Wednesday, September 25, 2013

2013 Expositor's Conference

I've attended the Expositor's Conference from its inception. There are a plethora of conferences with more beginning each year, far too many for any busy pastor to consider attending. I enjoy this one because of the scheduling-- Monday evening and Tuesday, and because I'm always challenged at this conference to become a better expositor of God's Word. The members of Christ Fellowship Baptist Church are always most hospitable in sacrificially serving so that the attending pastors and their wives will be comfortable.
 
This year's Expositor's Conference featured Sinclair Ferguson and Steven Lawson preaching on the theme of the empowering work of the Holy Spirit in Biblical preaching. Sinclair Ferguson's sermons were mainly from the experimental perspective of the Holy Spirit in the lives of God's people. They were a stirring reminder of the glorious gift of the Holy Spirit as we are incorporated into the family of God. Stephen Lawson's focus was more on the power of the Holy Spirit in preaching. On Tuesday afternoon Lawson gave a biographical sketch on the life and preaching of John Knox. After doing a flyby on the life of Knox, his emphasis was directed towards his powerful preaching. In a day when compromise would have been the choice of many, Knox preached with confidence and conviction.
 
A particular blessing at this year's Conference was the Truth Remains Bible Exhibit and a message on the lives of William Tyndale and John Rogers presented by the Truth Remains founder, David Parsons. It was convicting to hear once again of the unwavering commitment of these two men to produce the English translation of the Bible, eventually leading to their martyrdom. At the exhibit they actually had one of the six remaining original editions of 1534 Tyndale Bible, called the Matthew Bible. It was published by John Rogers after Tyndale's martyrdom. Rogers was converted from Roman Catholicism under Tyndale's ministry. He published this complete edition of the Tyndale Bible under the pseudonym of Thomas Matthew, thus the Matthew Bible. We were actually allowed to touch it! The photo is of my hand on this amazing gift to the English speaking world. Also on exhibit were an original edition of the Geneva Bible and a 1611 King James Bible. Being among these Bibles was a reminder of God's rich providential blessing of His Word and of the great sacrifice of faithful men in preserving it for us.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Hope for the Homosexual

I read an article this morning in our local newspaper about an interview with Pope Francis aboard the papal aircraft. When asked about homosexuals he stated, "If someone is gay and searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge." It is mind-boggling how in the past 20-30 years homosexuality has become a normal and accepted life-style. Few see it as a sin issue. The recent Supreme Court action has basically declared homosexuality to be a moral good in need of constitutional protection. It would seem that few are willing to stand up and declare that this behavior is wrong.

We live in a day when sin, condemnation, and judgment are words so vile and hateful that they should never be uttered. The PCUSA recently rejected the Keith and Kristyn Getty song, "In Christ Alone" from its new hymnal because of the words in the third stanza, "Till on the cross as Jesus died, the the wrath of God was satisfied." They wanted to replace the words with, "The love of God was magnified." The word wrath is too offensive for this denomination to utter. When you live in a society where sin and judgement does not exist and everyone does that which is right in their own eyes all of the fences are removed. Why not pedophilia? Why not incest? Why not kill fourth trimester children (that would be after birth)?

Pope Francis' statement, "Who am I to judge" seems to be at the core of modern thought. As long as you are sincere, as long as you have good will, as long as you are searching for the Lord you are doing OK. And in a world void of absolutes, searching for the Lord takes many forms. The Bible tells us there is only one way a person searches for the Lord--through the Gospel of Christ.

Homosexuality is clearly an issue of sin, but sometimes the church has been so zealous in declaring the sinfulness of homosexuality, they have forgotten the Gospel. Through the Gospel of Christ the worst of sinners have been transformed--murderers, adulterers, robbers, drunkards, and yes, homosexuals. The Gospel is good news! It holds out forgiveness, reconciliation, and hope. Our duty as the people of God is to look upon sinners with compassion and mercy. We must never look upon those trapped in sin as if we have never been in their condition. Sin has corrupted every human being upon the earth. It manifests itself in endless ways. Homosexuality is just one expression of the depravity of the human heart.

In one sense I have to agree with Pope Francis. "Who am I to judge." Christ is the ultimate Judge before whom all men shall stand. On the other hand, the Bible is a clear revelation of the nature of sin and the condition of the human heart. God commands that all men forsake their sin and fall before the rule and reign of Jesus Christ. We must trust His perfect atoning sacrifice upon the cross where He bore the sins of His people and suffered the condemnation they deserved. We must receive His perfect righteousness to meet the perfect demands of the Law. But there is glorious hope. The homosexual can be changed. By God's Spirit he can forsake his sin and experience the love of Christ which is beyond compare. He can be restored to a right relationship with his Creator. The wrath of God can be removed. "That if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved" (Romans 10:9).

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Count it All Joy

 
The following is from Pastor Robert Shelby, one of our pastors at Trinity Baptist Church. July 3, 2013 marks the one year anniversary of his paralyzing injury. He shares how he has followed the Biblical mandate, "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials (James 1:2).






