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  1. Affliction as Our Teacher

    Posted on August 23rd, 2014 by David Burnette

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    God works “all things” for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28), but does that include affliction? Here’s Thomas Watson, the 17th century Puritan minister of St. Stephen’s Walbrook, on how “all things” applies to affliction, which he refers to as our “preacher and tutor”:

    Luther said that he could never rightly understand some of the Psalms, till he was in affliction. Affliction teaches what sin is. In the word preached, we hear what a dreadful thing sin is, that it is both defiling and damning, but we fear it no more than a painted lion; therefore God lets loose affliction, and then we feel sin bitter in the fruit of it. A sick-bed often teaches more than a sermon. We can best see the ugly visage of sin in the glass of affliction. Affliction teaches us to know ourselves. In prosperity we are for the most part strangers to ourselves. God makes us know affliction, that we may better know ourselves. We see that corruption in our hearts in the time of affliction, which we would not believe was there.”

    Thomas Watson, All Things for Good (originally titled A Divine Cordial in 1663),27-28

     

  2. Who Are the Unreached and Why Must We Go to Them?

    Posted on August 21st, 2014 by David Burnette

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    What does it mean to be part of an Unreached People Group (UPG)? How do unreached peoples stand before God? What is our obligation, as followers of Christ, to those who have no access to the gospel?

    The following outline provides a good summary for these kinds of questions. The outline was taken from Pastor David Platt’s sermon titled “Our Obligation to the Unreached,” and is based on Paul’s teaching in Romans 1-3 about man’s inherent sinful condition. To access the sermon in its entirety, including the outline below, go here.

     

    Who are the Unreached?

    • A people group among whom there is no indigenous community of believing Christians able to engage the people group with church planting.
    • Technically speaking, the percentage of evangelical Christians in this people group is less than two percent.

    How Many People Are Unreached?

    • Over 6,500 people groups are unreached . . .

    Including at least two billion individual people

    • Over 3,000 are also unengaged (meaning there is currently no evangelical church planting strategy under way to reach that people group) . . .

    Including around 200 million individual people

    What Does It Mean To Be Unreached?

    • Practically . . .

    You do not currently have access to the gospel.

    Unless something changes, you will likely be born, live, and die without ever hearing the gospel.

    • Biblically . . .

    You have knowledge of God.

    You have rejected God.

    You stand condemned before God.

    You have never heard the good news about how you can be saved by God.

    Why Must We Go To The Unreached?

    • Because their knowledge of God is only enough to damn them to hell.
    • Because the gospel of God is powerful enough to save them forever.
    • Because the plan of God warrants the sacrifices of His people.
    • Because the Son of God deserves the praise of all peoples.

    To learn more about unreached peoples, visit Joshua Project.

  3. Why Seeing Isn’t Always Believing

    Posted on August 20th, 2014 by David Burnette

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    Have you ever read about Jesus’ miracles in Scripture and walked away thinking, “If only I had seen that, I would never again be ashamed of Christ?” Or maybe it’s one of God’s mighty works in the Old Testament–like Israel’s rescue from Egypt–and you think to yourself, “How could they experience that and still disobey?”

    At one level, it’s natural to want to experience unique demonstrations of God’s power and grace. I mean, really, who wouldn’t want to be there when God split the Red Sea in two? And who wouldn’t pay to see Lazarus come stumbling out of the tomb covered with four-day-old grave cloths? Surely our struggle to trust God would get much easier if we could only see these things with our own eyes . . . right?

    Diagnosing the Sin Problem

    The idea that simply eye-witnessing a miracle would catapult us into a new level of trust and obedience misses the teaching of Scripture, not only on the role of miracles, but even more fundamentally on the nature of faith and the blinding effects of sin. To say, “If God would only show me____, then I would trust him,” implies that our unbelief is due to a lack of evidence. But that’s not how the Bible diagnoses man’s sin problem.

    Paul tells us in Romans 1:18-32 that all men rebel against God because they prefer idols, not because they lack proof. In fact, it’s because we already have proof of God’s power and divine nature in creation that we are “without excuse” (20). God has made these things “plain,” yet we suppress the truth (18-19). Our “ignorance” flows from a hard heart. (Eph 4:18).

