Friday, November 15, 2013

¡¡¡Back in Peru!!!

Thank you for praying for us!  We are now back in Peru and enjoying getting settled.  We are busy looking for a house and reconnecting with everyone here in Peru.  My installation service at Christ the Restorer in Arevalo is planned for November 24 at 5pm.

We celebrated Sam's birthday the day we arrived.  We were also welcomed at the airport with a great reception of a crowd of friends.  We also made it in town just in time for a reformation day service at Christ the Restorer in Arevalo. I didn't get any pictures but it was good to be back and worship with the church in Arevalo.



One week later we celebrated Ezra's birthday. We visited Christ the King Church where we used to serve and also joined the small group and they helped us celebrate Ezra's birthday.

We have been very busy running around looking for a place to live.


  Daniel is plugging into work at the Woodshop. 













Here we got to enjoy some grilled pork from the jungle.
Norvil had to have another surgery for a hernia and wanted to eat pork one last time before his surgery. 





Ezra couldn't wait to get started on work in the shop!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Feeling the prayers!

I am feeling your prayers!  In the last two days, I have received 5 different notices from friends who I haven't even asked yet and now we are only lacking $500/month to meet our budget.

When it comes to trying to raise support, I am feeling like the little kid that brought the meager lunch and Jesus multiplied it to feed thousands. By my own efforts, I have produced very little. But God keeps showering us with blessings and showing us that it is His time for us to get back to Peru.

I am amazed at how applicable Paul's words are to the church in Philippi.
 "I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 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." Philippians 4:10-13
Just as we are called to support the gospel work in our home and tithe to our church, we are also called to give above and beyond to support the gospel work in other parts of the world. I rejoice that He is providing and pray that he will also "supply your every need according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus." Phil. 4:19

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Fruit and a Mission

A few weeks ago, when my uncle (who has also been a missionary and is a farmer) saw my pitiful garden after I had basically given up on it. He said, "The mission field is a lot like a garden. If you tend it, it will bear fruit. If you don't tend it, everything will go to pot. You need to get back to the mission field, don't you."  I said yes, yes I do.

Well, actually we are very close to making it back to the field. Our goal is to be fully funded in time to go on our flights October 26.  We now only lack commitments to add up to $672/month.  This means we only need 6 more people to give 100/month and one to give 72/month or the equivalent yearly!  Would you pray with us and ask God to lead us to those whom he has blessed with extra to be able to partner with us in his work in Peru? Is he blessing you and leading you to join with us and support us. Philippians 4:10-20 is a great biblical example of giving to support the work of God's kingdom all over the world. Paul actually indicates that giving support also leads to fruit that increases to your credit. Not only is giving a means to seeing fruit but just as important, walking with the Spirit is a crucial means to seeing fruit in our lives.

There is something very true to what my uncle said, but it is not just for the mission field it is for the church everywhere and also for our own souls. As far as the mission field that I am called to get back to, I get to work with a team and so I am not the only gardner or shepherd tending the field. However, God has called me there and I am ready to get back and tend to his garden of souls. Plus, the other gardeners have more work than they can handle and so I need to get back and pull my load.

Not long after this conversation with my uncle, I was reading Spurgeon's Morning and Evenings with my family and we came across a very similar message. I remember coming away from that devotion thinking and sharing with my family that our soul is like a garden. If we water it and weed it and tend to it with the means of grace (which are meeting with God through the Bible, prayer and the sacraments which includes church fellowship), then our soul will produce the fruit of the spirit. But if we don't tend to it and neglect the tools God has given us to tend our gardens then it will produce weeds. Our heart will grow bitter and sour and weeds will overrun it. Our actions will begin to demonstrate the condition of our souls. The tools God has given us are effective to produce fruit in our lives, but he has given us the responsibility to use them. If we don't use them, then we don't get to experience the fruit.

