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A bottom-line mentality?

trendABWE has encouraged all of their missionaries to pray for the Muslim world during Ramadan of this year (July 9th through August 8th). We’ve started early, so that if we miss a few days we’ll still finish the prayer guide they gave us. In thinking about Muslim evangelism, I picked up my copy of Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader (Perspectives) and read a chapter called “On Turning Muslim Stumbling Blocks into Stepping Stones” (pp. 650-654 in my 3d ed.). I wanted to share a couple of challenging thoughts from this chapter. Even though the author speaks of Muslim evangelism, the ideas apply perfectly to other contexts.

Here are a few of the thoughts that impacted me.

“In order that we might share the suffering of Christ, God has engineered the fruit-making process so that it always involves sacrifice. But people invariably seek ways to turn the altar into a stage for seeking applause” (p. 650).

“Are we going into the Lord’s service in order to compete for success, to show what we can do, to prove ourselves?” (p. 651).

He then continues by calling out a damaging attitude towards missions which he calls a “bottom-line mentality.” This mentality judges that the only worthwhile indicator of success is growth in numbers. In a Muslim context, someone with this mentality will probably not last long because the results are not often very evident. I heard a conversation two weeks ago with a Turkish pastor who said that a church of 5-10 people in Turkey is a “mega-church.”

“The best answer to a false bottom-line mentality is to realize that any line man draws is not the bottom line. The real bottom line is the Day of Judgment when we stand before Christ and give account” (p. 651).

He says that the key to overcoming this mentality is to have a “harvest mentality.” This mentality understands that Jesus has said that the fields are “white already to harvest” (Jn 4:35). This mentality also exercises faith in the gospel. “If we are going to call people to faith, we ourselves must exert our faith in God to be faithful to His promise to win to Himself at least a representative segment from every tribe and tongue on earth (Rev 5:9,10)” (p. 651).

This article challenged me to think about our ministry. I must admit that I easily get discouraged with the lack of results in people with whom I invest time. Sometimes it seems that the people with whom we work more in evangelism give fewer results. May God help us all to work faithfully, believing in the power of his Holy Spirit to use the gospel to save people.

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Helpful lectures on canon

canon-revisitedThe issue of canon is one that comes up occasionally here in Colombia. People will ask about why our Bible has fewer books than the Catholic Bible. Another common perspective follows a Dan Brown-like view that the canon was something imposed in the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325. I frankly always felt a bit ignorant about canon, or perhaps thought that nothing new could be said, but I was wrong. I wanted to point you to a lecture series by Michael J. Kruger on this topic. Kruger is one of the leading evangelical scholars on canon. His style is very easy to follow, and he has obviously devoted much time to distill the issues on this complex subject. The second lecture was the least strong in my opinion because he relied a lot on Covenant Theology, but the other three are excellent and enlightening. In today’s world, understanding something about canon is no longer a luxury. You can find the lectures here:

http://www.monergism.com/mp3/2012/06/lectures_on_the_canon_by_micha.php

I haven’t read his book yet, Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books, but I’m sure it would be very good as well.

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ThM change and a great book

valley-of-vision-book

Last week I changed the focus of my ThM program from church history to New Testament. I have enjoyed all of the research I’ve done on John Gill, but my adviser just didn’t have the time needed to direct my studies. So, instead of completely dropping out of the program, I decided to start from scratch in NT. I’ve begun to look for a thesis topic, as that’s the key factor still missing. If you have any ideas, please let me know. If I had to pick a topic right now it would on something in the gospel according to Luke. I could use a better understanding of the gospels, and I’ve always loved Luke (John would be my other favorite of the four).

On another note, I wanted to pass along a link to a book that has proven to be a great blessing in my spiritual life. This book was one recommended to me by a friend in Toronto. I’ve been reading a prayer each day, and they are very challenging and have deepened my understanding of what pray can and should be.

Valley of Vision (Leather): A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions

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New evangelistic study

libres-portadaI just finished writing a four-lesson evangelistic study for our ministry context here in Santa Marta. I’m praying that this study will more effective than the other studies we have used. In the past we’ve been using “The Story of Hope” Bible study, which I like very much. Unfortunately it is a Bible study that requires many sessions in order to finish (I would estimate about three months of meeting each week). As you can imagine, this investment is not easy for either us or the people with whom we study.

In the same vein as other studies that are available here in Colombia (e.g. Proyecto Felipe), this study can be left with a new person. They do the study on their own, and then the mentor stops by to talk through the questions and answers.

I received permission from the publisher to include the actual biblical text in the study, so a new person doesn’t even need a Bible to do it.

