jesus. He means for us to take our cue from them. He wants us to believe in Jesus in light of their example, as He does with everything else He shows us in the gospel from the signs Jesus did to the things He said (John 20:30-31).

Let me put it in the form of a theme as always. Follow the Greeks’ lead in seeking Jesus toward believing in Him as the Messiah. You will need four things from their example if you want to get somewhere close in proximity that their search brought them: deliberately focused intentions for Jesus, directly engaged connections to Jesus, dramatically altered perceptions of Jesus, and decidedly shared affections with Jesus.

I mentioned a link to an interview with Mark Dever of  9 Marks called Culture of Discipling that gives some great principles for doing the second of these things from the Greeks’ example. I highly recommend it. You can listen to that audio program here.

May this be a week where we draw closer to Jesus and help others do the same!

So Many Questions

Tomorrow, Lord willing, we begin our follow up to the Two Ways To Live evangelism training during our 9:30 equipping hour for adults and highschoolers with another combination video/discussion curriculum called So Many Questions.

You needn’t have participated in the last seven weeks of training in order to take advantage of and profit by this follow up emphasis on apologetics – defending the faith.

Matthias Media posts this description of the course content on their website:

When was the last time you were asked one of these questions?

» How do I know God exists in the first place?
» Did Jesus really come back from the dead?
» Hasn’t science disproved Christianity?
» You can’t trust what the Bible says—it’s been changed too much over the years!
» No-one can claim to have ‘the truth’—everyone’s opinion is valid.
» Wasn’t Jesus just another great religious teacher?
» Discussing religion just divides people and causes problems!
» If the Bible is so clear, why can’t Christians agree on what it says?
» Why is the Bible anti-gay?
» If God is good, why is there so much suffering in the world?
» Can’t we just be good enough to please God?
» Christians are just a bunch of hypocrites!
» Do you have to go to church to be a Christian?

Find out how to answer these common questions.

In a series of short sessions, So Many Questions will take you through each question, helping you to work out what to say, and providing an ‘expert’ answer from which to learn. You’ll also learn the basic principles behind all these answers.

Tomorrow we will lay some ground work before getting into the specific questions. We will talk about why it is important to be prepared to answer such questions, how to listen in such situations, and how to answer effectively.

Hope to see you in the auditorium at the SDA at 9:30 AM sharp!

Two Ways to Live

If the way you share your faith at this point looks something like this (or worse you don’t share Christ with others at all):

But you would like the way you share your faith to look something like this:

Then make plans to join us for our new 9:30 equipping hour emphasis, Two Ways to Live – Know and Share the Gospel – starting January 2, 2011, in the SDA sanctuary.

Participant guides for the class are available on Sundays in the church entryway for $7.50 a piece, or whatever you can afford.

Please note, at 9:30 this week only we will conduct a Skype video call with Julia Mitchell from Laos. The intro to 2W2L will begin at 10:00 AM.

How to Tell the True Shepherd from the False (5)

Today’s sermon on John 10:11-21 is now on the web. You can listen to it here.

We only managed to cover aspect #4 of the death of Christ that makes Jesus supremely excellent as the good shepherd – a global sacrifice. Jesus died for the world, Jew and Gentile alike, people without distinction, from every tribe, tongue, nation, and people group.

Here is the quote from John Piper and the story from him about Peter Cameron Scott, founder of the Africa Inland Mission,  that I shared to illustrate the powerful motivation that v. 16 is to global and local evangelization:

He had tried twice to serve in Africa but had to come home both times with malaria. The third attempt was especially joyful because he was joined by his brother John. But the joy evaporated as John fell victim to the fever. Scott buried his brother all by himself, and at the grave rededicated himself to preach the gospel. But again his health broke and he had to return to England utterly discouraged.

But in London something wonderful happened. We read about it in Ruth Tucker’s From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya.

He needed a fresh source of inspiration and he found it at a tomb in Westminster Abbey that held the remains of a man who had inspired so many others in their missionary service to Africa. The spirit of David Livingstone seemed to be prodding Scott onward as he knelt reverently and read the inscription,

OTHER SHEEP I HAVE WHICH ARE NOT OF THIS FOLD; THEM ALSO I MUST BRING.