It is very interesting that Paul uses this picture in Galatians when he says, "... the fruit of the Spirit is, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law." Just before telling us the fruit of the Spirit he compares the difference of walking by the Spirit with gratifying the desires of the flesh. He doesn't call the result of the flesh fruit, he calls it works of the flesh, "sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these." So these things are works that we do but the fruit of the Spirit are results of what the Spirit does in us. If we are left to ourselves and listen to our natural desires, these works will consume us.
     This is the natural result of living for ourselves. No wonder, our country is facing so much violence and turmoil. If our culture continues to tell everyone that we are our own gods and that we should live for ourselves, then the wicked actions that we see more and more will be the natural result of living according to our own desires.
     But, If we walk by the Spirit He will change us and produce his fruit in us. We can not make our selves more patient but we can confess and repent of our impatience and walk with the Spirit and He will make us more patient. The same for love, joy, peace and all the others in the list.
     How do we walk with the Spirit? This is one of the beauties of this illustration of a garden. No one has ever pulled on a tomato plant to make it grow, at least successfully. The means of growing tomatoes is preparing the soil, planting, watering, pruning and weeding.  The means of walking with the Spirit are listening to Him by reading the Bible and hearing it read and preached. We walk with the Spirit by praying to Him in responding to the Bible and with the Bible. We walk with the Spirit by partaking of His presence in the sacraments and meeting with him in His dwelling place, His body, the congregation of saints.
     The fruit will most likely not grow overnight, just as with a garden. But as we tend our soul, the fruit will begin to grow and there will be a change in our hearts and we will begin to experience the true joy of walking in the Spirit. We can't make our selves grow by trying harder moralistically but we can seek God's face through His tools and faith and repentance and He will make us grow through walking with Him.
     This is what will change our world. If we apply these tools to our lives and share them with our neighbor, I am convinced that we will see a drastic change in our world. God has promised and is establishing his kingdom on this earth. Do you want to be a part of that mission? His mission is to reunite heaven and earth through producing the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. That is after all God's mission on Earth, whether it is in your home town or Peru or Japan or anywhere else on this earth. Where is your bible?

Friday, August 23, 2013

Funeral at Cristo Restaurador in Arevalo

Last Saturday a funeral for a dear lady in the Arevalo church was held and attended by the entire community. Please pray for her grieving family and for fruit to come from the seeds planted through Pastor Ricardo sharing the gospel and the hope of eternity in Christ. 

Friday, August 02, 2013

Thank you for Praying

WOW! Thank you all for praying! I should not be amazed. Our God is BIG. Our flights were changed to October 26! We really don't understand but received a notice of the change and called and it was confirmed.

Thank you to so many of you who have committed to supporting us financially and also to all of you who have committed to praying for us. Now please continue praying for us to be ready by then. The church is anxiously awaiting our return!  We look forward to plugging into the work demonstrated in the video below.

Church Planting with Peru Mission

Monday, July 29, 2013

Keep Praying!

Please pray with us. I just found out this morning that if we postpone our trip, it will mean having to buy new plane tickets. We have only a couple of weeks to raise another $3,000/month in order to save the amount of plane tickets. (yes it is down to only $3,000 now!) I recognize that this is an unreasonable goal but, why would we need faith if it was reasonable?  Romans 8:24,25

I don't want to ask anyone that doesn't have to give.
I am also not asking anyone to stop giving to their local church.
But for those of you who do have extra after giving to your church, please consider partnering with the ministry of the gospel of Jesus Christ in Peru.  If only 60 people have an extra $50/month to partner with us, then we would be able to depart.

We thank all of you for praying and thank many of you for your generous support.  This is not just to help my family, this is to enable us to serve the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ in His church in Peru.

If the Lord is leading you to partner with us, you can find out more at www.perumission.org/mills

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Calling all prayers!

"Incline your ear, O LORD, and answer me;
     for I am afflicted and needy." Psalm 86:1

We have tickets to return to Peru August 28 by faith.

However, if our long-term support is not high enough by August we will have to postpone our return to Peru until we reach our goal.

My needs are nowhere near those of David when he wrote the Psalm quoted above. I am not in the midst of a direct life threat for trying to receive what God has given me.  I am also not as afflicted and needy as many of my friends and family who are going through very difficult trials right now. But I do relate to this prayer as we are at a time of need. I trust that the Lord is the one to pray to and I am praying to him for our need. I will be honest, I don't like hate fund-raising. I do love traveling around and telling about what God is doing through His church. That is for the most part what I have been doing this year. I am conflicted about this. I have some dear brothers who tell me that many say they have heard many powerful testimonies of how God is using people in ministry but they didn't ask for money so they didn't give. Then I have heard others tell me that God has promised to give and so we are being unfaithful if we go and ask other people. We should just pray in our closet and trust the Lord to be the Lord. I definitely believe that the Lord is able and does often provide through private prayers. But I also recognize that He has chosen to use His people to pray and has chosen to answer the prayers of His church. He often uses people through communication to do His will. Therefore I appeal to you to pray with us.

Our long-term support is only at 51%. The Lord has blessed us tremendously in one-time support and we are already at 86% of 2013. Thank you for so much generous support and partnership with us in this work.

If you have given one-time support and are willing to commit to give that every year or if the Lord has laid it on your heart to support us, please let us know by sending in a note to CMS of your commitment by the end of July.  This will help us greatly in our planning.

If it proves to be the Lord's will to postpone our return to Peru, we will re-schedule our tickets for later in the year and keep raising support until we are ready. Even if we do have to change our tickets we will still save money on not having to buy new tickets. However we are still pleading with the Lord that we will be able to get back to Peru sooner than later.

Please pray with us that the Lord who provides will provide in His timing. Our team is pleading with us to come soon and has expressed their deep anticipation of our return. They tell me that I am greatly needed for a pivotal role in the ministry of the church in Arevalo but, we cannot return to Peru without increasing our long-term support. 