The study is called ¡Libres!, which would translate as “Free!” in the sense that “the truth will make you free.” The first lesson looks at Ecclesiastes 1-2 to talk about the vanity of life without God. Lesson 2 deals with the Ten Commandments and our lost condition. In these first two lessons I concentrate on our tendency to idolatry. Lesson 3 begins to introduce the solution to our idolatry and sin: the Person of Jesus Christ. I unapologetically discuss God as Trinity as the basis for the Christian faith, and the two natures of Christ as God and man. In the last lesson, I direct the reader to understand how to receive Christ personally, looking at 2 Corinthians 5 and Romans 10.

As my coworker Alfredo has mentioned numerous times, the idea is to train our people to use this material and encourage them in that task. If it’s only our pet project, that won’t go far, but if our people embrace it, God can use it to share the gospel with many more people here in Santa Marta. Pray that this study would be used by God’s Holy Spirit to bring people to faith in the Lord Jesus.

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Ubuntu-LogoI’d always thought that Linux sounded cool. Maybe that’s the anti-establishment side of me, but when I needed to buy a new computer I considered the possibility of trying Linux. Windows 8 had gotten bad reviews, and Macs are too expensive here in Colombia to justify buying one. I started looking into Linux and found that Ubuntu is the most popular flavor of the open-source OS. I figured I’d give it a try.

Switching operating systems is something like conversion to Christ. I want to share a couple of comparisons between conversion and switching to Ubuntu that have crossed my mind since making the change.

First, I experienced many doubts about the change. Would Ubuntu meet my needs? Would I invest a lot of time and energy in learning a new OS to find it was a waste of time? Would my productivity be hampered? These doubts are similar to those that people experience before conversion. Jude advises us to “have mercy on those who doubt” (v. 22, ESV). Sometimes we may not understand the doubts of people contemplating the claims of Christ, but we should show mercy towards them and try to comprehend their hangups in order to answer them. Although God is sovereign in salvation, he uses us as his instruments to alleviate mental and emotional barriers to the gospel. After reading a number of articles on Ubuntu I determined that some aspects of my workflow would probably change, but that I would probably be able to continue to meet all of my responsibilities.

Second, in switching to Ubuntu I made a number rookie errors. For example, I initially installed the newest experimental version (12.10), but within a short time I was reaping the consequences of that decision. Some of the programs I tried to install crashed repeatedly. I finally went with the long-term support version (12.04) and have enjoyed much greater stability since. This can be compared to many new Christians who begin their Christian life in churches that are not Word and gospel-centered. These churches focus on experience. They promise prosperity, joy, and productivity. They tend to downplay the gravity of our sin, and the greatness of our Savior. They shun historical theology and prefer the latest and greatest. What happens to these new believers, if they are believers? Usually they conform themselves to the theology of their new church, imbibing the experiential bent of this Christianity-lite. Others leave frustrated or hurt. Thankfully, some find another church that is sound in doctrine and practice. How can you know the difference? A sound church should emphasize the five solas that came out of the Reformation (Five Solas). It should be focused on the gospel of Christ and on the clear exposition of the Word of God. The pastors should be approachable when people have questions about their teaching. As the Bereans, the people should be encouraged to receive “the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). Obviously, many more factors must be examined, but these are perhaps the most fundamental.

Third, I passed through various trials in my switch to Ubuntu. At least three times I was on the verge of pulling the plug. Linux has a program called Wine which can be used to run Windows applications. Wine is a mixed bag. I have been able to run Bibleworks in Wine, but other programs act crazy in Wine. Don’t even think of trying to run Microsoft Office in Wine! When I learned this, I almost reinstalled Windows 7. Thankfully another program, called Virtualbox, saved me. You can install other operating systems on Virtualbox. I have Windows 7 installed and am thinking about installing a Mac OS too. At any rate, you open Virtualbox and run Windows as a guest OS within Ubuntu. I have had very little problems with this set-up. I run a few of the Microsoft programs I absolutely need within Virtualbox. I’ve shut off Internet capabilities for Windows 7, so viruses are not a problem, and of course Ubuntu doesn’t even need virus protection. So, in spite of my moments of weakness, I’ve persevered. This illustrates the manner in which the author of Hebrews talks about our salvation. I take the warning passages in Hebrews as exhortations to persevere. Although our salvation is secure in Christ, God never speaks of our salvation as a ticket to heaven. True believers must persevere, and they will because God’s grace will carry them through the testing of their faith. Peter expresses well this balance in 1 Peter 1:3-5:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

Finally, in both Ubuntu and the Christian life, we need to be willing to change. Ubuntu is not Windows, nor is it Mac. Almost two decades of using another OS makes the change difficult at times. You need to learn how to use the command line to type in some code with Ubuntu. Some people will not be able to do this, just as some people refuse to leave their former habits behind. True believers have died to their former way of life, but in the practice some do not live in light of this death (Romans 6:11).

