What Does the Resurrection Have to Do With Ministry?

picture 18I have a friend in Juarez, Mexico who is a native Mexican pastor of a small, poor church in the outskirts of the city.  He and his beautiful family have gone where most would fear to live and have planted a thriving church that loves the Lord and that loves to share the Gospel.  I had the privilege of visiting him often when I lived in Albuquerque, and there was one verse that we would often remind each other of as an encouragement when ministry was hard.  First Corinthians 15:58 declares, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”  Even now I can hear him responding, “Amen!  Amen!”

There is a great truth that drives Josue and all of us as we seek to serve the Lord day in and day out.  It is the simple but earth-shaking truth of the Gospel.  One of the first principles of Bible study when you read a verse that says, “therefore…” is to see what the “therefore” is there for.  In 1 Corinthians 15:58, Paul has just finished an extensive chapter all about the resurrection.  He begins by reminding us “…of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you…” (1 Cor. 15:1-2)  This includes the death of Christ on the cross for our sins, but also His burial, resurrection, and appearances before His ascension which proved and confirmed that He was truly risen from the dead (1 Cor. 15:3-8).  Later the apostle defends the bodily resurrection of believers, based on the fact that Christ has risen.  He points out that if we don’t have the hope of the resurrection, then our faith is futile and we are still in our sins (1 Cor. 15:17), and that there is no real hope in Christ if we only have hope in this life (1 Cor. 15:18-19).  Then Paul brings us back to this glorious, life-changing reality:  “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead…” (1 Cor. 15:20)!

Because Christ has been raised from the dead, we are to live our lives in light of eternity (1 Cor. 15:32-34), knowing that we serve a risen King who has all authority in Heaven and on earth.  Because Christ has risen, we have the sure hope of the glory of Heaven (1 Cor. 15:42-49) and the confidence that in Christ even “death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor. 15:54).  The truth of the Gospel–that in Christ my sins are forgiven and I am reconciled to God–and the reality of the resurrection, are all the motivation we need to be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord!  What does the resurrection have to do with ministry?  Everything.

Are You Making the Best Use of Your Time??

Blue_candles_on_birthday_cakeWith my birthday being this week, I am not only full of thankfulness to God for His mercies and graces in my life–such as my salvation, my family, being a Pastor again, and our church–but I am also evaluating the choices that I make with my time.  I have decided to repost what I wrote a year ago right after my birthday, with a few minor edits.  I pray that it challenges you to ask God what needs to stay the same in your life, and what needs to change–for His glory!

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I turned 33 this week, and turning the same age that Jesus was when He had completely fulfilled His earthly ministry caused me to pause and think about what I am accomplishing with my life.

John Paton was 33 when he and his wife sailed to the New Hebrides islands to be missionaries to cannibals.  Adoniram Judson was 24 when he and his wife moved to Burma (now Myanmar) to be missionaries to what was then a “closed” country.  David Brainerd died at the age of 29 from tuberculosis after being sick and discouraged much of his adult life–yet his hope in God and zeal for ministry led hundreds of Native Americans to faith in Christ, and his diaries continue to have an impact today.  Robert Murray McCheyne was 29 when he died of typhus, yet his ministry continues through his biography, writings, and Bible reading plan that is popular even today.  Jim Elliott, who said “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose,” proved it by dying as a martyr at the age of 28 trying to evangelize Indians in Ecuador.  His wife, Elizabeth Elliott, was 32 when she and her 3 year old daughter went to live with the tribe that had killed her husband, so that they could teach them about Jesus.  Amy Carmichael was 33 when she began rescuing girls from prostitution in India and giving them the hope of the Gospel as well as a home.

I don’t write this to make either you or myself simply feel bad about what we are accomplishing right now as compared to others, but to ask ourselves, “Am I making the best use of my time?”  I don’t need to be a missionary or the Son of God to obey Ephesians 5:15-16, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.”  But am I fulfilling the ministry that the Lord has for me right now, and am I doing it in light of eternity?  Am I making purposeful choices, realizing that how I choose to spend my days will turn into how I lived my life?

