Monday, January 04, 2010

18 years ago today, he was released from captivity

One of the highlights of my time in Istanbul took place tonight at a dinner table. I had the privilege of sharing a meal with Joel and Margaret Delhart in the home of mutual friends. Joel grew up in Central Asia and continues to live there today. In the summer of 1991 he and a veterinarian, Dr. William Lewis, were working in a remote region of Afghanistan, serving the Hazara people by implementing a vaccination program for their farm animals. On Saturday, July 6, they were abducted by a Mujahideen commander and held for ransom. On January 4, 1992, exactly 18 years ago, Joel was released. Dr. Lewis had been released 3 months earlier after becoming critically ill.

The quiet, humble confidence in God that Joel exudes is recounted in a book that he and a co-worker who was the lead negotiator for his release co-wrote, entitled, The Upper Hand: God's Sovereignty in Afghan Captivity. I was given a copy of the book tonight and look forward to reading the details of the story that I heard over dinner.

Seven years ago, the Deharts also survived a grenade attack on their church during a worship service in Islamabad. Both of them were injured in the attack and live with the resulting challenges of those injuries.

They are passing through Istanbul on their way back to Central Asia to continue serving the people they love by teaching English. Being with them was a reminder of the reality of suffering and sacrifice that many or our brothers and sisters face around the world today. It was also a reminder to pray for those who choose to live in hard places for the sake of the gospel.

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Friday, May 15, 2009

Death is Not Dying

If you have not seen this video of a talk given by Rachel Barkley then I encourage you to stop reading and watch it now. Rachel is a wife and mother who is dying of cancer. She talks about her life and impending death to a group of ladies in Vancouver. It is a compelling case for the gospel and the sufficiency of God's grace in His Son, Jesus Christ.

John Wesley said, "Our people die well." Indeed, how a person thinks about and faces death is a testimony to his or her faith. As her recommended book list testifies, Rachel Barkley has been helped to face terminal cancer by sitting at the feet of some of the Lord's most faithful teachers through reading.

Watch the video. Then encourage others to do so, as well. And pray for Rachel and her husband Neil, and their children, Quinn and Kate.

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Saturday, March 28, 2009

Interview with Cindy, widow of Pastor Fred Winters

In the following interview Cindy Winters gives a grace-filled testimony of the power of the gospel to enable believers to love their enemies. She tells of her prayers for the salvation of Terry Sedlacek, the murderer of her husband, who was gunned down while preaching March 8, 2009 in the church he pastored, First Baptist Church, Maryville, Illinois. Watch it and pray--for Cindy and her daughters, for Mr. Sedlacek and his family. And pray that believers everywhere will be empowered to exude this same hope and love through the power of Jesus Christ.

Jesus said,
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:43-48).
How can anyone do this? Only through the power of the gospel. Only as we have been forgiven are we empowered truly to forgive from the heart. Only through the power of a risen Savior can we have the hope of a future resurrection that releases us from the tyranny of present tragedies. May this testimony and display of God's grace in the gospel call each of us who name the Name of Christ to live more faithfully as citizens of heaven as we continue our pilgrimage on earth.

HT:Denny Burk

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Interview on Moody's Prime Time America

Paul Butler of Moody Radio's Prime Time America interviewed me today on my favorite subject: the gospel. Paul read an article I wrote entitled, "A Message Worth Fighting For," that appears in the February issue of TableTalk and thought it might be helpful to discuss the simplicity of the gospel on the program.

It is slated to air at 5:20 Easter Time on Moody Radio stations. An mp3 will be available later. I will provide a link once it is accessible. EDIT: Here is the link to the mp3.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Gospel and Founders Ministries

From its inception 26 years ago, Founders Ministries has been concerned about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We want to see the Gospel recovered and proclaimed far and wide. Our conviction is that the Gospel is what unbelievers need to be saved and what believers need to stay saved. In other words, what God has done for us in Jesus Christ is essential not only for our regeneration and justification, but also for our sanctification and glorification. We never advance beyond the Gospel.

