Archive for the ‘Featured’ Category

  1. The Supreme Judge has Defined Marriage Once and for All

    Posted on June 26th, 2015 by Radical

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    It is altogether right to be grieved about the redefinition of marriage in our culture. So-called “same-sex marriage” is now recognized as a legitimate entity in the eyes of our government. Such a designation by a government, however, does not change the definition God has established. The only true marriage in God’s eyes remains the exclusive, permanent union of a man and a woman, even as our Supreme Court and state legislatures deliberately defy this reality. Without question, we are living in momentous days–momentous in devastating ways.

    Yet all is most definitely not lost. The opportunity for gospel witness in contemporary culture is far greater now than it was even a couple of years ago. As spiritual darkness engulfs the biblical picture of marriage in our culture, spiritual light will stand out even more starkly in the portrait of a husband who lays down his life for his wife and a wife who joyfully follows her husband’s loving leadership. Be sure of this: God’s design for marriage is far more breathtaking and much more satisfying than anything we could ever create on our own. The more men and women manipulate marriage, the more we will discover that “this kind of marriage” or “that kind of marriage” will not fully gratify us, for only the King who designed marriage is able to finally (and eternally) satisfy us.

    Furthermore, we have much reason to be confident in the resilience of marriage as God has designed it. After all, it has been around since the beginning of time (see Genesis 2:24-25). Jesus himself affirms the foundational reality of marriage in the fabric of God’s creation (see Matthew 19:1-12). Moreover, marriage will be around at the end of time. Sure, it won’t look the same as it does now, for this earthly shadow will one day give way to its eternal substance. On that day, Christ will be united completely with his church, and all of heaven will shout, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready” (Revelation 19:6-7). John writes in the book of Revelation, “The angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’ And he said to me, ‘These are the true words of God'” (verse 9).

    Based upon these “true words of God,” we need not worry about whether marriage is going to make it. Ultimately, we do not look to any court or government to define marriage. God has already done that, and his definition cannot be eradicated by a vote of legislators or the opinions of Supreme Court justices. The Supreme Judge of creation has already defined this term once and for all. Marriage does not morph across cultures the same way that football does, for marriage is a term that transcends culture, representing timeless truth about who God is and how God loves. The call and challenge for us is to live according to such truth in the time and culture in which he has placed us.

    David Platt, Counter Culture, 152-154

    More on Today’s Ruling . . .

  2. A God Who is Not Like Us

    Posted on June 25th, 2015 by David Burnette

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    As children of God, we can take great comfort in the fact that God knows us personally, that he understands our struggles and cares for our needs. He is not some distant deity; he is a Heavenly Father who loves us deeply.

    However, as we continue to encounter God in his Word and grow in our knowledge of him, we will be confronted again and again with a startling reality: this God who is so near to us and so intimately involved in our lives is not like us. He is unique, set apart from us in fundamental ways. This is another way of saying that God is holy. It’s what Hannah realized when God blessed her by giving her a long-awaited son:

    There is no one holy like the Lord. (1 Samuel 2:2).

    Holiness is the first of God’s attributes we’ll look at over the next several weeks. Below we’ll highlight two different aspects of God’s holiness, and then we’ll see why this is good news for those who have the privilege of calling God Father. [1]

    The Creator and The Creature

    First, God’s holiness means that he is in a completely different class than us—he is the Creator and we are the creatures. He is infinitely greater than us in terms of his glory, majesty, and power. God existed before the mountains were formed (Psalm 90:2), but man was created from the dust of the ground (Genesis 2:7). Some people might worry that this profound difference between God and us makes us insignificant to him, as if God’s holiness means that he is detached from his creation. However, Jesus teaches us that God even cares for the birds and lilies (Matthew 6:26, 28). How much more does this holy God care for those who are made in his image and redeemed by his Son?

    Righteousness and Sin

    Second, God’s holiness also refers to his moral perfection. He always does what is perfectly just and righteous and loving. In fact, he is the standard for all that is good. It’s no wonder that the prophet Habakkuk addressed God as, “You who are of purer eyes than to see evil . . . ” (Habakkuk 1:13). A holy God can have nothing to do with sin.