The all-important question that faces all of us everyday is, “Am I glorifying Christ in how I live?”  Am I choosing to be a light for Christ wherever I am?  Am I pursuing holiness in my day to day life?  Am I further along now in my understanding of God’s Word and His will than I was 1 year ago?  Am I praying and asking God how my family and I could better serve Him where we are at now?  Am I looking to the future, realizing that the decisions I make now will shape my life for the next 33 years?  Am I investing in my wife and children, knowing that quantity time really is better than quality time in the long haul?

As Moses prayed thousands of years ago, “So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).  Lord, teach me to number my days so that if you bless me with another 33 years You will be more glorified in my life, family, and ministry than You are now.  Lord, teach me to number my days so that if I died tomorrow as some of Your faithful servants died at a young age, that others would be encouraged to live for You by my memory.  Oh, may we not look back at the end of our lives and say that we wasted them!  Are you making the best use of your time?

How Do I Live Out Radical Discipleship with a Wife and 3 Kids?

radical pictureOur Pastor has been preaching on Mark 8:34-38 over the last two Sundays, and it sounds so radical to our comfortable American Christian ears.  I have had plenty of time to think through what the implications of Jesus’ words are for my life, and to realize that Jesus’ “radical” call to discipleship may not be so radical after all, but rather simply counter-cultural.  So, how do I live out radical discipleship with a wife and 3 kids?

Listen to what Christ calls us all to:  “And calling the crowd to Him with His disciples, He said to them, ‘If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.  For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?  For what can a man give in return for his soul?  For whoever is ashamed of Me and of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”

Christ bids me come and die.  This is not new.  “I am crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.  And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20)  It won’t always be flashy.  It might be putting my 19 month old daughter to bed and singing “Jesus Loves Me” with her.  It might be talking with my 5 year old about Jesus and why He died for us as we read a Bible bed time story.  It might be letting my 5 month old boy know that He is a blessing and loved by changing his diaper with joy.  It might be putting on a towel and pulling out a basin and serving my wife when I get home from a long day at work instead of serving myself, however that looks at any point in our marriage.  This is impossible in my flesh, but easy in the Spirit.

I may not be a foreign missionary.  I may not be a martyr.  I may or may not ever be put in jail for preaching the Gospel.  I may even own a home someday.  But I can still be a radical disciple for Jesus Christ.  If my life is poured out for Christ, if my family knows that I love God, love them, and love our neighbors and the nations more than I love myself, that is radical discipleship.  I do this so imperfectly, but  I am clothed in Christ’s righteousness.

Jesus, draw me nearer to the cross.  Help me to pour out myself and my family in losing our lives for Your sake and the Gospel’s.

Does “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” Really Mean, “Go”?!

picture 17When Jesus commissioned His disciples from a mountain in Galilee with the words, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” did He really mean, “go”?  I have often heard it taught that because “go” is actually a participle in Greek, it could more literally be translated, “in your going make disciples.”  This view means that all Christians are to be making disciples, so wherever you go, make disciples–evangelize and teach others to follow Christ no matter where God has placed you.  This understanding of Matthew 28:19 does have a place for international missions because of course some of the Apostles then and some of Jesus’ followers now will want to bring this good news to all nations in light of other Scriptures that speak to people from all nations coming to Christ as their Savior.

While being theologically accurate, I believe that Jesus’ words in Matthew 28:19 have a stronger emphasis than this, making modern versions that don’t say, “in your going” accurate, and leaving us to question our hearts perhaps more than we would otherwise about our involvement in missions today.

Every participle in Greek does not need to be translated into English as an “-ing” word such as “going.”  The context and structure of the sentence also plays a part.  “Go” in Matt. 28:19 is closer to the main verb “make disciples” than “baptizing” and “teaching,” and it is also a different form of participle.  Grammarians call this a coordinating participle rather than a subordinate participle.  In other words, “go” must be obeyed and seen as some sort of command to be able to carry out the main command, “make disciples.”  A few examples of this same structure in Matthew makes this extremely clear.  Another king with vastly less authority than Jesus, King Herod, commanded the wise men, “Go and search diligently for the child…” (Matt. 2:8).  While “search diligently” is the main verb, the participle “go” here has such a command force that Matthew said that Herod “sent them to Bethlehem” (Matt. 2:8).  This was not to be understood as simply, “in your going, search carefully for Jesus.”  Just five verses later the angel of the Lord uses the same Greek structure to command Joseph to save baby Jesus’ life: “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt…” (Matt. 2:13)  In order to obey the main command, “take the child,” Joseph had to “rise.”  In the Great Commission King Jesus is indeed commanding His disciples to go so that they can obey the command to make disciples of all nations!