The work of discipleship with the carpenters with Parish will continue but on a wider scale of directly working in discipleship with the church community. The church, Christ the Restorer in the neighborhood of Arevalo, is at a pivotal point. The Peru Mission team is telling me that the gifts God has provided me with and demonstrated in the growth of the carpenters are crucially needed to help produce local leadership and growth in the church.

Our focus with Parish is narrowing more and more to disciple the men that we are working with and help them grow in the local market in Peru. We are still praying toward future growth in export to the U.S., but have decided to focus more on local growth in Peru until God shows us his timing. This means that we are focusing on the three areas of ministry; spiritual discipleship, technical training and administrative training. Parish has been helping one new business get started, Las Ponas, and we are seeking to help several other carpenters become more sustainable in their work. I am convinced that the best way to serve Christ's church is to seek to apply the means of grace to our whole life throughout the week. This not only means studying the Bible during the week but also means applying scriptural principles to our work to be able to support our church, our family and our community.  Please pray with us that the Lord will bless this ministry to cause growth in the lives of the men and their families both in their spiritual and vocational lives. 

in the joy of resting in Christ,
Stuart Mills
(for Megumi, Satomi, Samuel and Ezra.)

below are some pictures of a display created by Las Ponas to showcase their work. Many new customers have come in and purchased their products as a result!


Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Spring 2013 update

Here is a link to an update. Praise the Lord, one of our prayer requests mentioned is already answered! Daniel Jr. found a ticket yesterday on the same flight with us for August 28!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Dependence and Viability


How can one determine when a life is viable? I have heard some of the arguments for abortion determine whether a baby is a baby or a fetus by whether it is viable or not. I was struck by this thought the other day while holding our 5 month old baby. He was fussing because of teething and it struck me as interesting the way the Lord designed us to be born so completely dependent on others. It is strange that human babies are so dependent on their parents care. It seems that even a 5 month old would not be viable without the help of parental care. It seems to me that viability is not a good measure for whether life is a life.

I can't help but wonder if the Lord designed us this way to shape us and prepare us to know our need for him and for it to be demonstrated every time we hold a baby in our arms. It is a great tragedy that we so often don't get it. We are so prone to blindness and self-deceit in living a life where we think we are completely independent of anyone else. I am thankful that the Lord is patient and gracious to us. As I struggle to be patient with our other children, I can't help but be reminded at what amazing patience our Lord has to not loose his temper with us in our stubborn rebellion and selfishness.

I am made even more aware of our dependence in this calling as a missionary and our dependence on the Lord's providence through supporters. I begin to wonder how viable any of us would be without the support of a loving community. I give thanks to God for creating us in such a way that we all depend on community and support for living a healthy and full life.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Foolish debates? gay rights, abortion, resurrection

I do find fun in April Fool's pranks but today, I have other things on my mind. Especially in light of the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. As we celebrated the death and resurrection of Jesus yesterday for Easter, I want to look at what that means for us. What does the fact that Jesus was resurrected have to do with us today?

The late Jim Elliot was famous for saying, "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot loose." I have heard this was in response to Jesus' call to take up our cross and follow him. This is basically a call to surrender our own lives of idolatry of worshipping ourselves to give up worship of ourselves to follow Jesus and live a life of worshipping God and therefore receive an abundant life of joy in fulfilling our created purpose in worshipping God. The resurrection of Jesus is a promise of our own resurrection that comes through union with Him and gives us hope of victory.
   