He would return to Africa and lay down his life, if need be, for the cause for which this great man had lived and died.

Lord willing, next Sunday we will finish the discourse with a look at the last two aspects of the death of Christ that make Him so very good a shepherd of His sheep!

A Run Through the Bible in 14 Chapters

That’s how D. A. Carson characterizes his latest book, The God Who Is There, Baker, 2010, 233 pages. He subtitled it: Finding Your Place in God’s Story.

He wrote it principally for the rising number of people in our postmodern world today who really do not know how the Bible works at all. It’s a primer on redemption’s story, Genesis through Revelation, from creation, to the fall, to the cross, to consummation.

The table of contents reads this way:

  1. The God Who Made Everything
  2. The God Who Does Not Wipe Out Rebels
  3. The God Who Writes His Own Agreements
  4. The God Who Legislates
  5. The God Who Reigns
  6. The God Who Is Unfathomably Wise
  7. The God Who Becomes a Human Being
  8. The God Who Grants New Birth
  9. The God Who Loves
  10. The God Who Dies—and Lives Again
  11. The God Who Declares the Guilty Just
  12. The God Who Gathers and Transforms His People
  13. The God Who Is Very Angry
  14. The God Who Triumphs

So far I have read chapters one, ten, and fourteen. This is typically readable Carson at his apologetic best. In fact the obvious place to begin in terms of the utility of this resource is as an evangelistic tool. This looks like a great book to give someone with whom you wish to dialogue about Christianity.

But at the same time it serves as another helpful tool in terms of equipping the believer with numerous insights in how to share Christ with people in our postmodern context. For example, his treatment of Genesis 1 & 2 and science in chapter one offers four points in the debate that will come in very handy when sharing with someone hung up on the questions related to the age of the earth and naturalist presuppositions.

While this book differs greatly from Tim Keller’s Reason for God in its approach, it does serve similar purposes but with more of the meta-narrative of Scripture in mind (hence the subtitle). This makes it more readable and useful to the average individual.

David J. Jackman, former president of Proclamation Trust, London, England, offered this endorsement:

This may well prove to be one of the finest and most influential books D. A. Carson has written. A comprehensive apologia for the Christian faith, it is rooted in engaging exposition of major biblical texts, tracing the chronological story of God’s gospel grace with rich theological insight. Skillfully related to the objections and issues raised by twenty-first-century culture, it will inspire and equip any Christian who desires to communicate Christ more effectively and can confidently be given to any inquirer seeking to discover the heart of biblical faith. It is the best book of its kind I have read in many years.

I managed to pick up twenty copies for our resource table for the incredibly low cost of $6. They will be available at church starting tomorrow. I’m thinking about reading this through with Nancy as a family devotions book to help equip us both better for mission.

Get your copy and read along with us!


The World Cup & Sharing Not Hoarding

When I realized that the soccer final between Spain and the Netherlands takes place this Sunday at 2:30 PM I faced a dilemma of sorts.

Nancy and I had already agreed to go to lunch after church with fellow believers in Jesus that we dearly love.

I’ve planned for a while now to take advantage of the cup final to build a bridge of connection with some of our neighbors by inviting them over to watch the game with us. They love football, as the rest of the world calls it.

What to do? I called our brother and sister and asked for permission to reschedule because I do not want to fail to capitalize on the opportunity to connect with my neighbors in hopes of building a bridge for the gospel. Our friends most graciously agreed and even applauded the motivation behind asking for release from our commitment! I knew they would. They are that kind of people.

The whole “dilemma” brought to mind a passage of Scripture from 2 Kings 7:1-10.