    More Than Floating Furniture

    Maybe you’ve heard an atheist claim that he would gladly believe in God if only God would perform some great miracle right before his eyes–like causing a table to levitate. God could do that, of course, but as Christians we should know better: it takes more than floating furniture to change the heart. People reject the light because they love the darkness (Jn 1:19). We need our eyes enlightened, even after we’re saved (Eph 1:18). It’s no wonder, then, that Scripture is overflowing with examples, both of godly saints and of rebellious sinners, who sinned blatantly after firsthand experience with God’s miraculous power.

    Noah got drunk after being rescued from a worldwide flood (Gen 8:20-21). Abraham lied about his wife after God spoke to him directly (Gen 20:2). The children of Israel saw Mt. Sinai enveloped in smoke and darkness, and they responded by demanding that Aaron make them an idol in the form of a golden calf (Ex 32). The trend continues in the New Testament. Some Jews who watched Lazarus walk out of the tomb refused to submit to Jesus and instead headed straight for the chief priests and Pharisees (Jn 11:46). Nine out of ten lepers who were cleansed by Jesus didn’t even go back to thank him (Lk 17:11-19). And as for the disciples, they didn’t always fare much better. After distributing bread and fish to over five thousand people, they seemed clueless as to how Christ would feed a smaller crowd only a short time later (Matt 15:33). Talk about missing the point!

    Perhaps Peter serves as the most striking example. This leading apostle was on hand for Jesus’ entire earthly ministry, including Christ’s transfiguration (Matt 17:1-8). He saw all the miracles and he even walked on water (briefly). Yet, on three different occasions during Jesus’ trial, this same Peter adamantly denied that he even knew the Lord of glory. Being an eyewitness did not ensure Peter’s faithfulness.

    Believing and Seeing

    None of these examples should be taken as a slight against miracles. One reason God performed miracles was to bear witness to the message of his salvation (Heb 2:4). Jesus pointed to his signs and wonders to convince John the Baptist that he was truly the Messiah (Matt 11:2-5). Likewise, God frequently reminds Israel of his mighty works of salvation in order to bolster their hope in him (Ps 105). Still, we’re mistaken to think that simply seeing supernatural events would cure our struggle to trust God.

    Unbelief can only be overcome by the power of the Holy Spirit. Whether it’s witnessing a miracle, understanding the gospel, or simply grasping a truth from God’s Word, we are dependent on the Spirit to see truth rightly and to love the truth that we see. This is the same Spirit who empowered the fearful and doubting disciples—those who had watched Jesus’ perform miracles—to give their lives for him after Pentecost. He will continue his transforming work in us too as we are “beholding the glory of the Lord” (2 Cor 3:18).

    So the next time you long for some supernatural proof of God’s presence, Christian, remind yourself that God has given you something greater than signs and wonders. You have his Spirit and his Word, yes “all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Pet 1:3). There is no need to look elsewhere in your struggle to trust and obey. Finally, hear the encouragement Christ gives to those who have never seen him with their physical eyes: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (Jn 20:29).

  4. “Survey of the New Testament” from the Olden Days

    Posted on August 19th, 2014 by Jonathan

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    Have you ever thought something along these lines?

    “I wish I had an overview of (insert New Testament book) so that I didn’t have to jump into studying it blindly.”

    Our vault may contain just the remedy.

    Way back before people used the term millennial to refer to a generation, when iPods and cellphones were separate, and before simulcasts were in vogue . . . there was Secret Church 2: Survey of the New Testament. The aim of the study was simple, but not easy: complete an overview of the entire New Testament in mere hours. The mission was accomplished and, thankfully, this ancient bit of teaching has been preserved throughout the years on the Internet, through this link.

    Although you’re welcome to use the online material totally free of charge, you can also purchase the even more traditional, paper form of the study guide in our online store to enable good, old-fashioned note-taking with a pen or pencil–we even invite you to write in cursive. And should your Internet connection speed be stuck in 2007, our scribes have chronicled the night on digital video discs (DVDs) for your convenience.