I could go on, but I will leave you with these thoughts. One major difference between Ubuntu and conversion is that Ubuntu is not a good change for everyone. In contrast, conversion to Jesus Christ is the best change anyone can experience. No true believer has ever regretted it. Think about what Paul says and receive the reconciliation that comes through faith in Jesus:

2 Corinthians 5:17-21 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

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My experience in Toronto

U-of-TorontoI spent a little less than five days in beautiful downtown Toronto for the Graduate Research and Writing Class at Toronto Baptist Seminary. The trip started off like many such trips, with a six-hour delay in Bogotá. I met a very interesting family while I was waiting. The husband is English, and the wife is Colombian. They are working in a new church plant in Bogotá; we had an interesting conversation in Spanish/English. I felt bad for them, since they had three small children and were traveling to the airport in Toronto and then on to London! I really never should complain about a trip with my kids from Colombia to Iowa!

The class was helpful. The other five students were Asian; in fact, they say that 25% of Toronto is of Asian descent. Each day we ate out together at a Japanese restaurant, and on Thursday night one of my fellow students treated me to a Korean meal. Absolutely delicious! We cooked the bacon at our table with a hot plate, and mixed it with about twenty different sauces and vegetables.

The University of Toronto library system was amazing. They say it’s the third-best system in North America after Harvard and Yale. I believe it! I don’t know how many buildings their system has, but I visited about six libraries that have theological works. I spent one evening and one morning gathering resources on John Gill, the 18th century Baptist. We also spent a day in the research course gathering resources from the U. of Toronto libraries. I admit a slight bit of jealousy towards people who study at TBS. The U. of Toronto is about a twenty-minute walk from the Seminary, which indeed is worth the effort. The campus felt a little like Iowa State, except a lot bigger and with more castle-like structures. The massive brick structures, wooden floors, and old-world style libraries make you want to study!

I enjoyed breathing in the ambiance of TBS. Every seminary has its own strengths and weaknesses. In the case of TBS, the influence of Dr. Michael Haykin is palpable. Although I didn’t meet him, I could see how the students have an uncanny depth of understanding in church history thanks to his influence. For example, within fifteen minutes of arriving at class, I was discussing John Gill’s theology with a Chinese student. He happened to be the resident student-expert on the history of Jarvis Street Baptist Church, which was surely the strangest Baptist church building I’d ever seen (gothic Baptist architecture? Who’d have thunk it?).

Later that week I met the person who influenced me towards TBS, Ian Clary. He is a graduate of the Th.M. program at TBS and has been accepted in the Free University of Amsterdam’s Ph.D. program. I had originally run across some of his work online and began to wonder where he’d studied. When I found out he’d studied at TBS, I wrote him with a few questions, and he was more than happy to answer them. When I was finally going to meet him, I wondered if his face-to-face personality would match his online persona. I was thrilled to find him even more affable than expected. We happily talked all things Baptist, church history, etc. It’s not every day you can ask about how Richard Muller’s lifework relates to so-called Hyper-calvinism. Again, I felt my horizons broadening.

This leads me to ask, “Why bother with church history?” I think that more than ever I see the importance of studying this discipline. How much wisdom are we missing because we don’t even know who Richard Baxter was? Or Alexander Carson? Or John Gill? The works of these men have weaknesses, but they also provide a wealth of wisdom… and not just in theology, but in practical areas as well, like counseling and ethics. I, for one, have been enjoying my reading in John Gill. In spite of his weaknesses, the guy was a theological giant. I would call him a mediator of the Puritan tradition to the Baptists. Sadly many Baptists have very little consciousness of church history: as Carl Trueman might say, they think that their theology just dropped out of heaven – “Just the Bible brother.” Okay, our only authority for faith and practice is the Word of God, but how we interpret the Bible has been positively (and negatively) shaped by almost two thousand years of church history. If we are ignorant of our heritage, we will commit the same errors as our forebears or perhaps new ones that we could have avoided. This is extremely important when we are church planting. If we foster a rootless faith, our churches will end up like many Baptist churches on the Colombian coast – “Baptist” in name only. May God grant us wisdom to learn from the past in order to chart a course for the future.

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Religious note on Colombia

700px-Vatican_StPeter_SquareI’ve been enjoying the Vatican Files series over at Reformation 21 by Leonardo De Chirico. He’s been writing about the Vatican from an evangelical perspective, and I’ve learned something new in each of his posts. This month’s installment (Vatican Files no. 13) is especially interesting, since he uses a recent meeting of Colombian bishops with the Pope to make his point.