As Christians we are to go here (to our community, region, and nation) and there (to the nations), making disciples as we baptize (implying evangelism) and teach what it means to follow Christ.  We are to have a sense of urgency when the risen Christ commands us to go and make disciples.  Let’s not soften it.

For those of us who are not missionaries, this is a reminder of our responsibility to be involved in the world-wide advance of the Gospel through going (short-term as an encouragement or perhaps long-term), financially supporting missionaries, encouraging and assisting missionaries, and praying for them.  What a wonderful commission from our King!

“And in Despair I Bowed My Head: ‘There is No Peace on Earth,’ I Said”?

picture 16Last Sunday night, just two days after the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy in which 27 people were murdered including 20 six to seven year olds, our church had a Christmas program.  As a ladies’ choir sang, “And in despair I bowed my head: ‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said, For hate is strong and mocks the song, Of peace on earth, good will to men,” it suddenly grew exceptionally quiet.  I think that everybody who was listening to the words was thinking of the families and children in Connecticut.  Many Christians have been struggling with seeing the depth of this evil and reconciling it with their view of God.

Not surprisingly, the words to “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” were born out of personal tragedy and national mourning.  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the famous American poet, lost his second wife Fanny in 1861 (his first wife died in 1835) through a horrible burning accident.  She was using sealing wax to preserve the locks of their little girls’ hair that she had just cut when her dress caught on fire.  She ran into the room where Longfellow was and when a throw rug that he used failed to put out the fire, he put out the flames using his own body and was badly burnt as well.  Fanny died the next day and Longfellow was too injured to be able to attend the funeral.  At the same time, the Civil War was raging and two years after the death of his wife Longfellow received news that his son, a Union soldier, was severely wounded.

Asaph who wrote Psalm 73 struggled with similar feelings of despair in seeing evil and experiencing deep personal suffering.  Instead of writing, “in despair I bowed my head,” he wrote, “But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped,” (Psalm 73:2) as he tried to reconcile the evil in the world with his view of God.

But I am so glad that Asaph did not end the Psalm with those words.  He explained, “But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end.” (Psalm 73:16-17)  When he went to worship and to focus on what is true about God, then he could exclaim, “Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand.  You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory.” (Psalm 73:23-24)

Longellow did not end his poem in despair either:  “Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: ‘God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;’  The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, With peace on earth, good will to men.”  Our hope is not that there will never be another tragedy on this sin-riddled earth, but our hope is in the longing of Advent.  Not only did Christ come as a baby, but He also will return to earth as our victorious King.  Every wrong will fail and true righteousness will prevail.

Tragedies like Newtown should make us weep as Christians.  It should also make us pine with hope for the day when “‘He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’  And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.'” (Revelation 21:4-5)

For a moving video of “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” with Civil War pictures, click here.

“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” Words by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1863

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Till, ringing singing, on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

Is Your Hope in the Government?

George Lawson, a fellow graduate of The Master’s Seminary, reminds us Who our hope is in as the elections draw near.  You can find the entire article here:  Reliable Source Reveals November’s Election is Already Fixed.  Lawson’s closing lines realign our focus:  “But don’t place your hope in a ballot box or lose your hope in a ballot box either.  The election has already been fixed and a reliable source reveals that God wins!”

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… The next president of the United States will not be determined by hanging chads and dimples on the ballots in Florida.  It won’t even be decided by the elite electoral college (regardless of what you may have heard).  A reliable source reveals that this year’s election has already been fixed.

What is this reliable source?  — the Bible.  And no, I am not advocating some secret code contained in Scripture.  I’m sure if you rearranged the letters in some verse in the book of Revelation, you could spell Mitt Romney, Barack Obama or Cap’n Crunch!  No, the Bible does not reveal who the next president will be, but it does reveal that the outcome has already been fixed by a sovereign God.