    Why This is Good News

    So if God can’t tolerate evil, then how does his holiness work out to be good news for those who sin against him daily? Michael Horton reminds us,

    Because of God’s mercy, God’s holiness not only highlights his difference from us; it also includes his movement toward us, binding us to him in covenant love. [2]

    We can look to the cross as the greatest display of God’s holiness, for he is so just and righteous that it took the death of his Son to atone for sin. However, because God is also gracious and merciful, this same death also brought salvation for God’s enemies (you and me). Now, as those who have been reconciled to God, we can take comfort in God’s perfections. He is faithful, so he never fails to carry through on his promises. And he is never limited by a lack of knowledge, a lack of strength, or the inability to meet a need. He is sufficient in every way for his people.

    In Christ we stand in a right relationship to the One whom the angels declare to be “Holy, holy, holy” (Isaiah 6:3). This is the God who is to be feared, but who, at the same time, fulfills our longings for that which is truly glorious and beautiful. Now we can say with the psalmist,

    For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. (Psalm 33:21)

    — For more on the holiness of God and God’s attributes, see Secret Church 4, “Who is God?”

    [1] These two aspects of God’s holiness are based on Michael Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims On the Way, 268-270.

    [2] Horton, 268

  3. 1 Comment

    On Going Mid-Term

    Posted on June 22nd, 2015 by Jonathan

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    You may not be familiar with the concept of “mid-term.” It’s pretty simple, though. Think of it as longer than a typical mission trip, but not exactly a one way ticket either. A typical mid-term trip usually falls somewhere between two months and two years. Before you dismiss this seemingly unfeasible leave of absence, let me urge you to consider a few of its merits:

    • On a short-term trip, local partners rearrange their normal schedule to accommodate your group and make the most of your limited time. On a mid-term trip, you are forced to come alongside them in their already-existing daily routine. This enables you to identify ways to serve them that they may not even see themselves.
    • While going mid-term certainly doesn’t come without challenges, it can also be uniquely rewarding. It’s difficult because it brings you well out of the proverbial honeymoon stage. When you’re two months in and you’re homesick and you’re tired of rice and beans and the once glamorous cultural differences start to annoy you… then you really have to count the cost and keep your eyes fixed on Christ. But with such trials comes the potential for great reward. For when you come to the end of yourself, you’re forced to either actively depend on Jesus or give up. If you endure, you might find that Christ catapults your walk with him to new heights. On top of this personal reward, the longer you stay, the more potential influence you can have in the lives of others there, and the more time you have to see some of that ministry come to fruition.
    • Perhaps you’ve been on a short-term trip and are now considering full time, long-term missions. By first going on a mid-term trip, you may get a better idea for how to prepare for the challenges of an indefinite cross-cultural move.

    For many, there are some great natural breaks that allow you to easily go mid-term. Think gap years before or after college, full summers between school, studying abroad, international internships, etc. But even if you’ve passed most of these common opportunities, say, with a full-time job and a family, don’t count yourself out for mid-term; it may be just what the Lord is calling you to do. Even at great cost – or might we say, especially at great cost – going mid-term could be one of the most worthwhile trips you ever take.

  4. Do We Know the God We Are Serving?

    Posted on June 15th, 2015 by David Burnette

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    What would you think of a husband who worked hard to provide for his wife, professed his love for her daily, and even brought her flowers on a regular basis, but never took the time to sit down and have a conversation with her? Sure, he’s making sacrifices, but can we honestly say that he delights in her?

    The obvious answer is no, but before we get too mad at this guy, let’s ask ourselves, Are we doing the same thing with God? After all, we can claim to believe the Bible, talk about how much we love Jesus, and maybe even declare our willingness to go to the ends of the earth to share the gospel, but still have little desire to know what God is like. Not only does this fail to honor God, but according to J.I. Packer, it’s also dangerous:

    Diseregard the study of God, and you sentence yourself to stumble and blunder through life blindfolded, as it were, with no sense of direction and no understanding of what surrounds you. This way you can waste your life and lose your soul. (Knowing God, 19).