The following video was put together by my daughter, Rebecca, as a tool to help introduce Founders Ministries to folks who don't know about us. It was supposed to be included in a presentation I recently gave to some business and ministry leaders, but was inadvertently left out. God overruled that glitch to enable me simply to preach the Gospel to those present, for which I was very grateful.

But the video does express something of the heartbeat of Founders, and it is worth sharing.


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Monday, May 05, 2008

Rainer on pastoral malpractice and its remedy

Thom Rainer is the CEO of LifeWay. This article addresses an important issue--the most important issue--facing churches and pastors today, namely, the futility and eternal damage that accompanies the neglect of the Gospel. Wise and good words that are badly needed in our day.

The Gospel remedies pastoral malpractice
By Thom S. Rainer

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- I would consider pastoral malpractice among the greatest treasons a minister can commit against the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, it is practiced weekly without inhibition.

What do I mean by pastoral malpractice? I mean ministers who stand and preach a gospel other than God's rightful need for punitive justice against our sin and His wrath being appeased by pouring out upon Christ judgment intended for us. He in turn sets us in right legal standing before Himself, through faith in what Jesus has done, while simultaneously giving to us His holy righteousness.

Regrettably, too many evangelical churches have become centers for motivational speaking where congregants learn that "God helps those who help themselves;" that sin is something that keeps us from reaching our full potential, not an infinite offense against the Creator who demands from His creation unblemished righteousness.

The apostle Paul tells us that humans inherently know we are separated from God by our sin and we try to suppress that truth through drugs, sex, greed, power, alcohol, etc. Sadly, too often when desperate individuals arrive in our churches looking for a solution they get messages about how to improve their lives or their relationships, but the Gospel is absent in the remedy. J.I. Packer, in his quintessential work, Knowing God, correctly writes:

"We have all heard the Gospel presented as God's triumphant answer to human problems -- problems of our relation with ourselves and our fellow humans and our environment. Well, there is no doubt that the Gospel does bring us solutions to these problems, but it does so by first solving a deeper problem -- the deepest of all human problems, the problem of man's relation with His Maker. And unless we make it plain that the solution to the former problems depends on the settling of this latter, we are misrepresenting the message and becoming false witnesses of God."

The reality is that fewer people are showing up in our churches to get even a watered down Gospel because the age of attractional evangelism is rapidly dying, as recent research shows. It is not enough to throw the doors open and shout at the culture, "Come in." Gospel malpractice goes beyond the pulpit and is a trait of a complacent church that limits the mandate of the Great Commission to an invitation to come when we are clearly told to "Go!"

How contemporary is Paul's letter to Timothy?

"But know this: difficult times will come in the last days. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, without love for what is good, traitors, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to the form of religion but denying its power" (2 Timothy 3:1-5; HCSB).

I believe with every fiber of my being that the transformation of the church lies within the pages of the Bible. If individuals and churches are going to become effective incarnational witnesses in culture we must dig in. Paul, again to Timothy, says: "…you have known the sacred Scriptures, which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:15-17).

How my heart pleads with God to transform our churches to being training and equipping centers that send people out into culture to be Jesus’ ambassadors. I’m not talking pious moralists who point people to their sins, but servants who through humility and loving relationships point people to an all-sufficient Savior.

We must meet people in their context, but we must share the Gospel. Morality does not reconcile people to God; it comes through the Gospel of Christ.

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Censoring the Gospel Update: Letter from the Publisher

When a Christian repents his repentance should be as notorious as his sin. When an organization does something wrong or foolish and then takes measures to correct their actions I believe that the decision to change should be as made known as widely as was the mistake.

Reggie Joyner, Founder of ReThink, the publisher of the curriculum that decided to eliminate the story of Christ's death and resurrection from their preschool curriculum this year, has issued a letter to the churches that use their material. In it he reaffirms his and his staff's commitment to the gospel message and its need to be clearly taught in their materials. He also acknowledges that the explanation that was posted on their website defending their decision "does not accurately reflect" their oganization's position. While he is not posting the letter on their website, he has sent it out very widely and has granted permission for it to be forwarded to interested parties. A friend sent me a copy this morning.