    Don’t be afraid to take a step back in time and use this valuable resource. After all, when it comes to biblical interpretation, innovation is rarely the best policy . . .

  5. Conversion, Evangelism, and the Sovereignty of God

    Posted on August 18th, 2014 by Jonathan

    This past June, Ed Stetzer sat down with David Platt, Trevin Wax, and Frank Page to talk about election, human responsibility, and God’s sovereignty. The panel participants hold a range of beliefs on these issues, which made for an interesting (and often entertaining) discussion.

    It is evident from this panel that there are real and important theological differences among Christians who hold the Bible in high esteem. At the same time though, it is also clear that, regardless of where someone stands on issues like election and free will, there is a deeper bond of unity among Christians and a more central purpose for their lives. The focus for much of the conversation was on what the panelists agree to be more important than their differences: proclaiming the gospel to the lost.

    Click HERE for the audio, and be challenged and encouraged as you listen and learn.

    For more, Ed Stetzer and Trevin Wax have posted some thoughts about the panel on their blogs.

  6. Well Said…

    Posted on August 15th, 2014 by Cory Varden

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    Five Principles of the New Sexual Morality, Alastair Roberts: The sociologist Mark Regnerus recently published a piece for the Witherington Institute’s Public Discourse, suggesting that support for same-sex marriage in some Christian circles correlates to broader shifts in morality surrounding sexuality and relations. Survey respondents were asked to declare their level of agreement with seven statements relating to the issues of pornography, cohabitation, no-strings-attached sex, the duty of staying in a marriage, extramarital sex, polyamorous relationships, and abortion. The results illustrated pronounced fault lines between those committed to historic Christian stances on sexual morality and supporters of same-sex marriage.

    Jonah, Mosul, and ISIS: Lessons for Us All, David Allen: In the swirling mayhem of the Middle East conflict, we all need to be reminded that one far greater than Jonah, Jesus Christ, once said in Luke 13:3: “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

    Biblical Theology: Guardian & Guide of the Church, 9Marks: Churches, as much as ever, need to know who they are, where they come from, who their ancestors are. Are we not children of Abraham? Doesn’t our family tree include Moses and David, Rahab and Ruth? Are we not all adopted heirs and coheirs with Christ? Sons of the divine king? Biblical theology is not just about reading the Bible rightly, though it begins there. It serves to guard and guide the local church. It maintains the right message, defines the task of the messenger, identifies imposters, tells us what we do when we gather, and sets the trajectory of our mission. It answers the question, Who are we, as the church in the world?

     

  7. New Releases in the Christ-Centered Exposition Series

    Posted on August 14th, 2014 by David Burnette

    Several new volumes in the Christ-Centered Exposition series from B&H have appeared recently:

    Here’s a brief excerpt from Pastor David’s James commentary on the agreement between James and Paul on the place of works in the Christian life. The following is based on James’s statement in 2:22-24 concerning Abraham being justified by works:

    “Legalism is not at all what James is talking about when he talks about works. James refers to works/deeds/actions 15 times, and every reference he uses is positive. Why? Because every time James talks about works, he is talking about works that are the fruit of faith, which bring great glory to God. When James talks about works, he is talking about God-glorifying obedience; love for the needy, mercy for the poor, care for the impoverished–all driven by the love and mercy of God. These things are the fruit of faith in God. Sometimes Paul talks about works in the same way. In Romans 1:5 he speaks of the “obedience of faith.” First Thessalonians 1:3 and 2 Thessalonians 1:11 talk about the “work of faith.” And in Galatians 5:6 Paul says, “What matters is faith working through love.” So James and Paul are united on this point. James is not advocating works in the flesh done to earn favor before God, and Paul rejoices in works produced by faith that bring glory to God. Both James and Paul see faith and works working together, which is exactly what James says in 2:20-24.” (50-51)

    From the editors (Danny Akin, Tony Merida, and David Platt) of the Christ-Centered Exposition series: “This series affirms that the Bible is a Christ-centered book, containing a unified story of redemptive history of which Jesus is the hero. We purpose to exalt Jesus from every book of the Bible.” These commentaries will not only be beneficial for pastors, but also for any Christian who wants to understand Scripture and get a grasp on the main theological points of each passage. They are not overly technical, and in addition to frequent points of application, each chapter also includes questions for reflection and discussion. This makes it adaptable for a small group study.