    More Practical Than We Think

    Maybe you realize that you should be growing in your knowledge of God, but, if you’re honest, it sounds abstract or uninteresting. You prefer something more practical. If that’s you, then you may be thinking about this all wrong. Remember, when God saved us, he did not simply give us new information or a list of things to start doing; he brought us into a relationship. To be a Christian means that you have God as your Father, that you are spiritually joined to the Lord Jesus, and that the Spirit of God lives inside of you. How, then, can we not want to know the God who calls us his own? His character, his greatness, his mighty acts, his glory, and his beauty—these are the things that ought to capture our affections and motivate everything we do.

    Now, just to be clear, getting to know God should not be disconnected from our everyday lives. John warns us, “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth” (1 John 1:6). Knowing God cannot be separated from obeying God. However, we don’t want to spend our lives serving a God whom we barely know. Peter tells us that we were chosen so that we might “proclaim the excellencies” of God (1 Peter 2:9), but we can’t do that if we don’t know what those excellencies are. Thankfully, we don’t have to be an expert in all God’s attributes to tell others about him, but wouldn’t it make sense that we would want to be more familiar with the God we’re proclaiming?

    Snapshots of God’s Character

    Our love and obedience should be the result of delighting in God’s ways and relying on his character as it is revealed in the pages of Scripture. With this goal in mind, we’ll consider several attributes of God over the next few weeks. These snapshots of his character are taken from Secret Church 4, “Who is God?” These truths are foundational to everything we believe and everything we do, for knowing God, the prophet Jeremiah tells us, is the only thing worth boasting about:

    Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. (Jeremiah 9:23-24)

  5. A Biblical Method for Discovering the Will of God

    Posted on June 10th, 2015 by Jonathan

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    In a previous post, I described seven faulty methods for discovering God’s will based on a sermon from David Platt titled “The Disciple’s Will.” In the same sermon, Platt went on to explain a biblical method for discovering God’s will – The Faith Method.

    The Faith Method

    Just based on the name of it, some of you may be discouraged, anticipating this method to be somewhat unhelpful. Having faith doesn’t seem to help you know what to do. But this is where we should be reminded that knowing God’s will is secondary to simply knowing God. Knowing God is, in fact, God’s will for his children.

    That is to say, the will of God is not a road map; it is a relationship whereby Christ gradually overtakes our will to become one with his. This happens as we engage in our relationship with him, seeking to know him more intimately. We read, study, and memorize his Word, trusting it completely. We converse with him regularly, praying for his desires to become ours. And we proactively obey what we do know to be his will.

    Here’s how Platt fleshes it out a little bit:

    What if God has designed His will – this whole will-of-God thing – so that as you seek him and as you know him and as you abide in him, he shapes you? And through this process, he molds you and he enables you not only to know what his will is so you can go out and do it, but he also enables you to experience his will.

    Here’s the deal; let’s be honest. God has the power – in the decisions you’re trying to think through right now – to paint in the sky for you exactly what you should do. He has the power to give you a dream tonight or a vision today that says, “This is exactly what you need to do.” But maybe he has decided not to do that for a reason. Maybe he wants you to know him and to trust him and to learn from him and to lean on him and let him use this journey to form you into the image of Christ… to help you understand what it means for Christ to live in you, and for you to trust the Christ who lives in you instead of trusting some formula.

    I know that people across this room would be happy if I would give you a list today of three steps or five steps or seven steps you could take right now to help figure out this decision that you’re walking through. The problem is I can’t give you a list like that based on the authority of God’s Word. But on the authority of God’s Word, I can say this: there is a God in heaven who is, just as he sought after you to save you, still seeking you, and he wants you to know him personally. He wants you to know him so badly that he has put Christ in you to reveal himself to you so that he enables you – not just shows you his will – he enables you to experience his will.

    In other words, instead of trying to figure out his will, God intends for us to become his will. As we walk with him on a day-to-day, moment-by-moment basis, we no longer ask the question, “God, what is your will for my life?” We are instead drawn to ask the question question, “God, what is your will for human history, and how can I align my life with that?”