One year ago today, several of my children and I headed out the front door on our way to our neighbors swimming pool for an early morning swimming lesson. Far from my mind was any notion that this day would be marked by a “life changing event,” as the doctor would later announce to my wife. About a half hour later or so, I began noticing the less than stellar diving skills of one of my boys. I thought that a good example would be all that was needed to improve his skill so, I told him to stand back and watch how daddy could dive into the pool with graceful form.
As I launched into the air, I kicked my feet up high, held them together and pierced the water like an Olympic diver. Suddenly, I felt the tremendous force of the bottom of the pool resisting my head as my head struck the bottom of the pool. I was briefly stunned for a moment much like a boxer who has received a powerful blow to the head, then I collected myself and thought that I needed to swim to the side of pool so that I might shake off such a hard blow.
I began trying to reach out with my hand but my arm would not move. Kicking in my mind, my legs and feet would not move either. I frantically worked through each of the muscle groups in my body trying to find any muscle or appendage that I might move to aid me in coming up from the water and reaching the side of the pool for a breath of air. In that moment it became clear to me that I was going to drown in the bottom of the pool unless someone quickly acted on my behalf. Believing that I was about to die, I prayed for a few moments rejoicing in the goodness of my God who had reconciled me unto himself through the atoning work of his son Jesus and had promised that my trust in him was not in vain.. Then, I began to praise him as I waited entering into his presence through death.
As the time was passing, my sons began to take notice that I had not come up from the water. They began working together struggling to drag my body to the shallow end of the pool and turn my face up so that they could hold my head out of the water. As they approached the shallow end of the pool my eldest son began CPR and was able to revive me until the paramedics arrived.
Later that day, the doctors told my wife, Amy that I had fractured my C5 vertebrae causing paralysis below the level of the fracture and that they could stabilize my neck by performing a surgery. What they could not tell her was whether or not the paralysis would be temporary or permanent.
After the surgery, I spent two weeks OLOL hospital in Baton Rouge and then moved on to spend another two months at Touro Hospital in New Orleans on their rehab floor. After leaving the hospital in New Orleans, I returned home to pick up where I left off two and a half months prior. Needless to say, since the injury each and every day presents a host of trials that God has called me to walk through.
Often during the past year I have considered the exhortation given by James (Jam 1:2) where we are commanded to “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.” These trials, spoken of by James, are manifested in the life of the Christian in numerous ways, some very obvious and others not so obvious. The trials of recent days, since my spinal cord injury, seem to be much more obvious than those trials endured prior to this life changing event.
As I have thought through this passage contemplating how I might remain faithful and obedient to our Lord, one prevailing consideration continues to stand at the forefront – that is the question, “How is it to be accomplished, the counting it all joy?”
James gives us the answer in the exhortation when he says to “Count” or "Consider."
And how do you consider? The answer is, that we consider with our mind. Counting or considering with the mind stands in contrast to considerations of feelings. In the text, James is more concerned with our thought process than how we might feel about the trial that God has ordained.
James is not saying, "feel joyful," but rather, learn to think joyfully in your trials. This does not come easy to most of us and one might wonder why such difficulty? Several factors are involved some of which can be traced to our fallen nature and dumbed down, hyper-emotional culture which has taught us to feel rather than to think. The reality is that Christians may find it a strong temptation to tackle this imperative found in James’ epistle with “feeling” or “emotion” rather than thoughtful wisdom and consideration.
Many will be inclined to think. “I am walking through a trial and I am commanded to be Joyful, to be happy… so to be obedient to this imperative I simply need to muster up happiness; that will be a faithful pursuit in honoring God. But this is the wrong approach. “Counting” or “Considering” it joy is to be rooted in the thought process. We should think like this, “I am tempted and afflicted – yet – because of the truths that are revealed in God’s word concerning his glory and our good - I will recognize this circumstance as a means of revealing the joy and the love of the father who works in me all good things.”Phil 2:13
Paul tells us that he learned to be content in every circumstance. Whether he was being assaulted from temptations arising from his internal desires or whether he was suffering the temptations to sin from external sources, Paul had learned to be content. If he was being persecuted from within the church or from the outside – Paul learned to be content – to ‘count it all joy.’ That is his own testimony given in Philippians chapter 4.
Philippians 4:11-13 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
“Count it all joy” means to exclude the negative emotions, exclude doubt, exclude feelings and to consider with your mind.
So, how is this accomplished? How do we experience joy in the midst of trials ? How do we engage the mind?
How do we obey the word of God, counting or considering it all joy, especially when it seems so contrary to what we have come to know throughout the course of our life? (i.e. heartache, despair, grief, disappointment, etc)
The answer is - We apply our thoughts to truths that we know, truths that are given to us in the Word of God which are intended for just such a purpose. We fill up our minds with Holy Scripture which renews our mind (as Paul commands in Roman 12:2).
We consider the words of Peter. (1 Pet 4:1) “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking.”
We count trials as joy as we remember Heb 12:3-4 “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.” We remember that –“In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”
 We count Trials as joy as we remember or consider the words in 1 Jn 3:13 “ Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you.”
 We Count it Joy as we remember the words of Paul to the church at Philippi 3:8-10 “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ…..that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
As you consider the trials that God ordains in the life of the Christian recognize that these trials demonstrate to us observable evidences that we are friends and followers of Christ. As we contemplate our calling and response, it will become increasingly clear that we are enduring the same suffering as Christ and striving to advance the same interest, as our Lord. We “Count it All Joy.”
Lastly we recognize that in ourselves – we can do nothing. We are born in sin, our hearts are born corrupt, and there is none righteous…. No one does good, we are born slaves of this world, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. But by grace we have received a Holy calling and by adoption we have become the children of God.
We count all things as Joy as we consider or remember the words of Paul to the church at Philippi.
 Philippians 2:13-16 “…it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life,…”
Counting it joy means considering that God is working in us and through us for his good pleasure – therefore I have no legitimate cause for grumbling or questioning – only joy in the midst of trials which lead to steadfastness and an unshakable faith.
Remembering these truths has been a great blessing to me as I have walked through the trials of this past year and indeed throughout the course of my Christian life. By God’s grace, I will continue to count it all joy as I face trials of various kinds; every struggle as a father, a husband, a Pastor, indeed every struggle which is common to these bodies of flesh.
I pray that these words of James will find a sweet place in both my heart and in yours as we faithfully follow after our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Unreasonable Thinking

Lost humanity has lost the ability to think clearly. The Apostle Paul describes their condition: "And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper" (Romans 1:28). We were created with marvelous minds endowed with the ability to commune with God. God gave us minds able to think clearly with the wisdom necessary to wisely exercise dominion over creation; but sin has destroyed this wonderful gift. The mind of fallen man is now clouded from thinking reasonably. Two recent news headlines clearly display this muddled thinking.

In May, Kermit Gosnell was convicted of the murder of three babies--failed abortions where the babies were delivered alive and subsequently killed. We applaud the conviction; justice was done. But here is the muddled thinking. The killing of a baby one minute after birth was unacceptable; it was murder. But the killing of the same child one minute before the live birth is acceptable. It is the gruesome practice of partial-birth abortion. What reasonable thinking human being fails to see the foolishness of this reasoning? For the sake of two minutes a baby is transformed from worthless tissue to a human life.

And then on June 26, 2013, the Supreme Court passed down their landmark decision on gay marriage. They struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which was approved by both houses of Congress and signed into law by then president Bill Clinton. Would anyone in their right mind possibly believe that two men could get married or that a child (adopted) could have two men as their "mommy" and daddy? In essence, the Court decided that homosexuality is a moral good that needs to be protected by law. Does this make sense?