     I was reading in Romans today and couldn't help but think about the political debates about gay rights and abortion.  I am sad to hear so much debate by people who have rejected God and argue nonsense out of the air. I am sure that they would say I am arguing nonsense. (The Word of God is folly to those who are perishing but to us who believe it is the Power of God. 1 Cor. 1:18) That is part of the problem. By rejecting God and claiming that there is no foundation, it is impossible for anyone to win an argument. They claim to be using reason and human logic but by basing the authority of their reason on humanity itself they are basing reason on a very unstable foundation, which is no foundation at all. When humanity tries to stand on itself and deny the existence of the very ground beneath it they create a very tricky problem. One problem is that the foundation that they claim to be absent is actually still there and they are still standing on it. God in his grace has not completely removed himself from them. Although He has promised judgment and wrath to come in the form of letting us have what we want. In a sense this is giving us over to ourselves and withdrawing from us by leaving us to indulge in the idolatry of ourselves.
     The gay rights and abortion debates are a clear example of humanity worshipping itself. This is the natural progression of living life without God. We, left to ourselves, will worship ourselves to the point of distorting the natural design and even to the point of having no regard how it affects other life. We worship ourselves and creation and reject our Creator. Any attempt to debate whether this is right or wrong goes around in circles because the one who created the natural order of right and wrong is rejected by those who want to say for themselves what is right or wrong. Again the attempt to deny the foundation is curiously confused because we are still standing on the foundation they are trying to refuse. The evidence is in the fact that there is such hot debate over these issues. If there were no God or foundation then there would be no reason to debate the issues. I don't wish to go farther into that part of the philosophical debate. Others are far more gifted than I to wrestle through that philosophy.  I would rather keep it simple and dig into what is revealed to us in Scripture. But my weakness in philosophy is not the only reason I turn to scripture. I really believe that there is more wisdom and truth in scripture than any human reasoning or philosophy can produce. But I also believe that most of these debates are just scratching the surface of what is truly at the heart of everyone pursuing these debates. I think scripture gets to the heart of the problem. I think most people are really just trying to deal with their sin and guilt by trying to deny that it is sin and guilt and trying to come up with ways to justify something that they don't want to let go of.
     Paul makes it clear in Romans 1 that all humanity has no excuse. We all know deep down that His reality is present and clearly demonstrated over the ages but we deny that reality. Before you think that I am bringing this up to simply condemn homosexuality and abortion, let me point out that this epistle goes much deeper than condemning only those sins. We are all condemned by this charge. Chapter 2 condemns the teachers of the law for breaking it themselves and then goes on to point out the sad reality that all are condemned and that there is no one righteous. Chapter 3 tells us that all have fallen short of God's standard of holiness and are condemned to death. Not only homosexual sin but adultery. Not only stealing but lying and even coveting.  Not only abortion but hate and even disobeying parents.  It isn't legitimate for a Christian who struggles with desiring his neighbors phone, computer, car, house, job, spouse or even life situation to condemn another Christian for struggling with sexual perversion. But it is completely legitimate for a Christian who struggles with any sin to judge another Christian for not struggling with sin. What I mean is, if we are a Christian and don't resist sin or we try to say that sin is not sin, then we have a problem.  It is our responsibility as fellow members of the same body of Christ to care for each other. We are not supposed to condemn each other as if we are better, God will condemn, but we are supposed to discern and call each other to repentance. It is legitimate to call each other to repentance and even to point out our sin. Not to condemn as if we are better than the other but to judge the truth and reality that we are all in need of a savior and to encourage each other to run to that savior and follow Him.
     We are all guilty but God in his infinite mercy has given us a gift of grace in granting righteousness by faith in Jesus Christ. He justifies us and redeemed us through Jesus. This is a call for all people in any and every situation to be restored to their Creator. Sin has been judged and dealt with in Jesus. But those who refuse to admit sin or come to Jesus will be judged for their rebellion and sin. All of humanity has a reality to face. We were created by a just and holy being. He is loving and His love is beautifully demonstrated by redemption in Christ Jesus. The Resurrection is an amazing promise of hope and love that comes through faith in Christ Jesus. By faith in Christ Jesus we are united and joined with him in his resurrection, which gives us hope of being free from this struggle with sin. Jesus' death afforded our forgiveness and his resurrection afforded victory over sin. But those who reject Jesus still have sin that needs to be dealt with. As a Christian, I don't judge unbelievers by saying that they are not good enough and I am a better person. I judge them by saying God is holy and calls all of us to repent and turn to Him. I am no better, I am just as messed up but have found true freedom and purpose in life by being restored to our Creator. Come join us! There is nothing better than being restored to our true purpose. Stop clinging to your sin as if it gave you any satisfaction. Yes you will have to give up that idol and let go of it but giving it up will actually free you to find your true purpose and satisfaction in life. The Resurrection of Jesus gives us hope that we have been given victory through him and have been set free from the bondage of sin.
     I am certain that many of you who reject God and the Bible as foolishness are not rejecting Him because of philosophy and reason. I doubt very seriously that you reject Him because you are convinced that He isn't there. I think it is more likely that you reject Him because you find that is the easiest way to deal with your shame or weakness. You think that if you deny him, and convince yourself that there is no one to judge you then you will be free to enjoy yourself and to enjoy your own life as you want it. I think this is why you get so upset when anyone talks about judging sin. But the truth is, that you are not free. Satan is doing everything he can to convince you that rejecting God will give you freedom, but in reality he is enslaving you to a bondage that never satisfies. You are constantly disappointed and let down by your self. Please hear me on this, God is the only one who can give you true satisfaction. God really does love you. Satan is lying and you are deceiving yourself when you think that rejecting God will give you true freedom and that belief in God is restricting.  God is loving and has created all of us for a purpose. Just as a violin makes beautiful music when the violinist follows the discipline of it's design so will we make beautiful music when we follow the discipline of our design. Jesus Christ in His Resurrection has dealt with our sin and rebellion and restored us to our created design. We will only find this restoration and ultimate fulfillment through repentance and faith in Him. There is no other way to deal with our sin. No Christian is better than you in and of themselves. We have been restored and made whole again, but that was only by grace and we plead with you to come join us. No sin is too great that Jesus didn't deal with it on the cross. You will not find freedom in running anywhere else. Jesus died because He loves you. He lives because he dealt with our sin and calls us to come and follow Him.  If we try to hold on to our lives and keep something that we can never keep, we will find ourselves to be the true fool. We will all die one day and loose this life that we desperately try to keep. But if we surrender and give up what we will certainly loose, we will find that we gain a new life, a new hope and eternity that Jesus earned for us in the resurrection that we can never loose. This new life can never be lost because it was bought with the price of the blood of Jesus the only perfect human. All of us are broken and bound to death in the old life as heirs of Adam. Jesus came to offer us new life as adopted heirs of Jesus the new man. Please come to Jesus and be free of condemnation. If we finally accept that we are sinful and that there is a just God we can find redemption in Christ and find that we are no longer condemned. If we resist and deny condemnation for fear of judgment, we will only find that it was true after all and bear a load that is impossible to bear for all eternity. It is impossible to keep our lives for ourselves. It is also impossible to lose the salvation that He gives. But he leaves us to receive it by faith. Faith in Jesus is more than just believing that He exists and died and came back to life. Faith in Jesus is being joined to him in a way that marriage between a man and a woman is only a faint picture. Faith in Jesus is believing that He is God and Lord of our lives and that we are sinful and deserve judgment but also trusting that He has atoned for our sin and given us new life. Faith in Jesus is being joined with Him in receiving the Spirit in our hearts and submitting to Him as Lord. It is not submission to an oppressive regime but a loving and joyful reign.  Please come and join us in the true restoration and resurrection of new life. Jesus offers himself freely. He says come and buy without money. If you are thirsty come and drink.  His yoke is easy and his burden is light.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Exploring Trujillo, Peru