    You’d be well served to listen to the entire sermon, because it is filled with wisdom and encouragement. I have not been able, in this brief summary, to include everything. But at the very least, I think it’s safe to say that many of us may need to adjust our approach to knowing God’s will.

  6. 3 Missionary Biographies for Your Summer Reading

    Posted on June 9th, 2015 by David Burnette

    Whether you’re taking a break from assigned reading after a hard semester, gathering up books to take on vacation, or simply wanting to grow in your faith, you may be wondering, What should I read this summer?

    To answer that question, I asked three different individuals–authors in their own right–to recommend one missionary biography and tell me how it has influenced them. Biographies are a good way to look outside of yourself and to step into the life of someone else. Since these specific biographies are about missionaries, you will get a glimpse of how God has worked in the life of these individuals for the spread of the gospel.

    David Mathis (Executive Editor, Desiring God)

    I cherish the autobiography of Darlene Rose, Evidence Not Seen: A Woman’s Miraculous Faith in the Jungles of World War II. It is a riveting story of a young missionary, gripped by the global cause, separated from her husband, taken as a prison of war, and treated horribly by her captors. Stoke the fire of your zeal, not only for the Great Commission, but also the Great Shepherd, with her contagious love for him, as she walks through the haunting valley of death’s shadow.

     

    David Sills (Southern Seminary Missions Professor and former IMB missionary to Ecuador)

    Asking me my favorite missionary biography to recommend is like asking me my favorite verse of the Bible! There are many, and it depends on the situation. If I had to pick one though, I would probably say that the one that has impacted my life more than anything is a story more than a biography. Specifically, that of Jim Elliot, Pete Fleming, Nate Saint, Roger Youderian, and Ed McCully. Of the dozens of books written about that story, I would say either Through Gates of Splendor, by Elisabeth Elliot, or Shadow of the Almighty (the latest edition is expanded and entitled The Journals of Jim Elliot, edited by Elisabeth Elliot). Reading The Journals of Jim Elliot motivated me to constantly examine my life by the Word of God to ensure that I remained committed to go wherever God called and share the gospel in the places where it is most needed, staying faithful to the work that God called me to do. Seeing the life of Jim Elliot lived out in that book, watching him as a young man struggling with and growing in his faith, yet always remaining faithful to God’s call on his life challenged me greatly. It ultimately was used by God powerfully as He moved us to serve as missionaries in Ecuador among the Quichua people. That same commitment eventually brought me to Southern Seminary to teach missions and to form Reaching & Teaching International Ministries to train pastors and leaders around the world who have no access to formal theological education.

    Kathleen Nielson (Director of Women’s Initiatives at TGC)

    I highly recommend Sharon James’ biography of Ann Judson, titled My Heart in His Hands. The subtitle–Ann Judson of Burma: A Life with Selections from her Memoir and Letters–reveals one of the loveliest aspects of this book: significant extracts from Ann’s own writings are woven throughout, so that we get to hear her Scripture-filled voice and glimpse her Savior-filled heart. I have been moved and challenged by the story of this 19th-century woman who left a comfortable New England life to join her husband, Adoniram Judson, in gospel ministry in what is now Myanmar. She taught, befriended, mothered, translated, served, suffered, and rescued. She died at 37. Ann Judson was a woman of Spirit-filled courage whose story we should hear.

  7. 2 Comments

    7 Faulty Methods for Discovering God’s Will

    Posted on June 8th, 2015 by Jonathan

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    Have you ever struggled to know the will of God for your life? It may be one of the most pressing and consistent questions on the hearts and minds of believers. Whether it’s how to spend your monthly grocery money or what career path to pursue, we’re daily faced with decisions that don’t seem to have black or white, yes or no answers. Before we talk about how we can know God’s will (in a post coming later this week), here are some poor methods for uncovering it.

