Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The 21 and John and Betty Stam

I don’t know about you, but I have a bad habit of keeping my prayers and my focus on myself and the issues and the problems that immediately arise in my life. Lately there has been much that I have allowed to bring anxiety into my life instead of resting in God’s sovereign goodness. However, yesterday’s news of 21 of my brother’s in Christ killed for their faith in Christ opened my eyes to my own self-centered shallowness. With that I mind I want to draw our attention away from ourselves for a bit and look out at the wider world of Christianity and church history.

Unfortunately the tragic events of the 21 Christians who were martyred yesterday is nothing new. This type of thing has been happening on a fairly regular basis for the last 2000 years of church history. As I read about that horrific event I found myself thinking about a couple that was martyred for their commitment to the gospel as well. I’m sure their story is much different from the 21 yesterday, but in many ways it’s the same. The most important way it’s the same is, as Dr. Moore put it on twitter, “When the Book of Revelation speaks of those beheaded by evildoers, it speaks of the martyrs not a victims but as overcomers.” Allow their story to open your eyes to things and problems outside of your immediate context. No doubt, we all have somewhat major issues and problems in our lives currently—but at the same time we have to realize that we are incredibly blessed—if for no other reason than the fact that we are not under the threat of death for being a Christian.

What follows is a brief account of the final days of the lives of John and Betty Stam as recorded in Daniel Akin’s book 10 Who Changed the World. They were missionaries in China who were martyred at the tender ages of 28 (Betty) and 27 (John). Allow their story to open your eyes to your blessings, and also to test and encourage your faith. 
Betty was bathing three-month-old Helen when Tsingteh’s city magistrate appeared. Communist forces were near, he warned, and urged the Stams to flee. But before the Stams could make their break, the Communists were inside the city. Communist bandits quickly came pounding at their door. John opened it and spoke courteously to the four leaders who entered, asking them if they were hungry. Betty brought them tea and cakes. The courtesy, however, meant nothing. They demanded all the money the Stams had, and John willingly handed it over. John was then bound and led away. Before long, the bandits reappeared, taking Betty and Helen.

That night John was allowed to write a letter to mission authorities, “My wife, baby and myself are today in the hands of the Communists in the city of Tsingteh. Their demand is twenty thousand dollars for our release. The Lord bless and guide you. As for us, may God be glorified, whether by life or by death.” The letter was not received until after their murder. Prisoners in the local jail were released to make room for the Stams.

At one point frightened by rifle fire, little Helen began to cry. One of the Communist rebels said, “Let’s kill the baby. It is in our way.” A bystander asked, “Why kill her? What harm has she done?” “Are you a Christian?” shouted one of the guards. The man said he was not but that he was one of the prisoners just released. “Will you die for this foreign baby?” they asked. As Betty hugged Helen to her chest, the man was hacked to pieces before all of their eyes. The next morning their captors led the Stams toward Miaosheo on a twelve mile march. Under guard, the entire Stam’s family was taken into a postmaster’s shop. “Where are you going?” asked the postmaster, who recognized them from their previous visits to his town. “We do not know where they are going, but we are going to heaven,” answered John.

That night the three were held in the house of a wealthy man who had fled. They were carefully guarded by soldiers. John was tied to a post all that cold night, but Betty was allowed enough freedom to tend to the baby. As it turned out, she did more than that.
The next morning the young couple was led through town without the baby. Their hands were tightly bound, and they were stripped of their outer garments as if they were common criminals. John walked barefoot. He had given his socks to Betty. The soldiers jeered and called the town’s folk to come see the execution. The terrified people obeyed.

On the way to the execution, a medicine-seller, considered a lukewarm Christian at best, stepped from the crowd and pleaded for the lives of the two foreigners. The Communist bandits angrily ordered him back. The man, however, would not be quiet. His house was searched, a Bible and hymnbook found, and he also was dragged away to be executed as a hated and despised Christian. John pleaded for the man’s life. The bandit’s leader sharply ordered him to kneel.

As John was speaking softly, the Communist leader swung his sword through the missionary’s throat so that his head was severed from his body. Betty did not scream. She quivered and fell bound beside her husband’s body. As she knelt there, the same sword ended her life with a single blow.