But Elisha said, “Hear the word of the Lord: thus says the Lord, Tomorrow about this time a seah of fine flour shall be sold for a shekel, and two seahs of barley for a shekel, at the gate of Samaria.” 2 Then the captain on whose hand the king leaned said to the man of God, “If the Lord himself should make windows in heaven, could this thing be?” But he said, “You shall see it with your own eyes, but you shall not eat of it.”3 Now there were four men who were lepers at the entrance to the gate. And they said to one another, “Why are we sitting here until we die? 4 If we say, ‘Let us enter the city,’ the famine is in the city, and we shall die there. And if we sit here, we die also. So now come, let us go over to the camp of the Syrians. If they spare our lives we shall live, and if they kill us we shall but die.” 5 So they arose at twilight to go to the camp of the Syrians. But when they came to the edge of the camp of the Syrians, behold, there was no one there. 6 For the Lord had made the army of the Syrians hear the sound of chariots and of horses, the sound of a great army, so that they said to one another, “Behold, the king of Israel has hired against us the kings of the Hittites and the kings of Egypt to come against us.” 7 So they fled away in the twilight and abandoned their tents, their horses, and their donkeys, leaving the camp as it was, and fled for their lives. 8 And when these lepers came to the edge of the camp, they went into a tent and ate and drank, and they carried off silver and gold and clothing and went and hid them. Then they came back and entered another tent and carried off things from it and went and hid them. 9 Then they said to one another, “We are not doing right. This day is a day of good news. If we are silent and wait until the morning light, punishment will overtake us. Now therefore come; let us go and tell the king’s household.” 10 So they came and called to the gatekeepers of the city and told them, “We came to the camp of the Syrians, and behold, there was no one to be seen or heard there, nothing but the horses tied and the donkeys tied and the tents as they were.”

The story concerns a miraculous reversal of fortune for Israel during siege warfare with Syria. God intervened by driving off the enemy on His own. Through an act of desperation, three lepers discovered the turn of events, happening on the empty Syrian camp with the intention of surrendering. They went nearly berserk with glee at their good fortune, devouring everything in sight!

Somewhere in the middle of their celebrating and stockpiling, the lepers came up short under an avalanche of conviction. It was time for another consultation. They said to one another, “We are not doing right.  If we are silent and wait until the morning light, punishment will overtake us. Now therefore come; let us go and tell the king’s household.” Two things struck these men in their revelry. What they were doing was wrong AND it was risky. It wasn’t right. They knew in their hearts that God brought them on the camp not just for their own sakes but all of Samaria’s sake. To withhold the news would subject perhaps countless people to at the very least more suffering and at the very worst death. To remain silent was morally indefensible and outrageous.

And it was risky. They feared the punishment that would come should they withhold the blessing from the king’s household and the people he ruled. And so reason, responsibility, and duty won out. They went and told the good news in v. 10. And their feet were indeed beautiful to all who heard (Isa. 52:7).

We must fight the temptation to do spiritually the very thing these lepers first did materially. By all means we should delight in the surpassing pleasures of Christ, revel in His goodness, feast on His word, bask in His fellowship. But beware the temptation to hoard. Beware the folly of silence when it comes to your testimony. Jesus told the demoniac made whole in Mark 5:19 – Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you and how he had mercy on you. Paul in 2 Cor. 5:18-20 says we have received the ministry of reconciliation, that we are ambassadors for Jesus Christ, God making his appeal through us.

Charles Spurgeon spoke forcefully on the implications of this text:

What, my dear brothers? Are you saved in the Lord with an everlasting salvation and can you keep the blessing to yourself? Do you not wonder that all the timbers in your house do not groan at you and that the earth itself does not open her mouth to rebuke you? Can you be such an ungrateful wretch as to have tasted of amazing mercy and yet to have no word to say by way of confessing it? Suppose He should come tonight, and you, who have thought that you knew Him and loved Him, should never have sought to win a soul for Him—how will you face Him? How will you answer your Lord, whom you have never acknowledged? You knew the way of salvation and you concealed it! You knew the balm for the wounds of sinners and you let them bleed to death! They were thirsty and you gave them no draught of Living Water. They were hungry and you gave them no Bread of Life. Sirs, I cannot venture to His Judgment Seat with such a blot upon my soul? Can you? Oh, by the love of God, or even by a lower motive, by the love of your fellow men, burst your bands asunder and speak out for Christ! Or else, if your profession is true, you are not doing right, indeed, and I believe there is reason to question your religion.