    For other titles in this series, go here.

  8. A Prayer for the Afflicted Saints of Iraq

    Posted on August 13th, 2014 by Jonathan

    The following prayer was originally posted by Rick Phillips on Reformation 21.

    Our Father in heaven, the sovereign and almighty God, the faithful covenant-keeper and Savior, we plead to you on behalf of our suffering fellow believers in Iraq.  Cast your eye upon them and have mercy to uphold and defend your flock.  Overthrow the evil of their persecutors and strengthen the faith of those suffering tribulation for the name of Jesus.

    Father, as of old you caused the enemies of your people to destroy one another in answer to the plea of Jehoshaphat (2 Chron. 20:23), so now bring discord, division, and self-destruction to the jihadist slayers afflicting your people.  Lord, as once you parted the Red Sea to make safe the way of Israel fleeing from Pharaoh’s host (Ex. 14:21-22), open a path to safety for your people fleeing in distress.  Our God, your Word foretells that Satan will make war on the church, all the more because he knows that his end is near (Rev. 12:12).  But as you promised, intervene supernaturally to provide a refuge in the wilderness for the church our enemy is seeking to destroy (Rev. 12:14-16).   Cause your suffering people to conquer by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; strengthen their testimony to Jesus, even under threat of death (Rev. 12:11).

    Our loving Father, Jesus foretold that his people would be hated by all nations and delivered up to tribulation (Mt. 24:9), as we see happening to the saints of Iraq.  Do not permit them to fall away or betray one another,  and keep their love from growing cold (Mt. 24:1012).  Hear the cries of Rachel in Iraq and Kurdistan, weeping for her children (Jer. 31:15).

    God of grace, have mercy on our fellow sinners who persecute your people in the name of a false god.  As once you turned the heart of Saul of Tarsus when he was the chief tormenter of your church (Acts 9:4-5), and as Jesus pled for you to forgive those who tortured him upon the cross (Lk. 23:34), now have mercy on those who crucify and behead the saints in Iraq.  Reveal your grace and glory to them so that they might repent, believe, and be saved.

    Finally, Lord, send your Spirit to inspire Christians who live in comfort and ease, that we might honor the martyrdom of our brothers and sisters by living boldly for Jesus, that we might abominate in ourselves the sins of hatred, lust, and idolatry that we see working so terribly against our brethren, and that we might live more soberly and prayerfully for the cause of Christ in this evil world.

    In the name of him who loves us and has freed us from our sins (Rev. 1:5), whom you have made head over all things for the church (Eph. 1:22), your Son Jesus Christ, we pray.  Come, Lord Jesus.  Amen.

  9. Mack Stiles is a businessman who also leads a student ministry in the United Arab Emirates. He’s currently an elder at Redeemer Church of Dubai, and he spent many years previous as a church planter. David Platt, who had the honor of writing the forward for Stiles’ recent book, Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus, said: “I truly cannot think of anyone better to write a book not just on cultivating the discipline of evangelism as a Christian, but on creating a culture of evangelism in the church.”

    He was gracious enough to answer a few questions for us on this topic . . .

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    Mack, you define evangelism as “teaching the gospel with the aim to persuade.” Why do you put it this way, and how is this a corrective to many of the evangelistic constructs in our church culture today?

    I love this question, because it’s really one of the critical heartbeats of the book.

    When I look out at the evangelical community, be it church, or individual believers, or evangelistic outreach ministries, or even missionary efforts, there are so many ideas about evangelism.  Most all of them, at least the ones I know, want to be rooted in the scriptures, most all of them are good hearted, nobody wants to offend non-Christians, all of them want to see fruit, but more often it seems that good hearted people don’t always have the big picture view about sharing our faith, and consequently they can spin into error by over or under emphasizing one part of evangelism over another.