Here is a short video from Mississippi College's The Beacon by Ethan Miller. They came down a couple of years ago to do an interview with some alumni who are working with us in Peru. They have graciously given us permission to use it to share more about the work we are doing in Peru. 



Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Building the Church

What is it that causes the church to grow or wither?  There are many churches around the world that are dying and withering with only a small handful of members. There are other churches that are booming with no space for everyone. There are many views and books written on church strategy, method and vision. I am beginning to read a few books about these things but don't yet have the experience to start talking about those things.

I have been studying Ephesians lately and have been struck by a few thoughts from what I see in the scriptures that speak to church growth. I have also been given a great impression of what the church is by the sermon that Wes Baker preached at my ordination a little over a week ago. He explained that Ephesians 4 is telling us that the unity spoken of with the church is that we are all connected to the body of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the one body that we are all connected to. Pastors are called to be image bearers of Jesus specifically in their speaking of the word just as every believer is called to be an image bearer of Jesus in their living out the gospel in life. Pastors are given to the church as slaves who have been captured out of the enemies hands and given to the church as servants to do what Jesus calls us to. The church belongs to Jesus and we are given the role of being his ambassadors and representatives. The point that stands out the most to me in this is that we are united to Christ so much that it is as if Christ were there instead of us. So when I as a new pastor stand in the pulpit it is no longer me but it is Jesus up there speaking through me. But this unity in the body does not only apply to pastors. In the office of preaching and administering the sacraments, it applies to pastors. But in the role of a Christian by virtue of their baptism, all believers are united in Christ's body and when they go out into the world in their daily lives, they are no longer themselves but it is as if Christ where there living out their lives in them. We see this explained in Galatians 2:20, "I have been 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." In our union with Christ, we are no longer ourselves but Christ lives in us and gives us a new life. This new life is not ours to do what we want with it, but it is Christ's to do what He wants with is. The point seems to be that the unity of the church is directly tied to our union with Christ. Since each of us are united to Christ and the church is Christ's body, we are all united to each other as the body of Christ.

Jesus seems to indicate this when he said his body is the temple in John 2:18-22. He made a reference to his own death but described his body as being a temple. Ephesians 2 says that we are being joined into His body and that we are being built together into the holy temple, a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. It is interesting that this indwelling is not talking about a personal indwelling in each individual, though that also happens, but it is talking about an indwelling in the body of Christ. The indwelling of the Spirit in the temple is an indwelling in the whole church as one body. So Paul tells us that we are actually being built into this same temple that is the body of Jesus. Peter tells us in 1 Peter 2:5 that we are the living stones built as a spiritual house. So this is not a temple made of brick and mortar. This is a temple made up of living stones which are actually individual believers. Ephesians 4 says when each part is working properly it makes the body grow so that it builds itself in love.

This is striking that our union with Christ carries a charge with it. We are called to live in a manner worthy of our calling. The church is given gifts to enable it to grow but this growth appears to be contingent on the parts working properly. I am not saying that our justification is contingent on the church working properly but that the growth of the church is contingent on the parts working properly. I think it is also accurate to say that our sanctification is contingent on the parts working properly.