How should we respond to this unreasonable thinking? We must declare clearly the truth of God's Word, speaking the truth in love. We must continue to declare the Gospel of Christ, the only hope of humanity. But we must also repond with grace and patience. We were once in their same condition. Paul declared, "For we also once were foolish ourselves" (Titus 3:3). It is only by God's grace that we have experienced the transformation of our mind and it is a process that is still taking place (Romans 12:1-2). While we must hate every manifestation of sin we must also demonstrate love and mercy to the sinner. And we must pray diligently that God will have mercy upon our culture that is so greatly plagued by the curse of sin.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Hope for the Future

Some of our young men completed a model of our U.S. Capitol. Perhaps this new generation will be able to fix some of the mess they will be inheriting. O God, by Your Spirit, grant them a great love for Christ and great wisdom through the renewing of the mind by Your Word.

Friday, June 7, 2013

What is a Reformed Baptist

Among many today it has become trendy to call themselves, "Reformed." They believe they are Reformed because they hold to "five points." They fail to recognize that the term "Reformed" describes far more than five points. The historic, reformed faith describes an all-encompassing worldview. Below is an excellent statement of what it means to be a Reformed Baptist. It is borrowed from the Reformed Baptist Theological Review website. 

What is a Reformed Baptist?


The term ‘Reformed Baptist’ best refers to those who adhere to the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith (1689) in practice as well as in theory.

Reformed…

The name ‘Reformed’ refers to the distinctive historical and theological roots of these Baptists. There is a body of theological beliefs commonly referred to as the ‘Reformed’ faith. Such great biblical truths as sola fide (justification by faith alone), sola gratia (salvation by God’s grace alone), sola scriptura (the Bible alone is the basis for faith and practice), solus Christus (salvation through Christ alone), and soli Deo gloria (the fact that God alone is to receive glory in the salvation of sinners) are all noted hallmarks of the Protestant and Reformed faith.

Yet, the Reformed faith is perhaps best known for its understanding that God is sovereign in the matter of man’s salvation. This is to say that God has, before the foundation of the world, chosen or elected certain sinners for salvation. He has done so sovereignly and according to His own good pleasure. Additionally, the Reformed faith teaches that, in time, Christ came and accomplished salvation by dying for the sins of those elected by God. Furthermore, the Reformed faith teaches that the Holy Spirit, working in harmony with the decree of the Father and the death of the Son, effectually applies this work of redemption to each of the elect in their personal conversions. As a result of this emphasis on the sovereignty of God in salvation, the Reformed faith also promulgates the ‘doctrines of grace’: doctrinal truths which set forth the total depravity of man, the unconditional nature of God’s election, the limited or particular nature of Christ’s atonement, the irresistibility of the effectual call and the perseverance and preservation of the saints.

The Reformed faith, however, touches on far more than these foundational truths regarding God’s glory in salvation. It is also concerned with God’s glory in the church, in society, in the family and in the holiness of the believer’s life. The Reformed faith has a high and God-centered view of worship, regulated by the Word of God alone. The Reformed faith embraces a high view of God’s law and of His church. In short, the Reformed faith is no less than a comprehensive world and life view, as well as a distinctive body of doctrine.

Out of this theological understanding came a great stream of confessions and creeds: the Synod of Dort, The Savoy Declaration, The Westminster Confession of Faith and The Heidelberg Catechism. Similarly, this Reformed tradition produced some of the great names of Church history. John Calvin, John Knox, John Bunyan, John Newton, the famous Bible commentator Matthew Henry, the great evangelist George Whitefield, the great American theologian Jonathan Edwards, Adoniram Judson, William Carey, C.H. Spurgeon, A.W. Pink and a host of others all held tenaciously to the Reformed faith. We must underscore that Reformed Baptists do not hold these truths because of blind allegiance to historic creeds. Nor, do Reformed Baptists hold them merely because great men of church history stood in this tradition. Rather, Reformed Baptists hold these truths because Jesus and the apostles so clearly taught them.

The confession of faith embraced by Reformed Baptist churches takes its place among, and is deeply rooted in, these historic Reformed documents. In most places the 1689 Confession is an exact word for word copy of the Westminster and the Savoy. Consequently, the term ‘Reformed’ Baptist is not a misnomer. Reformed Baptists stand firmly on the solid ground of the Reformation heritage.

Baptist…

The name ‘Baptist’ summarizes the biblical truths concerning both the subjects and the mode of baptism. To speak of the ‘subjects’ of baptism, we refer to the truth that baptism is for disciples only. Reformed Baptists owe a great debt to the Reformed paedobaptists because their writings have shaped, challenged, warmed, and guided them again and again. Yet, the Bible is not silent about the issue of baptism. The fact that baptism is for disciples only is the clear and indisputable teaching of the Word of God. The subjects of baptism are not to be discovered in Genesis but in the Gospels and in the Epistles. Baptism is an ordinance of the New Covenant which must be understood in the light of New Covenant revelation. There is not one single shred of evidence in the pages of the Old or New Testament to support the notion that the infants of believers are to be baptized. Every biblical command to baptize and every biblical example of baptism, as well as every doctrinal statement regarding the symbolic nature of baptism, proves that it is for disciples only. The Bible is equally clear concerning the mode of baptism. The term ‘mode’ refers to the fact that baptism is properly and biblically administered by immersion in water. The common Greek word for immersion or dipping is the word used in the New Testament. The argument that the word has an occasional historic example meaning ‘to pour’ or ‘to sprinkle’ is surely special pleading. There are perfectly good Greek words which mean ‘to sprinkle’ and ‘to pour.’ Yet, the New Testament employs the word for immersion.

The name Baptist is also meant to convey that only those who are converted and baptized have a right to membership in Christ’s church. This is often referred to as a regenerate church membership. A careful reading of the NT epistles shows that the Apostles assumed that all the members of Christ’s churches were ‘saints,’ ‘faithful brethren,’ and ‘cleansed by Christ.’ Sadly, many Baptist churches today are more concerned with having a ‘decisioned membership’ and a ‘baptized membership’ rather than a regenerate membership. It is the duty of the pastors and people of true churches to ensure, according to the best of their ability, that no unconverted person makes his or her way into the membership of a church.