    The reason I’ve found this definition so helpful is that it’s really a boiled down, biblically rooted summary of the big picture concerning evangelism.  So, it focuses on what we share (the gospel) and how we share (teach), the way we share (our aim), and the goal for sharing (persuade), such that each word in the definition is important.

    It’s not a perfect protection, but it guards us against sharing other things besides the gospel, sometimes the way testimonies are given for instance.  Sometimes I’ll hear a “testimony” and it has everything to do with how greatly they sinned, and almost nothing to do with the gospel.  We want to share such that anyone has the information they need to come to Christ.

    There’s so many things a big picture view guards us from . . . it guards us from manipulative methods that have more to do with sales techniques, or forgetting that evangelism is not only about numbers . . .  that is our aim is to persuade, but God is the one, the only one, who can actually convert someone.

    My only disappointment with this definition is that it took decades for me to put it together. :)

    The second chapter of your book talks about what a “culture of evangelism” looks like. What does that mean and why is it significant?

    A culture of evangelism is really about everyone working together to “teach the gospel with the aim to convert.” There is great joy to be a part of a community that is “on game” for a common goal of sharing the faith.  A culture of evangelism is really an intuitive concept; ultimately it’s about the church focusing on being a healthy gospel centered, church, while supporting a culture of people who are sharing their faith.  So it’s not the professional pastor, or the evangelism specialist, or those with the gift of evangelism, but the whole church speaking about Jesus.

    It’s important to note that biggest danger to a true culture of evangelism is the evangelistic program.  It’s similar to a culture of evangelism (or another way to say it is that it mimics a culture of evangelism) in a way because the entire community pitches in together for a program, but it’s not everyone sharing their faith.  Just for the record, I participate in occasional evangelistic programs, but the best evangelism is when the church is filled with people all sharing their faith.  The way I say it is that programs are to evangelism as sugar is to nutrition: small amounts are okay, too much will kill you. The big danger about sugar is that you can eat it and think you’ve eaten, but you haven’t had a real meal; the same is true about evangelistic programs, you can do one, but it doesn’t mean that you’ve really shared the gospel yourself.

    Could there exist a culture of evangelism apart from the local church? Why is the local church so important when it comes to evangelism?

    I think any ministry can have a culture of evangelism.  Campus ministries should, mission agencies should, social programs should . . . but the best culture of evangelism is in the church.  We need to remember that Jesus didn’t forget the gospel when he built the church.  The gospel is inherent in what we do as church, at least in a biblical church: the gospel is in our songs, in our prayers, in the sermon, in the practice of baptism and communion . . . it’s all there.  And primarily there in how we love one another.  Think about it – Jesus says the love we have for one another in the church is a statement that we are truly converted. And when we are unified in the church, we show to the world that Jesus is the Son of God. Love confirms our discipleship. Unity confirms Christ’s deity (Jn 13:35, Jn 17:20-21). That’s a powerful witness that best happens in a convented  community called the church.

    How would you encourage someone who wants to become better at sharing Christ with people?

    This may be the easiest question.  And as tempted as I am to say that the way to become better in evangelism is to read my book, really the way to be better in evangelism is to do it.  We need practice.  It’s like marriage.  For all the books written about marriage, the best way to learn about marriage is to get married.

    The second thing is to risk.  Everywhere I go people want to know why they aren’t having opportunities to share their faith, and my answer in most situations is that they take more risks.  Talk to the mom next to you at soccer practice, let people know at work about your Christian life, get your courage up at school and see if a friend would read the gospel of Mark with you.  It’s no good waiting around until the culture gets easier . . . it’s not going to anytime soon.  And it gets harder in life, too.  But God rewards risk.  It’s really tied up in faith.  I tell people that if you can’t risk you better find another god to love besides Jesus.   If you think about it, we are really risking our life that the message of the gospel is true.  And if it’s true, it’s worth risking what others think about us to share that truth.

  10. John Piper on Missions

    Posted on August 11th, 2014 by Jonathan

    At CROSS last year, Mark Dever asked John Piper about missions–what the term means, what the Bible says about it, how it impacts our marriages, how it affects our calling, and more. The video of that conversation is well worth a watch.