Psalm 115:3 says it this way, “But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.”

Psalm 103:19 adds this thought, “The LORD has established His throne in the heavens; And His sovereignty rules over all.”

And then we learn this in the book of Daniel…

“The Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, And bestows it on whom He wishes, And sets over it the lowliest of men” (Daniel 4:17)

God’s sovereignty, or unopposed rule, will be the true deciding factor in November’s election, just as God decided who would govern the ancient kingdoms in the Near East.

In the book of Daniel, the Jewish people in captivity were encouraged to place their hope, not in their rulers, but in the God who ruled over their rulers.  And that’s not to say that their rulers were godly (I’m sure that Nebuchadnezzar would not receive the nomination in any party).  Rather, Daniel encouraged the Jewish people who were in captivity, by reminding them that the powers that exist will not have the final say, God will…

…Now all of this is not to say, you should not exercise your right to vote. Get informed, get involved and get in line to vote for the candidate that best represents biblical values.  But don’t place your hope in a ballot box or lose your hope in a ballot box either.  The election has already been fixed and a reliable source reveals that God wins!

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[HT: George Lawson]

An Open Letter to Immanuel Bible Church

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

What a joy to write to you and thank you for welcoming my family and I as we moved to Bellingham just over a week ago for me to be the Pastor of Family Ministries!  It is not an overstatement to say that we are thrilled to be here and overwhelmed at your kindness and welcoming spirit that you have shown us.  The LORD declares in Isaiah 46:9b-10, “…I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all my good pleasure.'”  Our good and gracious God had us praying for our future home church for about as long as you were praying for us, without knowing who each other were.  We have slowly seen the outworking of His providence in so clearly bringing us to Immanuel and now that we are here we are rejoicing in being able to serve Him here.

The question that I have been asking consistently for over a month now and that I am asking the elders, staff, and ministry leaders in thinking through Family Ministry at Immanuel Bible Church is, “How can we better serve the families of Immanuel and the community for God’s glory and their good?”  I firmly believe in and support Immanuel’s vision for ministry to children, teens, and parents: “Ministry at IBC to children, teens, and parents exists to glorify God in all of life by faith working through love.”  How kind of the Lord that I get to work towards this great end with you!

For the sake of the Gospel,
Tim Counts

The Humbling Beauty of the Body of Christ

The link below is this weeks’ newsletter from our new church home, Immanuel Bible Church. I just wanted to take a few minutes in the midst of unpacking boxes to think of the humbling beauty of the Body of Christ. I say humbling because we know we are unworthy of any of this, and yet people have served us in so many ways as they do it as unto the Lord. We are excited to begin soon serving the Lord through serving them. From friends in Southern California through our Home Bible Study and Juniors Ministry that packed up our truck in just over 2 hours, to Bryan and Lee flying to Southern California and driving our moving truck for over 24 hours, to the warm welcome when we first stepped into our new home, we have been eyewitnesses and recipients of the beauty of the Body of Christ. Will you praise Him with us for His goodness and grace, and pray for a long, faithful, and fruitful ministry at Immanuel Bible Church?

Immanuel Bible Church Weekly Newsletter.

Sickness

image

Almost 3 years ago I was forced to think about sickness in a much deeper way than I ever had before.  As a 30 year old I began to suffer from a condition rare for men my age that first sent me to the emergency room, gave me pain every day for well over a year, other medical issues & infections, forced me to purchase expensive medication to experience some relief, and that although not life threatening, could be something I will have to deal with the rest of my life.  God was gracious to me.  I found a cheap herb that takes away 90% of the symptoms for now. I realize that some reading this may be walking through deep, dark valleys of sickness, some life threatening. I don’t share this to compare, but rather thinking of 2 Corinthians 1:3-4. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” May the Lord Himself encourage and comfort you. I found great comfort from God meditating on the twin truths that He is sovereign and good. If you are not passing through sickness now, remember that until Heaven our bodies are in a sin cursed world and you must be ready.