Why does it so often look like the church is weak and not growing? Based on these images in scripture, if it is not being watered, fed or the parts are not working together properly it will not grow.  We are joined as members of Christ himself. We are called to be joined to him and to call others to him. He calls us to live out obedience, not to save ourselves, but because he saved us. He already redeemed us, sealed us and forgave us. Because he already did this for us he calls us to live in a way that pleases him and points others to himself. He calls us to forgive others because he already forgave us.

Part of the spiritual armor to be able to stand against the attacks of the devil is righteousness. When we live in obedience to God's commands he produces growth in our lives but more importantly in the body of Christ, the church. According to what Paul is saying here in Ephesians, if the church is united to Jesus himself and we are living in a manner worthy of our calling  by walking in love and speaking the truth in love, then the church will grow.  If we do not live out our calling by walking in love and speaking the truth in love then the church will not grow and will begin to wither. Jesus says in John 15:4, "Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me." I used to think this passage only applied to each individual in his own personal walk with Jesus. With this new understanding of the unity of the body of Christ, I now realize that this passage also applies to the church. If the church is not abiding in Jesus, it cannot bear fruit. You might ask, "how does righteousness connect to abiding in Christ?" I would say that Christ is our righteousness but not only is he our righteousness in our justification by faith but his righteousness also begins to flow out of us in our sanctification by the power of the Spirit working in us by faith. As we abide in Him and as the Church abides in Him, we are enabled more and more to live out righteousness. God has chosen to use our living and walking in righteousness to give growth to the church.

It appears that if the church ceases to proclaim the mystery of the gospel based on the foundation of the scriptures and if the church ceases to walk in a manner worthy of her calling then God withdraws his presence from dwelling in her midst. Romans 1 tells us that God passes judgment on our rebellion by leaving us to ourselves. When the church ceases to worship the Creator and begins to worship the creature (i.e. comfort, entertainment, humanity) then God leaves her and turns her over to herself. I recognize that there are many complicated reasons why some churches are ailing and that there may be many churches that are bursting at the seams who are not being faithful or worshiping God. I don't claim to understand all situations of church growth. All I am saying here is that the Bible gives us clear teaching that if we forget about Jesus in our religion and are not united to Jesus Christ in faith then we will not see growth. If we are in union with Jesus Christ and are listening to Him and are living in a manner worthy of the gospel by proclaiming it, helping the poor, healing the sick and pursuing peace then we will see true growth. What I am trying to get at is that it is no surprise that many churches are withering and dying who have abandoned their first love and that this should give us all a wake up call to repent of our sins and seek the face of God, revealed to us through Christ in the Scriptures and applied by the Holy Spirit in our hearts. If we do that, I am certain we will see growth. It may not be the growth that many expect but it will be true life-changing growth.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Ordination

This Sunday at 6 pm, I will have the humbling privilege of being ordained into the gospel ministry.  It will be at Plains Presbyterian Church in Zachary, LA.  Rev. Wes Baker will be a guest minister to preach the word for this worship service.

I appreciate several of the elders who will be participating in this service who say they look forward to the worship service.  I like that they said it this way, it reminds me that this is not about me. I am excited to get to be a part of what Jesus is doing with His church and that He is including me in His work. This will be a worship service where we come together and worship the Triune God; God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit who is accomplishing His plan of uniting heaven and earth through the church. I am privileged to get to be a part of this.

This is not exactly a new thing, it has been clear for some time that God has called me into his service. I hesitated to pursue ordination for a while out of fear and lack of confidence. I have always been painfully aware of my weakness and unworthiness to this call. However, I have also known for as long as I have been a Christian that Christ is my worthiness and that his strength is perfected in my weakness. Even still, somehow I failed to make the connection that Christ supplies the strength and ability to fulfill this calling.  Forgetting to look to him for strength and looking to my abilities I focused on the fact that I am not particularly gifted at being outgoing or charismatic.  It does make sense that if someone is qualified in a majority of ways but is not able to speak clearly or teach, then he is not gifted to be a preacher. He may be gifted and called by God for other worthy and equal callings in ministry but not as a preacher. I was content to accept this as my calling. I knew I was called to ministry and was compelled to give my life to the advancement of the gospel but just thought it would be in small group settings and discipleship. Over the last couple of years in teaching the word daily, I found myself getting more and more comfortable in teaching. I saw God work through the lives of those I taught. I saw God bless my weak efforts at teaching. I also found that I enjoyed it and that it is my first desire to communicate God's word, even if I am not super eloquent or charismatic. It became clear that God had indeed called me to teach His word.