Reformed Baptist…

Reformed Baptists are distinguished by their conviction regarding the sufficiency and authority of the Word of God. While all true Christians believe in the inspiration and infallibility of the Word of God, all do not believe in the sufficiency of the Bible. All true Christians believe that the Bible was ‘breathed out’ by God and that it is infallible and without error in all of its parts. To deny this is to call God a liar, and hence, to lose your soul. But while all true Christians believe this, all do not seek to regulate the life of the church in every area by the Word of God. There is a common belief, whether it is clearly stated or not, that the Bible is not a sufficient guide to tell you ‘how to do church.’ This is behind much of what we see in the modern church growth movement and it is founded by and large upon a belief that the Bible is silent regarding the nature and purpose of the church. It is for this cause that many feel the freedom to ‘reinvent the church.’ For some reason, many believers seem to argue that God has no principles in His Word concerning the corporate life of his people! In these days, the clarion cry of all Christ-appointed shepherds of sheep needs to be that of the prophet Isaiah: “To the law and to the testimony! If they speak not according to this word it is because there is no light in them.”

Reformed Baptists have a conviction that the Bible and the Bible alone defines what a church is. The Bible and the Bible alone defines the offices of the church. The Bible speaks of their number (two offices--elders and deacons), their qualifications and their function. The Bible is a sufficient guide regarding what worship is and how it is to be given, as well as who can be a church-member and what is required of those members. The Bible is also sufficient to instruct about what the church ought to do, how to cooperate with other churches, how to send out missionaries, train men for the ministry and a host of other things related to God’s will for His people.

Reformed Baptists are distinguished by an unshakable conviction that the church exists for the glory of God. Because the church exists for the glory of God, the worship of God and the Word of God are central to its life. The church is God’s house and not man’s. It is the place where He meets with His people in a special way. However, this does not mean that it is to be a dull, grim, unfeeling, insensitive place. The place where God dwells is the most glorious place on earth to the saint and it is an oasis to the thirsty soul of a sinner seeking the grace of God. However, the place of God’s dwelling is also solemn and holy. “How awesome is this place, it is none other than the house of God and the gate of heaven,” was Jacob’s exclamation in Genesis 28. It is this conviction that explains the reverence and seriousness of the Reformed Baptist worship of God.

Reformed Baptists are distinguished by their conviction that the local church is central to the purposes of God on the earth. The present time is the time of parachurch organizations. It is the time of independently-minded Christians who float from place to place without ever committing themselves to the church. This attitude is not only spiritually dangerous, but it is thoroughly contrary to the revealed mind of God. While many have rightly diagnosed the failure of the church to do its mission, the answer is not to abandon the church, but rather to seek its reformation and its biblical restoration. The church alone is the special dwelling place of God upon the earth. The great commission of the church is fulfilled as preachers of the gospel are sent out by local churches to plant new churches by means of conversion, baptism, and discipleship. Many well-meaning organizations are seeking to take upon themselves the task that the living God entrusted to His church. To whom has God entrusted the missionary mandate? To whom did God give instructions for the discipleship and encouragement and shaping of believers? To whom did God entrust the equipping of the saints and the training of men to lead the next generation? If the all-sufficient Bible answers that all these are the responsibilities of the local church, we are not free to ignore it in light of the status quo.

Reformed Baptists are distinguished by their conviction that preaching is foundational to the life of the church. How is God most often pleased to save sinners? How is God most often pleased to exhort, challenge, and build up his saints? How is Christ most powerfully displayed to the mind and heart? It is through the preaching of the Word of God! Therefore, Reformed Baptists reject the trends of the day toward shallow teaching, cancelled preaching services, the giving of the services of worship over to testimonies, movies, drama, dance, or singing. The Word of God is to be central in the worship of God. Paul warned of the day that would come when professed churchmen would no longer tolerate sound doctrine. He stated that according to their own desires they would heap up for themselves teachers who would tickle their itching ears. The apostolic command thundered forth to Timothy, that in the midst of such mindless drivel he should ‘Preach the Word!’

Reformed Baptists are distinguished by the conviction that salvation radically alters the life of the convert. It is tragic that such a thing needs to be mentioned. Today is the day of decisionism. The idea is that one prays a certain formula prayer and is therefore declared to be saved. It matters not whether one breaks with sin or pursues holiness. One can live like hell and go to heaven! What a bargain! Many popular Bible teachers claim this as a great defense of the grace of God. This is a “turning of the grace of God into licentiousness.” When Paul describes the conversion of the Ephesians he uses the greatest antonyms in the human language: “you were darkness but now you are light in the Lord.” And in 2 Corinthians 6:14 Paul asks the rhetorical question: “What fellowship has light with darkness?” Jesus is a great Savior. He does not leave His people in their lifeless condition. Jesus came to save His people from their sins. If anyone is in Christ he is a new creature. Jesus came to make a people zealous for good works. It is an unbiblical notion that a man can embrace Christ as Savior and reject His Lordship. The word of God nowhere teaches that Christ can be divided. If one has Christ at all, one has received a whole Christ--Prophet, Priest, and King.

Reformed Baptists have a conviction that the Law of God (as expressed in the Ten Commandments) is regulative in the life of the New Covenant believer. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:19 that, “Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, keeping the commandments of God is what matters.” The present age is an antinomian (lawless) age of Christianity, which makes no demands on its ‘converts,’ but God’s way of holiness has not changed. The law written on the heart in creation (Romans 2:14, 15) is the same law codified in the Ten Commandments on Sinai and the same law written on the hearts of those who enter into the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:33 and 2 Corinthians 3:3). The Apostle John wrote “He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” Jesus told His disciples that the way in which they would demonstrate that they truly loved Him was by obeying His commandments. Jesus said in Matthew 7 that many professing Christians will find themselves cast out on the last day because they were “practicers of lawlessness” who did not do the Father’s will. Among the laws of God none is so hated as the thought that God requires believers to give of their time to worship him and to turn from worldly pursuits. In recent years many have leveled an unrelenting attack upon the Fourth Commandment. The Presbyterian pastor and Bible commentator Albert Barnes once wrote,

“There is a state of things in this land that is tending to obliterate the Sabbath altogether. The Sabbath has more enemies in this land than all the other institutions of religion put together. At the same time it is more difficult to meet the enemy here than anywhere else: for we come into conflict not with argument but with interest and pleasure and the love of indulgence and of gain.”

John Bunyan wrote, “A man shall show his heart and life, what they are, more by one Lord’s Day than by all the days of the week besides. To delight ourselves in God’s service upon His Holy Day gives a better proof of a sanctified nature than to grudge at the coming of such days.”

Modern man is so addicted to his pleasures, his games and his entertainment that the thought that he must give them up for twenty-four hours to worship and to delight in God is seen as legalistic bondage. It is a particular grief to see those who profess to love Jesus Christ shrink from turning from their own pleasures. To God’s people, who love His law and meditate upon it to the delight of their blood-bought souls, such a commandment is not bondage, but a precious gift.