In the letter, Joyner pledges two things to those who use their materials: they will "teach the cross to every age group" and every Easter "the death and resurrection of Jesus will be included" in their preschool curriculum.

While there are certainly questions that remain about how the original course of action ever came about--questions that must be addressed internally within the organization--we should be grateful for this quick response and promise not to excise the Gospel from future lessons on Easter.

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Censoring the Gospel

When the Gospel is lost I guess it really doesn't matter if you withhold the facts of Jesus' death and resurrection from children. That seems to be the rationale behind one publisher of children's Sunday School curriculum. The guys over at Two Institutions blow the whistle on this knavery. You must read the publisher's explanation for yourself.

HT: Mike Hall

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Where are you on the pandemic vaccination schedule?

The United States government is working on a vaccination rationing schedule in the case of influenza pandemic. The Department of Health and Human Services announced the plan earlier this week. The opening sentence of the report says this:
Effective allocation of vaccines will play a critical role in preventing influenza and reducing its effects on health and society when a pandemic arrives.
"When" not "if." The emphasis is mine. Followers of Christ should think about how the Gospel works when a killing disease is spreading across their nation.

Once a pandemic hits, production will not be able to keep up with need so the population has been divided into 4 tiers and descending priority levels to receive the limited supplies of vaccine. The highest priority category includes military and homeland security personnel, health-care and emergency medical workers, police, firemen, pregnant women and young children.

I am in the lowest priority category (healthy adults, 19-64 years old) as I imagine most evangelical pastors are. I have no complaints about it.

How will American Christians respond to a deadly pandemic? Will we clamour for the vaccine without regard for our neighbors? Will we be terrorized like those who have no hope? Those of us who know the Gospel should minister out of the grace that we receive in Christ, and should prefer others above ourselves and teach our people to do the same.

Our brothers and sisters have faced this kind of situation before. We can learn from their example.

In the 3rd century Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, preached to his people to minister to those affected by a great plague that laste from 252 to 254. Unbelievers were so terrified of the disease that they left infected loved ones on the streets to die. Christians, who had been severely persecuted a few years before under Decian, ministered to such persons and took care even of their enemies, having been admonished by their pastor to remember the way of Christ to do good to those who hate us.

Cyprian, who a few years later was beheaded for his faith, wrote a small treatise entitled, On the Mortality, to encourage the church to stand firm in the face of the devastating plague. In it are found these triumphant lines:
What a grandeur of spirit it is to struggle with all the powers of an unshaken mind against so many onsets of devastation and death! what sublimity, to stand erect amid the desolation of the human race, and not to lie prostrate with those who have no hope in God; but rather to rejoice, and to embrace the benefit of the occasion; that in thus bravely showing forth our faith, and by suffering endured, going forward to Christ by the narrow way that Christ trod, we may receive the reward of His life and faith according to His own judgment!
The people of Carthage were amazed at the response of the followers of Christ to the plague. While others were fleeing the infected, Christians were humbly putting their own lives at risk by nursing the sick. As a result the Gospel was put on display and its proclamation was given a loud voice. Many former enemies became believers.

The time to prepare for tragedy is before it strikes. The way to prepare is to drink deeply from the wells of God's grace in the Gospel. Knowing and delighting in Jesus sets us free from the tyranny of death and dying. And it empowers us to show the way of liberty to those who are held captive to such fears

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Sunday, April 08, 2007

A Day in Maximum Security

I have the privilege of pastoring Gus and Anita Gonzalez and their three children in Grace Baptist Church. They have been part of the Grace family for twelve years. For eighteen years Gus and Anita have been faithfully involved in ministering to inmates serving in various state prisons throughout Florida. Under the name, Riverside Prison Ministry, Gus has travelled almost weekly to state correctional institutes to preach the Gospel of grace.