Another reason I shied away from this call was, quite frankly, sin. One of my seminary professors at RTS, Dr. Elias Medeiros, taught the first class of the course Biblical Theology of Missions by preaching a warning from Psalm 51. He pointed out that David's prayer of confession and prayer for cleansing and restoration was followed by,
"Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. 
Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness. 
O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise."
He pointed out that David's mouth was shut until he confessed and repented of his sin and was restored to fellowship with God. After confessing and repenting and praying for forgiveness and restoration to God, he is confident that his mouth will be opened and he will be free again to proclaim the wonders of God's grace. Dr. Medeiros warned us to be vigilant in pursuing purity. Satan is always seeking to knock us down and prevent us from speaking freely of the gospel. What better way to keep us quiet than by tempting us into sin. We must be vigilant to fight for purity but also diligent to run to the cross when we fall.

I think my slowness to repent and confess sin led to my shyness and hesitance in speaking.  God began working in my life through the things that I have been teaching and he began to enable me to be quicker to confess and repent. The funny thing about learning to repent and confess is that it always leads to more freedom. There is a weight of bondage in guilt. When I remain silent and fear confession because of fear of hurting others who might find out how bad I am, I actually suffer the separation and disconnect that I fear.  But when I confess and repent of sin, I find the wonderful grace of forgiveness and restoration that brings me to the fellowship that I was afraid I might loose by not confessing. Learning to be quicker to surrender to God and confess and repent has lead to a new sense of freedom and confidence that I only occasionally felt. I am still just as much of a broken sinner as before. But now, God has given me a sense of joy, freedom and confidence in His grace that actually compels me to flee from temptation much more effectively than the sense of shame and fear ever did. I cling to the cross and promise of restoration and keep pressing forward. There are still many times when I am at a loss of words and would rather just sit there and be quiet, but these times are fewer and far between. I am still weak and disgusted by my sin, but by God's grace I run to the cross a little quicker than before and find the grace that he promised. It is sufficient for me. I am even, by his grace, finding it easier to confess to others and ask for forgiveness. Oh what sweet joy to receive forgiveness from my wife and be restored to a closeness that began to fade when we remained silent about our sins against each other. Oh what sweet joy to hear my children learn to say, "please forgive me" and "I forgive you." Oh what sweet joy to hear forgiveness and be restored to God's people.

Now, I am blessed to feel an internal sense of call to the ministry of the Gospel of my Lord Jesus Christ that is confirmed by an external call by the church and friends and family members that tell me I have grown. It is exciting to see what can happen to anyone who will submit to the Word and seek to immerse oneself in it. If you water a plant with water, God will make it grow. If you feed an infant milk, God will make it grow. If you feed a soul with the Word, God will make it grow. There is nothing special in me. I am not holier than anyone else. It is just that God has brought me to my knees before the cross more than before and He is causing me to grow. There is nothing I desire more than to seek to communicate the wonderful joys of His grace in the Gospel.  I look forward to seeing what He has in store for our family as we prepare to continue serving Him in Peru.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Ephesians 2 The Mission of the Church

How is missions connected to the church? Here is a little bit of what I have been studying in preparation for a missions conference.

 In Ephesians 2 Paul reminds us that it was the power of the resurrection that gave us life out of death. We are united to Christ in his resurrection by grace through faith. He emphasizes that it was by grace and that God is the one who saved us not by anything that we have done to earn it but that God did it so that we could do good works. In other words, we were not saved by our works but we were saved by grace to do good works. We were not saved from our sin to sit back and be comfortable but we were saved to be incorporated into the work of the kingdom in building Christ’s body, which is His Church. Jesus Christ was raised up to all authority and given as “head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”(Ephesians 1:22) That is an amazing statement. God raised Christ from the dead and exalted him to have authority and power and dominion above everything and gave him as head to the church. I think we often forget what the church is. So many times we look at the church in all of her weakness and think that it is just a dying institution with very little power to make any real change. We just keep trying to do what we can but have no real hope for lasting impact in the world around us. That is not the image that we get from Scripture. The Almighty Powerful God of the universe has exalted his Son Jesus Christ with all power and authority and has given him to the church as head. Then he tells us that the church is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. We as the church are the body of this powerful and amazing King. The end of chapter 2 tells us that not only are we incorporated into his body in being united together as the church but also we are being built together into a temple as the dwelling place of God. What an amazing God! He glorifies himself and demonstrates his fullness by dwelling in us as a community (not only in us as individuals) by His Spirit. He gave us peace, He made us family and He is building us into His church.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Why did Jesus come?