Reformed Baptists are distinguished by a conviction regarding male leadership in the church. This age has witnessed the feminization of Christianity. God created two sexes and gave to each a different corresponding role. While the sexes are equal in Creation, the Fall and Redemption, God has nonetheless sovereignly ordained that leadership in the home, the state and the church is to be male. Those whose minds have been unduly influenced by this generation find Reformed Baptist worship, leadership and family structure to be jarring. When the Bible speaks of husbands and fathers leading the home it is not culturally conditioned. When the Bible speaks of men leading in prayer, teaching, preaching and serving as elders and deacons, Christians must bow with submissive and dutiful hearts. Culture must not carry the day in the church of Jesus Christ!

Reformed Baptists are distinguished by a conviction regarding the serious nature of church membership. Reformed Baptists take seriously the admonition of Hebrews 10:24, 25 to “stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together.” Reformed Baptists take seriously the duties and responsibilities of church membership. In other words, membership actually means something in Reformed Baptist churches. There ought not to be a great disparity between Sunday morning and evening attendance. The same membership is expected to be at all the services of the church. It is impossible for one to share in the life of the church in the manner which God intended and yet be willingly absent from its public gatherings. Few churches would make such a demand, but biblical churchmanship presupposes such a commitment to God, the pastors and to the brothers and sisters.

Adapted from a sermon by Jim Savastio, Pastor of the Reformed Baptist Church of Louisville, KY. Edited by Francisco Orozco.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Freed to Serve

Christians often fail to recognize the nature of their life in Christ. We have been set apart as the servants of Christ. It appears as a great paradox. On one hand we enjoy a marvelous liberty in the Gospel. The Law ceases to exercise dominion over us. It can no longer condemn us. Our flesh no longer dominates us and Satan's shackels have been shattered. On the other hand, we have entered a life of servitude to Christ. We have exchanged masters. Instead of serving the flesh and sin we are now the servants of Christ and of righteousness (see Romans 6:16-22). Jesus describes His yoke as a light yoke (Matthew 11:28-30). The Law is no longer an impossible burden but a delight. We joyfully obey and serve our gracious Master.

Paul describes this relationship in Romans 1:1 using the Greek word, doulos. It literally refers to a slave who has been purchased by his master. The NASB translates it "bond-servant." The Christian Standard Version actually uses the word "slave." A slave is under the full dominion of his master. Paul further describes this relationship in 1 Cor. 6:19-20 -- "do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body." Coming to Christ is dying to self and receiving Him as our Lord and Master. It is to humbly bow in submission to Christ and declare His right to rule over us.

How does our life of service reveal itself practically? For the Christian it is largely a matter of how we view ourselves through the transfoming grace of regeneration and the renewing of our mind. In Romans 12:1-2 Paul commands his readers to present their bodies as a living sacrifice which he describes as our "spiritual service of worship." As followers of Christ our lives are characterized by the denying of self (Matthew 16:24-26). Notice in Romans 1:1 that Paul's chief description of himself was that of a servant. He saw himself as a servant even before seeing himself as an Apostle. In Ephesians 5:21 Paul wrote, "be subject to one another in the fear of Christ." He then described how this affects our lives. Wives submit themselves to their husbands as they serve Christ. Husbands give themselves sacrificially for the well-being of their wives. Children submit to their parents; slaves to their masters, and on and on.

How do you view your life? Before God saved us our greatest desire was to satisfy oursleves; we were slaves to sin and our own flesh. But now the passion of our life is how we might serve Christ and His church. Does this describe the desire of your heart? Are you a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ?

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Is a Confession of Faith Essential




I recently received an email from an individual complaining about churches that require their members to "subscribe to a man-made fallible doctrine-of-man human tradition creed." There are many well-meaning people today who think it is spiritual to claim the Word of God as their only creed. Much of the debate stems from a misunderstanding of the doctrine of "the priesthood of believers." Some take this to mean every Christian has the right to take his Bible into a corner and interpret it in any manner he feels led to believe and that no church has the right to infringe upon his beliefs. It is the unfortunate result of the hyper-individualism of our day.
 
The doctrine of the priesthood of believers (plural) does not mean that every Christian is a priest and, therefore, has the right to believe anything he desires. Rather, he is a priest in a covenant community of believers. The priesthood of believers is not the same thing as "soul competency." Soul competency declares that every human being has a knowledge of God (Romans 1:18-21) as is personally responsible to God and without excuse. The priesthood of believers requires every believer, as a part of a covenant community, to seek to guard his congregation from departing from the truth once delivered to the saints (Jude 3). This was the belief of the Reformers. Timothy George writes, "For them it was never a question of a lonely, isolated seeker of truth, but rather a band of faithful believers united in a common confession as a local, visible congregatio sanctorum (Founder's Journal). This is where a confession of faith becomes an essential part of a local church.
 
A historic confession of faith, like the London Baptist Confession of 1689, protects against the errors and heresies that can destroy a local church. What does the church believe about the essential doctrines of the Trinity or justification by faith or the person and work of Christ? Are the revelatory gifts still given to the church? It isn't sufficient to simply say, "My creed is the Bible." Every group claiming to be Christian claims the Bible as their authority including the Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses. The issue is, what does the Bible teach? Our confession of faith declares what we believe the Scriptures teach.
 
As Baptists, we have never been creedalistic in the sense of placing a man-made statement above Scripture. We would surely never suppose any confession of faith to be infallible, but a historic confession provides the church with a statement of what they believe the Scriptures to teach. Spurgeon wrote regarding the 1689 Confession, "We are happy to join with centuries of believers in confirming this confession of faith. We do not take it as a substitute for Scripture, and we indeed must evaluate this and every other document by the light of Scripture. But it is a wise, organized, and useful statement of what the Bible teaches; a guide as we search the Scriptures and examine our own teachings and practices; and a way of affirming our unity with the many Christians who have treasured these doctrines."
 
To be a member of our church, one does not have to fully subscribe to every part of our confession. We recognize the duty of every Christian to interpret the Scriptures according to their conscience. But we explain clearly to every prospective member what our church believes about the essential doctrines of Scripture. Our confession protects our church from the division and schisms that may arise in the absence of a doctrinal standard. And while a person doesn't have to fully subscribe to our confession in order to be a member, we do demand full-subscription in order to be an officer in our church. Every pastor/teacher must profess full-subscription to our confession. This protects the doctrinal integrity of our church and gives the congregation confidence in what is being taught.
 