He looks at the question of why people are leaving the Roman Catholic Church. I agree with him about Colombia that it’s because of practical, rather than theological reasons. Most Colombians have a limited understanding of the doctrinal differences between Roman Catholicism and evangelical Christianity. For many the defining issue is our relationship to the Virgin and to the saints. One of the first questions we receive is, “What do you believe about the Virgin?” Others believe that as long as you’re trinitarian you’re okay…

At any rate, a series like the one we’re offering right now on theological foundations is key to impacting people’s worldview. It’s far to easy to have what we call in Spanish simpatizantes (something like “sympathizers”) in the church rather than committed disciples.

 

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A few thoughts from the coast

Old Fashioned pen_2I’ve been pretty busy lately. I’ll be preaching for the next three weeks, and I’m teaching the Theological Foundations I course with our church people. We’ve been covering the first half of our confession of faith. The response has been very positive to the first three classes.

On another sadder note, the Carter family, our American coworkers, have announced that they will be leaving Colombia at the end of this year for health reasons. In our next prayer letter I plan on writing a bit more about them, but I wanted to mention it here first.

We’ve been enjoying the Olympic games… it’s actually been the best coverage we’ve ever had because it’s via Internet without commentary. We can pick any one of the main events to watch. The Colombians have had a few medal winners, and it looks like they have several competitors in the finals for BMX. We enjoy seeing the U.S. team win, but it’s perhaps even more special to see the Colombians win because it’s a lot less common.

I wanted to mention a couple of websites I’ve found interesting or inspiring as of late. First, workflowy.com looks like perhaps the best work-flow application I’ve used. It’s very simple, but has been helping me so far to be more efficient. Dr. Reluctant, the blog of Paul Martin Henebury, has proven to spur my thinking, especially in relation to dispensationalism. Since most of my reading has been in the Reformed tradition lately (my thesis will be on John Gill, 18th century Baptist), it’s good to keep up on what a current dispensational theologian is saying, especially as he hails from Great Britain and has plenty of experience studying at schools known for their Covenant theology. Finally, I draw your attention to benstevens.de, a provocative website written by an American who lives in Berlin. More than anything I was interested in some of his future project ideas; for example, he wants to write a True/False catechism for children from 4 years of age to 3rd grade. Why didn’t I think of that?

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Working on the confession of faith for Impacto

Articulos de fe GARBCI’m often amazed at all of the jobs a missionary does. Trust me, not all of them are fun (I won’t give you details though), but some of them are very interesting. For example, I’ve been working this week on the next course I’ll be offering to our people on “theological foundations.” In preparation for the course, I thought more about what confession of faith to use for the outline of the course. With all respect to the Baptist churches in Bogota, I don’t really like the confession they’ve been using. It contains confusing language and some forms of expression that are not helpful to understanding the doctrines they seek to explain (for example, it says that Christ was “100% God and 100% man” – not a happy way of expressing Christ’s full deity and humanity).

I’ve determined I’ll use the 1689 Second London Confession and the GARBC articles of faith (updated in 2009) to guide our class lectures. The GARBC articles of faith were not translated, so I worked them up in Spanish this week. I’m definitely thankful for Google Translator, which does a decent job of initial translation. I sent them to my friend Kevin at the GARBC office, and he’s going to have some native speakers review my translation.

Although I like the GARBC confession in many respects, I was also struck by some of its idiosyncracies. For example, it skips from article two on The True God to article three on The Holy Spirit. What happened to the Son? According to Kevin, “legacy issues” from the New Hampshire Confession are the culprit.

At any rate, I think I’ll use the GARBC articles as the bedrock of our confession of faith at Impacto Bíblico, making a few additions to supplement the weak areas.

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I’ve been officially accepted at the Toronto Baptist Seminary in the Th.M. program in historical theology. Don’t worry, I’m not leaving Colombia, but this program is very flexible. The idea is to travel to Toronto in August for a week to take a research methods class. Then I’ll begin to work on my research in three different areas of church history. I’m still contemplating which periods or theologians to study, although I’ll be doing my thesis on John Gill, an 18th Century Baptist.

Dr. Michael Haykin will be my advisor, so that should be a real pleasure. He’s a wonderful church historian who especially has concentrated on the early church fathers and Baptist history. Once I begin the three research courses in 2013, I’ll have two years to finish the program.

I’ve always felt like I’d like to sharpen my theological and historical skills with another degree. When my Faith Baptist Theological Seminary coffee mug shattered on the floor (after 10 years of drinking from it), I knew it was time to get another one. In all seriousness, I’m attracted to the scholar/pastor or pastor/scholar model. Very little good material exists in Spanish on Baptist church history. Perhaps God will allow me to make a small contribution towards meeting that need.

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