In the last post I asked a similar question in response to a passage in the Gospel of Luke 4:16-30.
If Jesus came to help the poor and heal the sick, why do we see poverty and sickness?
In this passage, Jesus comes to Nazareth and reads from the prophet Isaiah.
He reads, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
After reading this, he tells the people that this passage is fulfilled in their hearing. They praise him and are very excited by what He is saying. But then he turns things around.  They rightly understood him to be saying that He is the anointed one, the Messiah. But Jesus basically tells them that they don't understand who the Messiah is.  It appears they were looking for a Messiah to come and give them happiness and freedom without calling them to repentance and submission to their Creator.  Jesus in effect tells them that he did not come to set free or heal those who continue to rebel against God.  Why didn't God send help to the poor or healing to the sick of Israel in the days of the prophets?  They were in open rebellion against Him. He sent the prophets to call them back to repentance but they did not repent and he sent the prophets outside of Israel to bring help and healing. In the midst of this call to repentance, he gives them an amazing promise of redemption and forgiveness.  But this promise of redemption that would come through the anointed one is not an empty promise that costs nothing. In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's work, The Cost of Discipleship, this promise was not cheap grace.  This promise did bring present and physical help and healing. But it was very costly. This promise of help and healing cost Jesus his very life. This promise of help and healing calls us to repentance and submission. If we don't submit to God in faith and repentance of our sin and rebellion, this promise is not for us.

The people of Nazareth rejected Jesus for pointing out that God didn't heal certain people in Israel yet did heal people who were foreigners while his own people suffered. Were they angry because they were racist? perhaps.  Were they angry because they wanted a Messiah to glorify mankind instead of a Messiah to glorify God? I think so. I thing this passage clearly speaks to racism and Jesus uses this to proclaim the inclusion of all people from all nations, but I think there is also a deeper issue. Jesus is the anointed one promised by Isaiah. He is the Messiah and He has come to establish His Kingdom. He did come to bring help and healing to all people but more importantly for all people from all nations he came to call to repentance. The book of Isaiah ends with a promise of the new heavens and new earth and people from all nations coming to bow down and worship God but also gives a dreadful pronouncement of judgment on those who rebel.

At the end of this passage there is a very subtle yet amazing pronouncement of judgment. "...and he went away."  Jesus left them to themselves.  Just as Paul tells us in Romans 1 that God's judgment on the wicked is that he turned them over to themselves. Jesus in Luke 4 left the people of Nazareth to themselves. In all of their rage and hatred they were powerless to do anything to him.

The promise of grace is completely unconditional on any works that we can do to earn it. However, it is not entirely unconditional. There is one condition that Jesus very clearly establishes, faith and repentance. Jesus calls us to repent of our sins and submit to Him as Lord and King. He created us in His image and therefore we belong to Him. Jesus came to establish his ownership of mankind and to call us back to worship him instead of worshiping ourselves. He does not promise redemption nor forgiveness to those who continue to reject Him. This is the kind of statement that will get you killed. This is the kind of statement that will get you martyred. This is the kind of statement that Jesus came to preach and to command us to go out and preach.  He came to include people from all races and He came to judge those who reject him. Without the regeneration of the heart that comes from the work of the Holy Spirit, no one will want to hear this.

This is why Paul ends the book of Ephesians with a call to put on the Spiritual armor. This is why Jesus says that we will suffer if we are his disciples.  If we faithfully preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, the devil will fight against us. The Christian call is a call to comfort and peace, but it is also a call to suffer. Jesus did come to bring healing and help today. The help and healing are signs of his deity and also of his compassion. He has given the task to us, his church, to bring his Kingdom to fruition by proclaiming this message, healing, helping and pursuing peace. The message we are called to proclaim is a message that Jesus Christ is the King and that he wants us to come back to him and worship him. He promises forgiveness of sins purchased by his blood shed on the cross. There is nothing we can do to earn this by our obedience but he does call us to tremble at his word and fear him. In other words, we must repent and worship him.

There are times when he gives temporary healing and help to those who want nothing to do with him. There are times when those who worship him want the healing and help and suffer waiting for it.  We don't understand God's timing on everything he does. But one thing we can be sure of is that there can be no true lasting peace, healing or help as long as anyone rejects him as Lord and savior. There may be some who are deluded or short-sighted that think they are good and happy without him but they will not think this for long. The message at the end of Isaiah will ring true. Jesus will return and establish the consummation of his Kingdom. When He returns, everyone will bow down and worship Him. It is very easy to look to Jesus for help and healing and for what he can do for us, but it is a very different thing to look to Jesus to submit to him as King and serve him as Lord. The wonderful joy of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that God has reconciled us back to himself to enable us to worship him as King.  We will see complete peace, healing and help in the days of the new heavens and the new earth.  We do see foretastes of help and healing today through the work of the Church and often times through the work of common grace in acts of kindness by different people.  The only place where we will hear of  and see the complete healing and help that is found in the gospel of Jesus Christ is in His Church.  As the body of Christ, we are called to be agents of that help, healing and peace while we are also called to be agents of the proclamation of the good news of the kingdom of our great king Jesus.

Jesus came to redeem the World and unite heaven and earth in himself.
Jesus came to be King of his church.
Jesus came to make peace, reconciling us to himself by calling us to repentance and becoming the sacrifice to atone for our rebellion against God.
Jesus came to pronounce judgment on those who continue to rebel.
Jesus will come again to consumate the Kingdom bringing the new heavens and the new earth establishing ultimate peace and restoring us completely.