The issue really isn't whether an individual Christian has the right to interpret the Scriptures according to the dictates of his conscience, but whether the local congregation has the right and duty to clearly state the doctrinal parameters of the church. It is essential that these doctrinal boundaries be clearly stated. This is accomplished by way of a confession of faith.
 
By way of a final point, there is great value in adopting a historic confession that has been tried and tested by the Christian community for many years. There is no need to "reinvent" the wheel. Again, Spurgeon wrote of the Second London Baptist Confession, "We are happy to join with centuries of believers in affirming this confession of faith." Trinity Baptist Church heartily agrees, and has also confirmed the 1689 Confession as a faithful expression of the doctrine taught in the Scriptures.
 


Thursday, April 25, 2013

ARBCA GA 2013 - Day Three

As usual, the annual General Assembly has gone by quickly. This final morning's devotion was led by Pastor Jason Walter from Christ Reformed Baptist Church in Escondido, CA. His text was from 1 Kings 19. He called attention to a translation/textual distinction that the KJV/NKJV reflects. In Verse 3 the NAS, ESV etc. translate the verse, "And he was afraid." More accurately, it should read as translated in the KJV, "And when he saw that . . ." It was not fear that caused Elijah to flee but frustration and disappointment. In spite of his labors in ministry, Israel had not repented; there had been no revival of the worship of God, and Ahab and Jezebel were still in control. Pastor Walker drew out two lessons regarding results in ministry.
    (1) Visible results may be deceptive because God often works imperceptibly, like a gentle blowing - a barely perceptible sound (v.12). God often keeps the results from us to keep us humble.
    (2) Visible results can often be delayed. God often works incrementally. God chose Hazael and Jehu to rid His people of their idolatry (Verses 15-18). God works incrementally and irresistibly working out His purposes.

The morning devotion was followed by missionary reports. We first heard from Pastor Matthew Brennan from Clonmel, Ireland. His church lies south of Stephen Murphy's church in Dundalk. He described the difficulty of the work in a land where only 2% of the population are Evangelicals. He ended his report by giving several exhortations to the assembly. We then heard a report from Pastor Olivier Favre from Switzerland. Switzerland is a land of 8 million inhabitants in 26 states. There are four regions with four different languages - French, German, Italian, and Romansch. There are four Reformed churches in the French speaking region. His church is now self-supporting. We also heard a report from Pastor Jim Adams on the work in Chili as well as a report from a young pastor about to go to the Middle East.
For lunch we had fresh garden salad along with chicken salad on a croissant. Also on the entree table was a large bowl of an unidentified banana-tasting whipped cream-like substance that they considered a part of the salad cuisine, but it was so tasty I also went back and had a plate of it for dessert. At my lunch-table I was able to listen to the testimony of the Chilean pastor, translated by the pastor of the Hispanic church that meets at the church in Santa Teresa, NM.

The afternoon theological discussion dealt with the issue involving translating the Bible into the various languages in Muslim nations. Shall we tamper with the translation "Son of God" if it might be offensive to Muslim people? For example one translation of Matthew 28:19 reads "in the name of the Father and His Messiah . . ." The discussion was unified around maintaining the purity of the text by maintaining a literal translation.

Because of earlier time constraints the presentation of the annual circular letter was also given at this time. This year's document was prepared by Stefan Lindblad and entitled, "Eternally Begotten of the Father" (An Analysis of the Second London Confession of Faith's Doctrine of the Eternal Generation of the Son).

We had lasagna for supper with several choices of cake for dessert.

Our evening worship began at 7:00 p.m. with more stirring congregational singing, a taste of heaven. Pastor Walter Chantry delivered his a sermon titled, "The Obedience of Christ." Continuing in Matthew 5 Pastor Chantry stated that at the center of Jesus coming to the earth was the Law. His personal behavior was a positive, active obedience to the Law--a sinless life that was imputed to us. His death was a passive obedience, also imputed to us. He stressed that the church today is not clearly teaching the Law of God. He also lamented that a large segment of the new Reformed movement has decided to ignore the Law.

With a final hymn the 2013 ARBCA GA was brought to a close and the delegates spent a season of giving farewells until we gather again next year.

Special thanks to Pastor Jon Hueni and all the saints at Grace Fellowship Church for their warm hospitality  and diligent labors in helping to make the 2013 GA a success. Trinity Baptist Church is blessed to be a part of this associatio of churches.

The 2014 ARBCA GA will convene next April 1-3 at Grace Baptist Church in Gilbert, Arizona.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

ARBCA GA 2013 - Day Two

Day two of the 2013 General Assembly began with a devotion by Pastor Patrick Harrison from Lafayette, New Jersey. Taking his text from 2 Timothy 1:1-9, he focused on the faithfulness of Timothy. Faithfulness was the hallmark of his life. He demonstrated it in his willingness to take a subservient role to his superiors. Pastor Harrison exhorted us to imitate the faithfulness of Timothy. He had a faith that was personal, sincere, and genuine. He maintained relationships that were spiritually beneficial and focused on those values that were eternal; he was well-nourished in the Word of God.

We conducted our annual ARBCA business meeting during the morning session. This was followed by a biographical sketch of John Chrysostom by Pastor Earl Blackburn from Shreveport. Chrysostom was the Bishop of Constantinople from 398-404. Referred to as the "Golden Mouth," he was known for his eloquent preaching while denouncing error and the "fashionable" Christianity of his day. He sought to maintain reverence in worship. While he was beloved by the common people his dogmatism created animosity among the elite, not the least being Eudoxia, the wife of Emperor Arcadia. This led to his eventual exile. His last words were, "Glory be to God for all things." We dismissed for lunch at 12:30 - sub-type sandwiches and chips.

We returned at 4:45 for the second of our theological discussions. The topic was "Two Kingdom Theology." The Christian lives in the realm of two kingdoms. While the Christian's allegiance is to the Kingdom of Christ, he is to acknowledge the legitimacy of the civil magistrate. This is consistent with our confession. While Christians may be involved in midst of their culture it isn't the church's business to insert itself into the culture. The issue of a "One Kingdom" theology is the position that the church (and the individual Christian) should expend energy in seeking to transform culture through their efforts. This is to see our role as that of co-redeemer. We reject the "One Kingdom" position. We are not able to make the ultimate change in our culture that can only take place through the Gospel and regeneration.