J.C. Ryle wrote a booklet entitled “Sickness” that I would encourage you to read for its’ helpfulness. There are 3 special duties associated with sickness that he writes about:

1) One supreme duty which the prevalence of sickness places on us is that of living always prepared to meet God. Sickness is a reminder of death. Death is the door through which we must all pass to judgement. Judgement is the time when we must at last see God face to face. Surely the first lesson which the inhabitant of a sick and dying world should learn, should be to prepare to meet their God.

2) Another supreme duty which the prevalence of sickness requires of us, is that of always being ready to bear it patiently. Sickness is no doubt a trying thing to flesh and blood. To feel our nerves unstrung, and our natural energy reduced, to be obliged to sit still and be cut off from all our usual activities, to see our plans broken off and our purposes disappointed, to endure long hours, and days, and nights of weariness and pain–all this is a severe strain on poor sinful human nature. What wonder if bad temper and impatience are brought out by disease! Surely in such a dying world as this we should study patience.

How shall we learn to bear sickness patiently, when sickness comes to our turn? We must lay up stores of grace in the time of health. We must seek for the sanctifying influence of the Holy Spirit over our unruly moods and attitudes. We must make a real business of our prayers, and regularly ask for strength to endure God’s will as well as to do it. Such strength is to be had for the asking: “If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it” (John 14:14)

…Never do these graces [the fruit of the Spirit] shine so brightly as in the sick room. They enable many a sick person to preach a silent sermon, which those around him never forget…

3) One more supreme duty which sickness places on us, is that of always being ready to feel with and help your fellow men. Sickness is never very far from us…But wherever there is sickness, there is a call to duty. A little timely assistance in some cases, a kindly visit in others, a friendly enquiry, a mere expression of sympathy, may do a vast good…These things, I dare say, may appear to some people little and trifling. They would rather be doing something great, and grand, and striking, and heroic! But conscientious attention to these little acts of brotherly kindness is one of the clearest evidences of having “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16). They are acts in which our blessed Master himself was abundant. “He went about doing good” to the sick and sorrowful (Acts 10:38). They are acts to which he attaches great importance in the most solemn passage of Scripture, the description of the last judgement. He says there: “I was sick and you visited me” (Matt 25:36).

Waiting on the LORD

Isaiah 40:28-31 has been a favorite Bible passage of mine since college when I was challenged by a friend to memorize it.  However, I had no idea how instrumental it would be in my life until about a year later, when I broke my leg while studying in Israel.  I couldn’t leave the country yet!  We had methodically been studying the biblical sites and we had not yet been to most of the sites Jesus had been closely associated with.  The Lord used quoting Isaiah 40:28-31 to get me over ancient ruins on crutches that spring: “Do you not know?  Have you not heard?  The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, does not become weary or tired.  His understanding is inscrutable.  He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power.  Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, yet those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.”

Isaiah wrote these words (in advance, as a prophet of God) to God’s people in captivity in Babylon.  As they were in exile, they began to wonder about the goodness and faithfulness of God and whether or not He would keep His promises.  Isaiah told them to do two things to have strength from God: to meditate on Him (v. 28), and to wait on Him (v. 31).  What does it mean though to wait on the Lord?

The word wait in Hebrew is crucial to understand.  Much like the Spanish word esperanza, it has a dual meaning that we don’t usually associate with the word wait in English.  It means not only our traditional sense of “waiting” as in, “I am waiting for this bus to arrive,” but it also carries the idea of hope.  Context tells which direction the meaning slants towards.  I have been a rider on public transit in the Los Angeles Metro area for almost 3 years now, and let me tell you, when somebody is waiting for the bus here, they are waiting in both senses of the term!  “I am waiting for the bus,” and “I am hoping for the bus to arrive soon.”

What is all-important is what our hope is in.  I have very little hope in the Metro transit system, but I have an infinite hope in the God of the universe!  That is why Isaiah told them to both meditate on God and wait on Him.

Why does God want us to actively wait on Him?  There are many reasons, but here are three:

  • It makes us seek Him.
  • It reminds us the timing is His, not ours.
  • It makes us trust Him.

What are you waiting on the LORD for?  He has given us many sure promises.  I hope that you will wait like the Psalmist: “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.  Wait for the LORD; be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the LORD.” (Ps. 27:14)