Where are you taking steps to build bridges for the gospel taking advantage of things like the World Cup and the opportunity it affords to do lifestyle evangelism?

Let’s do less hoarding and more sharing. The news we have to share with lost people is even more stunningly good than that of the lepers of 2 Kings 7.

Living for Souls

As is my custom, I began my day this morning reading, among other things, the current edition of Free Grace Broadcaster. This summer edition of the Chapel Library in Pensacola focuses on Thoughts for Young People.

The collection of articles includes a piece by J. C. Ryle in which he prescribes certain general counsels for young people. Needless to say many of these have application to believers of all ages.

One such counsel he gives is this: never forget that nothing is as important as your soul. He concludes that section this way:

Do not forget this. Keep the interests of your soul in view—morning, noon, and night. Rise up each day desiring
that it may prosper. Lie down each evening inquiring of yourself whether it has really got on…Set your immortal
soul before your mind’s eye; and when men ask you why you live as you do, answer them in this spirit, “I live for
my soul.” Believe me, the day is fast coming when the soul will be the one thing men will think of, and the only
question of importance will be this: “Is my soul lost or saved?”

You can read the entire essay here.

Of course as ambassadors for Jesus Christ and ministers of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-20) we labor under an obligation not just to live for our own souls but also for the souls of others.

That is why we will wash cars for free tomorrow at 9:30 AM at our church office and give out Independence Day flags and pins and tracts. We want to build bridges for the gospel into our community. This is what it means to live for souls, precious souls, lost and dying souls, who will soon ask the only question of importance, “Is my soul lost or saved?”

Whether you can participate in tomorrow’s outreach or not, please pray with us that God will pour out His Spirit on the effort, for grace to love well the folks we encounter, for wise and winsome conversations about the gospel, and for some to go away believing perhaps for the first time that they must start living for their soul.

Ligonier National Conference Begins Today!

Tough Questions Christians Face.

That’s the theme for this year’s Ligonier National Conference beginning today here in Orlando and running through Saturday morning.

Here is the promo paragraph from the Ligonier website for the conference:

Christ has redeemed us to be a light that directs others to Him. Fulfilling this call requires us to be able to deal with the most difficult questions asked about the Christian faith. If we are unprepared for the darkness around us, it will be harder to counter it with the truth of God’s Word. Join us as we look at some of the toughest questions Christians face. Our goal is to equip you to answer questions that all Christians and non-Christians find perplexing.

Did you know that Ligonier is live streaming video of every session on line?

You can view any talk you wish by clicking on here.

For What Are We Living?

Our place in Idaho lies quite near part of the path taken by Merriwether Lewis and William Clark in their famous 1803-05 journey to find an all-water route across the western two-thirds of the American continent.

Living so close to such notable US history prompted me a couple of years ago to pick up and read a copy of Stephen E. Ambrose’s fascinating account of the Lewis and Clark expedition entitled Undaunted Courage (New York, Simon & Schuster, 1996, 521 pages). 

Nancy and I have actually followed the path through the Lolo Pass from Missoula, Montana, down to Kooskia, Idaho, where we live. We stopped at each of the historical markers to remember and imagine what took place at each spot along the way.

On page 280, Ambrose tells of this oft-quoted journal entry of Lewis written in a spirit of introspection and self-criticism (Lewis’ exact spelling has been preserved):

“This day I completed my thirty first year,” he began. He figured he was halfway through his life’s journey. “I reflected that I had as yet done but little, very little indeed, to further the hapiness of the human race, or to advance the information of the succeeding generation. I viewed with regret the many hours I have spent in indolence, and now soarly feel the want of that information which those hours would have given me had they been judiciously expended.”

He shook the mood, writing that, since the past could not be recalled, “I dash from me the gloomy thought and resolved in future, to redouble my exertions and at least indeavour to promote those two primary objects of human existence, by giving them the aid of that portion of talents which nature and fortune have bestoed on me . . . “ and here he seems to have lost his train of thought. Whatever the cause, he forgot to name those “two primary objects of human existence,” and instead ended, “in future, to live for mankind, as I have heretofore lived for myself.