Supper today consisted of a taco meat over rice served with side trimmings of lettuce, cheese, peppers, etc. Dessert was a cherry crunch pie.
The evening worship service began at 7:00 p.m. with congregational singing. The singing of our assembly is always rich--a multitude of primarily male voices singing loudly, filling the heart with the praise of God. During the evening worship service Pastor Walt Chantry spoke on the "The Public Preaching of Christ." His text came from the sermon on the mount in Matthew 5-7. After setting an introduction describing the early preparatory years of Christ (Chapters 3-4) with Jesus entering the Temple at age 12, His baptism, and wilderness temptation, Pastor Chantry gave a verse by verse exposition of our Lord's sermon.
   (1)  Verses 3-11 - Jesus opens with benedictions to lift and encourage His hearers.
   (2)  Verses 13-16 - Special encouragement - Let your light shine that they might see your good works.
   (3)  Verse 17 - Jesus pivots and changes direction and directs attention upon Himself. In other words His sermon was Christ centered
   (4)  Chapter 6 - Practical instruction on worship, condemning the seeking of personal praise through our works, prayers, and fasting. The only proper motive is to be seen of God to His glory.
   (5)  Chapter 6:19 - Practical teaching on wealth demanding a sincere searching of the heart. Where is your attention, your priority? That which has captured your heart will direct your actions.
   (6)  Chapter 16:25 - Further practical teaching regarding worry.
   (7)  Chapter 7 - With this chapter we find the darker part of the sermon dealing with the question, "Who will enter." It isn't the one who says but the one that does. It is the righteous, not the lawless.
   (8)  Chapter 7:24 - The final illustration: The one who hears and does is building upon the Rock. What does your religious building look like? Are you doing our Lord's commands? Good works are evidence of true religion. Pastor Chantry closed with practical application regarding the lawlessness of our contemporary generation.

We ended our day physically spent but spiritually refreshed. Connecting with the brethren provides great opportunity for encouragement and gleaning from one another as iron sharpens iron.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

ARBCA GA 2013 - Day One

The 2013 ARBCA General Assembly is being hosted by Grace Fellowship Baptist Church in Bremen, Indiana. Once again, the host church has devoted great energy towards making the delegates comfortable. The theme of this year's conference is "The Life of Christ."

The GA began on Tuesday, April 23, at 8:30 a.m. Pastor Martin Nish opened the assembly with a devotion. His text was Philippians 4:14. The Philippians shared in Paul's distress; they made his afflictions their own. Pastor Nish gave two exhortations. (1) As we share with one another this week may share in the lives of one another; enter into the afflictions and struggles of one another. (2) Just as the Book of Philippians is Christ centered, may Christ be exalted in all that we do this week.

The devotion and prayer was followed by miscellaneous business: roll call of churches, recognition of guests, reports, etc. This year we will be receiving 6 new churches into our association. Each of the prospective churches gave a PowerPoint presentation describing their church. It was great hear about these congregations, most of which are newly constituted church plants. We dismissed for lunch at 12:45. Our lunch cuisine was a savory chili.

We returned at 4:45 for the first of our theological discussions, which was on the topic of local or regional associations of churches. Several pastors who have formed local associations in Texas, California, and Georgia spoke on the advantages of these associations as well as logistics in forming them.
Supper began at 5:45 - mashed potatoes, green beans, and chicken Alfredo with apple pie for dessert.

The evening worship began at 7:00 p.m. We began with the robust singing of a hymn. Pastor Walt Chantry delivered a sermon, "The Miracles of Christ." He began in Matthew 11 stressing the importance of the Word of God -- that miracles were used with the Word and Spirit to impart faith, but if they were not willing to hear the mighty Word, the miracles made no difference. Then Pastor Chantry took us to 1 Cor. 13 concluding that "that which is perfect" is the Word of God, the completion of the Scriptures. He stressed there are two extremes today. First, there are the new or neo-Calvinists who claim to be "open" to the charismatic gifts rejecting the cessation of the revelatory gifts. Their position is contrary to the Reformed tradition. Second, there are those who deny the miracles of Christ--the supernatural. They want a religion free from the Word of God.

Day one of the GA was blessed of the Lord. The fellowship of the brethren was most edifying.

Friday, April 12, 2013

"Abba Father" NOT "Daddy"

The expression, "Abba Father" is found three times in the New Testament: Mark 14:36, Romans 8:15, and Galatians 4:6.  In both Romans and Galatians we find it in the context of the Holy Spirit bearing testimony to the adoption of those in Christ and the wonder of this relationship. Through this relationship we are able to cry out, "Abba, Father." "Abba" is a Syriac or Aramaic word that intimates filial affection and parental tenderness. It denotes the blessing of being able to approach God as one of His own children and addressing Him as "Father." It speaks of His love and care for us and of our confidence in approaching Him as a child approaches his father.

In modern times it has become popular and trendy for pastors to teach that "Abba" is equivalent to the English word, "Daddy." Some have taught that "Abba" was a form of baby-talk, similar to one of our children saying, "da-da." Many respected teachers have adopted this position. John MacArthur writes in his Commentary on Galatians, "Abba is a diminutive of the Aramaic word for father. It was a term of endearment used by young children of their fathers and could be translated "daddy" or "papa." I recently heard one radio teacher declare that it would be perfectly acceptable for him to open his pastoral prayer at the beginning of the worship service by calling upon God using the word "Daddy." I can appreciate the desire to stress the tenderness and warmness of our relationship with God, but calling God "Daddy" is not only an inaccurate understanding of the expression, "Abba Father," it fosters an attitude of disrespect and an unholy familiarity.

There are several reasons we must reject this interpretation of "Abba." First, the text doesn't support this interpretation. I'm not fluent in Aramaic but it is my understanding there were other diminutives to express childish words for father: "baba," "babbi," "abbi," "pappya," etc. which would carry the idea of "daddy." But in all three Biblical occurrences the word "Abba" is used. It is left untranslated but is followed by the Greek word for "Father" so that the Greek-speaking readers would understanding the meaning being conveyed. In other words, "Abba" should be understood in the formal sense of "Father."

Second, we find Jesus using the expression in Mark 14:36. It is in the context of His agonizing prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane on the eve of His crucifixion. Are we really to understand Him to be crying out to His Father, "Daddy!" Daddy implies a childish attitude of immaturity. Jesus was about doing His Father's business. Although, He had an intimate and eternal relationship with His Father there was no hint of immaturity.