    1. The Random Finger Method – Do you crack open your Bible when you don’t know what to do? Like, literally, just crack it open to a random page and let your eye land on a verse or two? If so, you’re not alone. Though this is a common practice, there are obvious problems with it. For starters, it often doesn’t make any sense. You might be looking for an answer to what college you should attend, flip open to Isaiah, plop you finger down, and read “I clothe the heavens with blackness and make sackcloth their covering” (Is 50:3). Not only does it seem irrelevant, but it’s also downright discouraging. So you try it again (maybe venturing the direction of the New Testament) and keep doing this until you land on something that seems to speak to your specific situation. Regrettably though, this usually means paying little to no attention to the verse’s surrounding context. The random finger method leads us to treat Scripture more like a fortune cookie than our wholly sufficient means of knowing and trusting God.
    2. The Miraculous Event Method – Maybe we think it best to wait for God to send us a miraculous sign – a burning bush, handwriting on the wall, a blinding light. He’s been known to do that, right? Maybe we can muster up enough spirituality for God to do something like that again. But it apparently seems that God doesn’t choose to communicate this way very often. As a result, this method often leave people sitting on the slopes of Mt. Sinai, staring at a wall, and wandering up and down the Damascus road.
    3. The Striking Coincidence Method – This one can seem pretty convincing. Say you’ve been wrestling with whether or not you should date a particular person. You’re desperate for wisdom, and you ask God over and over again what you should do. Then you get in the car and turn on the radio. Boom… there’s your answer. It seemed like the person in question had qualities you were looking for in a future spouse, but you now know it’s not meant to be. Thanks to Michael Jackson, you pick up the phone and  tell them to “beat it.” Obviously, the striking coincidence method leaves a lot of room for seeing things that aren’t there, not to mention a lot of questions and doubts.
    4. The Cast-the-Fleece Method – If we haven’t said this ourselves, chances are we’ve heard it said. And it seems legitimate, because it comes from the story of Gideon in the book of Judges. But this story, as with others, is more descriptive than prescriptive. Not all stories are intended to be imitated. In this particular case, the whole point of Gideon casting a fleece was to show his lack of faith. Unlike Gideon, we are supposed to proactively obey God rather than hesitantly second guess him.
    5. The Open Door Method – The usual justification for the open door method is 1 Corinthians 16:8-9 – God opening a door for Paul who, in turn, walks through it. But this method is far from infallible, because in 2 Corinthians 2:12-13, Paul does not walk through a door that the Lord had opened to him. What do we do, then, when a door is open to us? We are left to wonder.
    6. The Closed Door Method – It would seem that the closed door method might be a bit clearer than the open door method. But maybe there are times when you are actually supposed to go through what seem to be closed doors. In Acts 21:11-14, Paul is warned by Agabus not to go to Jerusalem but concludes that despite immanent danger, he is still supposed to go there. While there are times when closed doors mean you don’t do certain things, and there are times when closed doors mean you change the particulars of the thing you’re doing, there are also times when closed doors test your obedience to God, even in the face of unlikely success, danger, and costly sacrifice.
    7. The Still Small Voice Method – Think about 1 Kings 19. Elijah hears the “low whisper” of God in the quiet stillness rather than in the wind, earthquake, or fire. We can draw this out to conclude that we need only to sit still enough, for long enough, and to be quiet enough in order to hear God whisper his will to us. And if not a whisper, then a distinct feeling. The problem here is that God doesn’t usually choose to audibly whisper, and feelings, particularly when wrestling through a difficult question or issue, are often muddled and difficult to understand.

    These seven faulty methods are from a sermon titled “The Disciple’s Will,” in which David Platt talks about how you can know God’s will for your life. We’ll talk about a biblical method for discovering the will of God later this week.

  8. 10 Commandments for Entertainment & Social Media

    Posted on May 26th, 2015 by David Burnette

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    Without realizing it, certain areas of our lives can get disconnected from Christ’s lordship. We don’t consciously rebel, but we fail to consider our actions and habits in the light of God’s Word. Social media and entertainment often fall into this category. We don’t mean to look like the world in the things we post on Facebook, nor do we intentionally choose to celebrate sin as we enjoy a movie, but it happens.