Few would doubt the significance of Lewis’ contribution to mankind as an explorer, naturalist, cartographer, and author. He did indeed advance the information of succeeding generations.

Merriwether Lewis’ example reminds me of another man of great resolve who lived to further the happiness of the human race, albeit on a more elevated plane, namely Paul, the apostle. Ponder these words of his from 1 Corinthians 9:19-23:

19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

We don’t have to wait for another birthday to examine ourselves with questions like For what am I living? How do you, how do I, answer such a question at this point in our lives? Does indolence mark our existence? God forbid. As followers of the one who came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10) how can we fritter our days away in laziness and purposelessness?

Like Paul, we as redeemed people find ourselves under obligation to all kinds of people for the sake of the gospel (Rom. 1:14-15). For whom are we becoming all things that we might save some? What choices are we making over which we might wave the banner I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I might share with them in its blessings?

Whatever two primary objects of human existence Lewis may have lost track of in his mind on his 31st birthday, we must daily remind ourselves as disciple-makers of Jesus (Matt. 28:18-20) of the two made plain at the outset of our historic Reformed confessions – to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

Let’s live for such splendid and worthwhile objectives in the lives of others and thus ultimately further the happiness of the human race.

Sowing & Sleeping

Day Two at T4G, The (Unadjusted) Gospel.

John MacArthur spoke this morning on Mark 4 in a message he called The Theology of Sleep.

He surveyed the entire chapter, calling it The Magna Carta of Evangelism by the Lord Jesus Christ, but he landed most of the time in his exposition on the parable (unique to Mark’s gospel) in verses 26-29.

26 And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. 27 He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. 28 The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

Dr. MacArthur introduced his talk by sharing that he tends to sleep well. Wherever he goes all over the world, it just doesn’t seem to matter, he gets a good night’s sleep. I leaned over to my young friend Shane and said with a smile, I hate him. I don’t share that testimony much as I would like.

Pastor MacArthur went on to explain that he credits much of his non-insomnia experience to the theology of sleep he takes away from this pithy little story of Jesus. It’s another of Jesus’ kingdom parables. It begins with the familiar The kingdom of God is as or like. In this case he draws from the familiar realm of agriculture and the experience of the farmer in raising crops. Truth be told the farmer doesn’t do much. He does sow seed, hard work certainly, but beyond that, in this context, nothing more. He sleeps and rises, night and day, in the normal rhythms of life. As for the sprouting of the seed and its growth into a crop, the farmer is clueless – he knows not how. It just happens. From blade to ear then full grain in the ear, he remains out of the loop. The farmer waits around until the grain is ripe. Then he goes back to work, sickle in hand, for the time of harvest.

The point of the parable, particularly in light of our conference theme about the temptation to adjust the gospel by altering its content so as to somehow make our evangelism more effective in this postmodern age, is that in truth, like the farmer, we as sowers of the seed of the word of God have little to nothing more beyond that to do in terms of our contribution to someone coming to saving faith. That requires the power of God at work in the human heart. How that works we know not how. To use Jesus’ words in John 3 regarding spiritual birth. It’s like the wind. It blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes (John 3:8). So it borders on the ludicrous to think our methods and manipulation of the gospel will ultimately make the difference in a lost person’s life. Our job is to humbly, obediently, diligently, and confidently (four points the speaker further lifted from Mark 4) sow the seed of the gospel (unadjusted) and get ready to harvest if God gives the increase.

I don’t think Dr. MacArthur meant to belittle bridge-building ministries and relational connections in the evangelism effort. But his point was well taken. If anyone gets saved, the gospel and its power (Rom. 1:16-17) have to penetrate the human heart and turn it from stone to flesh. We simply act as the means of delivering the message at some point in the whole transaction. How are they to hear without someone preaching (Rom. 10:14).

Paul put it this way in 1 Cor. 3:6 – I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.

So church, let us engage lost people whenever we can by sowing the seed of the gospel.

Keep your sickle at hand in case God gives a harvest.

In the meantime, get some sleep.