Third, when His disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, He revealed the proper way we are to address God. "Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name . . ." (Matthew 6:9). He begins with the blessedness of our adoption as we call upon God, "Our Father." But, immediately He reminds us that God is unlike any earthly father. He is God above, "which art in heaven." He isn't "Daddy" but our Heavenly Father who dwells in glorious light. The first petition is, "Hallowed by Thy name." "Oh God, make Thy name glorious upon the earth." Somehow, "Daddy" doesn't adequately express the glory of God revealed in the model prayer.

While we have the infinite blessing of adoption; of being heirs and joint heirs with Christ; of being able to approach God as a loving Father who loves us and cares for us as a Father to His dear children, we must never diminish His infinite splendor with common thoughts and irreverent titles. He is the Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. He is forgiving, yet infinitely holy. He is loving, yet fearful in judgment. He is Father and wonderful in His imminence, and yet He remains infinitely holy and distinct from His creation.

The Church today is plagued by an unholy familiarity with God. We barge into His presence as we would come into the presence of a man. We pretend that He should accept any form of worship that seems right to us. We sleep through the worship service and daydream about our common affairs because we fail to recognize we have entered into the presence of "Holy, Holy, Holy." Speaking to Him with the title, "Daddy" is just another example of our failure to worship Him as glorious and Almighty, full of splendor and majesty. "To the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ or Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever, Amen" (Jude 1:25).

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Great is Your Reward

We are saved by grace through faith alone. Our justification is not at all based upon any work of human merit. The cross of Christ is the basis of our hope and we find infinite comfort in its sufficiency. Paul declared, "May it never be that I should boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, though which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world" (Galatians 6:14).

Justification by faith alone, however, never supposes a life void of activity. Paul also declared, "So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil. 2:12). The wonderful passage on God's salvation by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8-9) also adds, "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them" (Eph. 2:10).

We have the promise of a sure reward. Our labor is not in vain - "Therefore my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord" (1 Cor. 15:58). Yes, we have a sure reward reserved for eternity, but the reward of a life well-lived in faithfulness to Christ has wonderful benefits now; what sweet comfort our conscience will bring in our final hours. William Gurnall writes, "Life is a time for working, and death for receiving the reward suitable to the work. Hence it is when death is approaching, conscience (if not seared and past all feeling) is then carried back to review what the man has been doing, for whom he has been laboring, and therefore must bring in heavy tidings to the sinner of his approaching misery. Then it rips up all the stitches of that false peace which the ungodly wretch had been bolsered up with, and tells him that now the righteous judge is at hand to pay him the dismal wages due to him for all the wicked works he has done, which makes the thoughts of death a terror to him. But the sincere Christian, who has labored faithfully in the Lord's work, then has a pleasant prospect to behold when he looks back upon his conscionable walking, and can thence make his humble appeal to God, and desire Him to remember how he has walked before Him in truth, and with a perfect heart. Oh what joy is this to his poor heart, that his conscience bears him witness that he has endeavored to walk before God with godly simplicity and not in guile? He can cast himself upon the mercy of God in Christ, and breathe out his soul with a joyful expectation of being received into the kingdom of glory" (The Christians's Labor and Reward, p.30).

May God grant you the grace and mercy to press on with your eyes fixed firmly upon our glorious Redeemer. May His radiance outshine anything that may distract you from His Kingdom and His righteousness. "Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord" (1 Cor. 15:58). You have a sure reward, "an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time" (1 Pet. 1:4-5).

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Don't Squander Your Liberty


Saeed Abedini is a U.S. citizen who lives in Idaho with his wife and two young children. He converted to Christianity from Islam in 2000 and became a U.S. citizen in 2010. Prior to moving to the U.S. he had been active in planting house churches in Iran. Last September he traveled to Iran to help start an orphanage and was arrested by the Iranian jihadist Revolutionary Guard. He was tortured, tried, convicted, and sentenced to eight years in Iran’s most brutal prison. And what was his crime? He was charged with undermining the Iranian government by creating a network of Christian house churches and attempting to sway Iranian youth away from Islam. Is this an isolated case? No. Sadly, there are thousands of Christians imprisoned throughout the world for the crime of following Christ and sharing the Gospel with others. We find such persecution in Egypt, North Korea, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and many others. China maintains strict control over churches and those not registered and officially sanctioned are subject to arrest. The government detained over 700 Christians from unregistered churches in 2012. Thousands of Christians throughout the world understand clearly the words of the Apostle Paul, "Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22).
 
In the United States Christians often fail to contemplate the wonderful blessing of our religious freedom. We enjoy the freedom of worshipping God without interference from our government and we have the marvelous liberty of being able to share Christ with others. We can stand on a public sidewalk and pass out tracts without fear of being arrested and imprisoned, a blessing Christians in many countries can only dream of. On March 16 several men from our church walked the route of our local Saint Patrick's Day Parade passing out tracts. We were mere feet in front of the lead police car and policemen on bicycles were often right next to us. Not once did they interfere with our labors. Oh what blessed freedom! While our freedoms are under continued threat of being eroded, we enjoy great liberty today.

Such blessings carry great responsibility. Has God granted us such liberty without the expectation of us using the gift diligently? We must not squander our liberty. Our nation is on a downward spiral of moral decay. The only hope of our survival is the Gospel of Christ. Churches must not turn their eyes inward and forget their duty to the world. Healthy churches are those that maintain an emphasis on evangelism. Ernest Reisinger wrote, “The church that does not evangelize will fossilize, that is, dry up and become useless to Christ and to the world” (Today's Evangelism, p.xv). Our Lord commanded, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations.”
 
When the Church was in its infancy persecution soon broke out in Jerusalem. Luke records that Christians had to flee the city and were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. What was their course of action? Did they go into hiding? Did they try to conceal their attachment to Christ? Did they keep the Gospel carefully hidden from others? Luke records, "Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word" (Acts 8:4). These were not the Apostles. Luke records that the Apostles remained in Jerusalem (Verse 1). These were the lay people! The word used for "preaching" here is not the word "kerusso," which designates the work of those called to the ministry of the Word, but "euaggelizo," which simply means, "to announce glad tidings" or "to bring good news." It is the labor of every Christian. Will Metzger writes, "In our world probably 99.9 percent of all Christians are not in the ministry. Unless everyone engages in evangelism--praying, initiating, and fervently speaking the gospel--not much will happen" (Tell the Truth, p.21). Pray that you might seize every opportunity share the good news of Jesus Christ. Do not squander your liberty!