    One of the ways to address these blind spots, as we might call them, is to bring them out into the light. This involves applying Scripture to our use of social media and our entertainment choices–along with everything else in our lives. The following list of ten commandments for social media and entertainment is one way to do this. These commandments and the accompanying verses are taken from Secret Church 14, “The Cross and Everyday Life”:

    1. Fear God

    The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good. (Proverbs 15:3)

    2. Flee sexual immorality

    But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:28)

    3. Speak wisely

    For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. (Matthew 12:34)

    4. Communicate honestly

    A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who breathes out lies will perish. (Proverbs 19:9)

    5. Cultivate humility

    Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips. (Proverbs 27:2)

    6. Have accountability

    Cease to hear instruction, my son, and you will stray from the words of knowledge. (Proverbs 19:27)

    7. Maintain mastery

    “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. (1 Corinthians 6:12)

    8. Guard your heart

    Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. (Proverbs 4:23)

    9. Renew your mind

    Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

    10. Redeem your time

    Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. (Ephesians 5:15-16)

    — To access Secret Church 14, “The Cross and Everyday Life,” in its entirety (for free), go here.

  9. 1 Comment

    What are We to Make of “Believers” Who Fall Away?

    Posted on May 25th, 2015 by David Burnette

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    If you’ve been a Christian for a while, it’s almost a guarantee that you can make a list of friends or acquaintances who once professed Christ, and maybe even loudly, but who now, tragically, no longer participate in the life of the church.  They may be open about the fact that they have left behind their Christian upbringing. Or maybe a tragic event shook them and they never recovered. Many just seem to drift, moving slowly yet surely away from the Savior they once joyfully embraced. The situation is not only sad, but it’s also confusing.

    What are we to make of these “believers” who seem to have fallen away?

    Before answering that question directly, we need to consider some biblical principles to help us think through our response. And just to be clear, we’re not talking about someone who misses a couple of Sundays or that guy who makes an inappropriate comment here or there. We’re talking about people who used to identify as followers of Christ, but who no longer seem to care about Christ or the church, at least not as far as we can tell. They seem altogether indifferent to the things of the Lord.

    What We Don’t Know

    First, we need to recognize what we don’t know. Unlike God, we cannot look on the intents and motives of the heart, which means that we cannot be one-hundred-percent certain about someone’s spiritual condition. The prophet Jeremiah reminds us, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) The complexity of the human heart, combined with the unknowns in certain situations, means that our spiritual assessment of such people should always be expressed with humility and with a sense of our own limited knowledge.

    What We Do Know

    Second, we need to recall what we do know. We know from a number of passages that those who belong to Christ cannot lose their salvation. For instance, Jesus says that his sheep will “never perish” because no one is strong enough to snatch them from his hands or the hands of his Father (John 10:28-30). Paul also speaks of the certainty of the believer’s salvation, claiming that everyone whom God foreknows, predestines, and justifies will also be glorified on the last day (Romans 8:29-30). These and many other passages assure us that God’s children do not get kicked out of the family. Eternal life cannot be lost.

    While true followers of Christ do not lose their salvation, Scripture is also clear about the fact that those who belong to Christ persevere to the end. That is, true believers always continue trusting in and obeying Jesus until God calls them home. Sure, they continue to battle sin, and they may wander for a time, but they do not ultimately fall away. And, of course, this is God’s work in them, for they can only persevere in the power of the Spirit. A number of passages teach what has historically been referred to as the perseverance of the saints. For instance, Jesus says, “But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22; 24:13). Other passages could be cited to make the same point: true Christians do not depart from the faith (see 1 John 2:19; 2 Timothy 2:11-13).

    What’s at Stake

    If one of the characteristics of true believers is that they always continue in the faith, then it follows that walking away from Christ and his people is serious, as in eternally serious. Hebrews 10:26-27 says, “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.” Jesus also spoke of branches that would be “thrown into the fire” because they did not abide in him (John 15:6). The stakes could not be higher for those who walk away from the faith; judgment and eternity hang in the balance.