Last Saturday five of us from Grace joined Gus, Anita, and supporters from other churches on the inside of South Bay Correctional Institute, a privately operated maximum security prison in south Florida. Gus has had a ministry there for ten years. Members of our church prepared meals for the 150 men (out of 1861 who are incarcerated there) who attended the day-long celebration of Riverside's 18th anniversary.

This was not my first experience in a state prison, so I may have been a little better prepared for the intimidating process of being searched and then escorted through security gates and down corridors with bullet-proof guard stations and electronically locked doors. Still, the experience is sobering. When we got to the room designated as the "chapel" at around 8:30 AM, we were greeted by 15o men who were enthusiastically singing Christian songs in Spanish. We waded through the sea of smiling, singing men all dressd in prison blues.

The singing was led by 8-10 inmates and accompanied by a saxophone, keyboard, drums, bass guitar, electric guitar, bongos, accordian and various tambourines, all played with vigor. When Gus took the microphone he was warmly greeted by the men, with some coming up to hug him and shouting their greetings. He explained the plans for the day, which included singing, preaching, Bible studies, testimonies and a homemade meal.

I had the privilege of leading a Bible study for English speakers. We looked at the disciples' prayer in Acts 4:23-31. What does it reveal about their thoughts of God? It shows that they believed that He is absolutely sovereign: in creation (24), in providence (25-26), in redemption (27-28) and in our lives right now (29-30). Like everything else that happened that day, the men responded very graciously. It was obvious that many of them have spent hours reading and studying God's Word.

Later, after an official count and lunch, we heard testimonies from several who have been incarcerated the longest. Most told of coming to Christ after reaching prison. Charles described how Christ saved him six months after beginning his sentence. Now, 23 years later, with a smile on his face and tears in his eyes, he speaks of the Lord's faithfulness across all those years. One young man was my former next-door neighbor. Ivan's family moved away over 10 years ago when he was just a kid who daily would play with my children. He told me that he learned the books of the New Testament at one of our Vacation Bible Schools. He promised to come to contact Anita and come to church when he gets out, which he hopes is soon.

A few of the outside guests shared their testimonies, including Don from our church and then Gus. I had heard his story before, but inside the walls of that prison with bars and razor wire in view, it took on a new poignancy. He had been a wealthy man whose riches came by running drugs into Miami. On one of his last planned boat runs from the Bahamas, a storm knocked his vessel off course and into the waiting arms of agents of the DEA. He was arrested, introduced to Christians and while awaiting trial was gloriously converted to Jesus Christ. He said to those men, many of whom had never heard his story before, "I praise God for that storm and for being arrested because God used it give me the Gospel and save me." Over the next several years as he served his time, was transferred to various prisons and finally was released to a forgiving, longsuffering wife and small daughter, the Lord convinced him to spend the rest of his life preaching the Gospel to those in prison. He does so very effectively.

The day's activities closed with my message from Isaiah 53 on what the cross means to God. It was a simple sermon on the substitutionary atonement of Christ and was interpreted into Spanish. Some men were bored, others chatted and joked back and forth. But most listened. Some listened "enthusiastically:" clapping, shouting "Amen" and "Hallelujah" and various other forms of verbal affirmation. One brother on the front row helped out on occasion with comments like, "I like that" and "I like where this is going." I sensed the Lord's help.

At 4 PM the men had to report for another count. Before we dispersed 4 men said that the Lord had saved them that day. Many expressed their appreciation and asked for prayer as well as promised to pray for us. I left very tired but very grateful for the experience. The Gospel is spreading in prisons through the faithful labors of men and women like Gus and Anita Gonzalez. Men who are locked up are finding real liberty in Christ. Those who have been sentenced to spend the rest of their natural lives behind bars live with hope and joy in the Gospel.

A maximum security prison is a sad place--a testimony to our fallen world and reminder that things are not the way that they are supposed to be. But, through the faithful and Spirit-owned ministry of God's Word, it can also become a place that testifies to the transforming power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

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