     What Love Requires

    To return to our original question, what are we to make of “believers” who seem to have fallen away? We know they haven’t lost their salvation, but because true believers always persevere in the faith, we also can’t be sure that they ever had it in the first place. It’s entirely possible for people to claim to be followers of Christ and then later prove to be unbelievers. Jesus talks about such people in the parable of the soils: they initially receive the word, but because they have no life-giving root to their faith, or because their love for the things of the world is stronger than their love for Christ, they ultimately prove that they don’t belong to God (Mark 4:1-20). Profession doesn’t always mean possession.

    We might say, with all humility, that there is evidence that such people do not belong to Christ. Hopefully their wandering is temporary, and by God’s grace they may eventually repent, but given the stakes, we should not assume anything. Either way, we must seek after such people. The concern of fellow believers is one of the means that God uses to preserve his people to the end. It’s also one of the reasons why church membership and church discipline are safeguards for those who profess Christ. For the good of our souls, we need other believers to hold us accountable. With compassion, urgency, and with much prayer, we should reach out to those who seem to be wandering. Love requires nothing less.

  10. 3 Comments

    How to Prepare for Your Summer Mission Trip

    Posted on May 20th, 2015 by Jonathan

    Summer vacations are not the only trips in view when the last school bell rings and the neighborhood pool opens. For many of you, these things also mean that your summer mission trip is just around the bend. It’s good that you begin thinking about it now. You’d be well served not to wait until the week (or night) before to begin preparing for it.

    So here are some simple ways to get ready, between now and the airport terminal.

    Begin Praying Now. This should go without saying, but prayer must undergird any sort of ministry in which you engage. Why? Because you can’t change people; only God gives new birth. Your dependence on him for this should be evident in your prayer life. If you aren’t praying, not only may your missions goals be too low, but your trust may be misplaced.

    Know Your Team. This may already be happening, but if you aren’t meeting with your team before you leave, try to get together with them soon. While praying together and planing together have enough merit on their own, meeting with your team will also help you discern personalities and roles. One of the greatest opponents to your effectiveness as a team is disunity, and spending some time together before you find yourselves in an unfamiliar and/or stressful context may help to prevent any potential quarreling.

    Rehearse the Gospel. I was privileged to spend a summer on mission in East Africa. I had been warned that on-the-spot introductions to speak were common. As it turns out, that couldn’t have been more dead on. At one point I was actually handed a megaphone in a crowded market. Thankfully, part of that warning came with an encouragement to prepare a gospel presentation. I would encourage the same. Even if you’re not going to a culture where impromptu sermons and megaphone preaching is common, it would be still wise to prepare a clear and concise statement of the gospel that you could share at a moment’s notice.

    Look to Local Partners. I doubt you are unacquainted with the mission of your local parters, but if you are, get to know their vision before you get there. Little could be more encouraging to a long-term missionary than showing genuine care for the ministry they’ve devoted their lives to. But more than this, doing your homework will also tell you how to best come alongside them in their work. On a short-term trip, your time is best spent serving the long-term partner since they’ll be there long after you leave. So take a back seat, follow their lead, and see what will actually serve them longterm (not just give your team the best experience). And as a side note, you can begin serving them before you go by asking them if there is anything you can bring them from home – like care packages from loved ones, books, and even snacks they cannot get in their local country.

    Be Ready to Grow. Don’t substitute your personal walk with Lord for serving him on a mission trip. It’s incredibly easy to place all your focus on your team, the work you’re doing, the travel plans, and all the sights to see. In doing so, you neglect communion with the source of your power. You must proactively combat this tendency to forgo your daily devotions on the trip. So before you leave, come up with a basic plan for reading your Bible and prayer. Also, expect to learn and grow a lot through what you do and experience; it would be prudent to have some sort of journal in which to process your thoughts.

    Plan for Change. Though flexibility is key on the mission field, being flexible is different than not having a plan. In fact, flexibility often requires more planning. When your in-country transportation is running two hours late, have a section of Scripture ready to begin (or continue) memorizing. If the ministry plans fall through for a day, have some sort of backup plan in place to encourage your teammates and/or local partners. If a more pressing need arises, don’t be so married to your original itinerary that you can’t adjust. Humbly serve according to the advice of trusted local leadership even if it diverges from your preconceived notion of service. And if something strange is placed on the dinner plate before you, it’s time for you to expand your palette.