For two days, local Christians huddled in hiding in the hills around Miaosheo. Among them was a Chinese evangelist named Mr. Lo. Through informants, he learned that the Communists had captured two foreigners. At first he did not realize that it was John and Betty Stam. As soon as government troops entered the valley and it was safe to venture forth, Mr. Lo hurried to town. An old woman told Pastor Lo that a small baby had been left behind. She pointed in the direction of the house where John and Betty had been chained their last night on earth. Pastor Lo hurried to the site and found room after room trashed by the bandits. Then he heard a muffled cry.

Tucked by her mother in a little sleeping bag, Helen was warm and alive, although hungry after her two day fast. The kindly pastor took the child in his arms and carried her to his wife. With the help of a local Christian family, he wrapped the bodies that still lay upon the hillside and placed them into coffins. To the crowd that gathered he explained that the missionaries had only come to tell them how they might find forgiveness of sin in Jesus Christ. Leaving others to bury the dead, he hurried home. Somehow Helen had to be carried to safety.

Pastor Lo had to find a way to move the children a hundred miles through mountains infested by bandits and Communists. Brave men were found who were willing to help bear the children to safety, but there was no money to pay them for their efforts. Lo had been robbed of everything he had. But from beyond the grave, Betty had provided. Tucked in Helen’s sleeping bag were a change of clothes and some diapers. Pinned between these articles of clothing were two five-dollar bills. It made the difference. Placing the children in rice baskets slung from the two ends of a bamboo pole, the group departed quietly, taking turns carrying the precious cargo over their shoulders. Mrs. Lo was able to find Chinese mothers along the way to nurse Helen.

Eight days after the Stams died in Communist hands, another missionary in a nearby city heard a knock at his door. He opened it and a Chinese woman, stained with travel, entered the house, bearing a bundle in her arms. “This is all we have left,” she said brokenly.
Helen Pricilla Stam was three months old when her parents were killed in China, but by God’s grace she had survived. She was brought to the United States and was cared for by her maternal grandparents, who had also been missionaries in China, until she was five years old. She then was adopted by her mother’s sister and her husband who were missionaries in the Philippines. She grew up in the Philippines and returned to the United States for college, after which she was involved in student work for her denomination. A small group of Christians took the bodies of John and Betty Stam and buried them on a hillside.

 Their gravestones read:
John Cornelius Stam, January 18, 1907, “That Christ may be glorified whether by life or death.” Philippians 1:20.
Elizabeth Scott Stam, February 22, 1906, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Philippians 1:21.
A short time before his and his wife’s death, John Stam wrote his father informing him of the growing dangers they faced. In the letter he copied these verses that, though written by another, well expressed his and his wife's heart…
Afraid? Of What?
To feel the spirit's glad release?
To pass from pain to perfect peace,
The strife and strain of life to cease?
Afraid—of that?

Afraid? Of what?
Afraid to see the Savior’s face,
To hear His welcome, and to trace
The glory gleam from wounds of grace?
Afraid—of that?

Afraid? Of What?
A flash—a crash—a pierced heart;
Darkness—Light—O Heaven’s art?
A wound of His a counterpart!
Afraid—of that?

Afraid? Of What?
To do by death what life could not—
Baptize with blood a stony plot,
Till souls shall blossom from the spot?
Afraid—of that?

~ This was written by Presbyterian missionary E.H. Hamilton following the recent martyrdom of one of his colleagues, J.W. Vinson, at the hands of rebel soldiers in northern China. A small Chinese girl who escaped from the bandits related the incident that provided the inspiration for Hamilton’s poem. “Are you afraid?” the bandits asked Vinson as they menacingly waved a gun in front of him.
“No,” he replied with complete assurance. “If you shoot, I go straight to heaven.”
His decapitated body was found later.

“Oh precious Lord Jesus, be gracious to us and bless us and make your face shine upon us, that your way may be known on the earth, your saving power among all nations! Help us to love you more than we fear man and what he might do to us. Bless us as you blessed John and Betty Stam, if it be your will.”
~ Danny Akin

Matthew 10:28
And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

Philippians 1:20-21
20 ...it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

Philippians 3:7-11
7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith- 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

May we get our eyes off of ourselves and put them onto the purposes of the gospel. May we pray, give, send, and go—for the salvation of the lost, even the lost who are behind such horrific scenes—for they are sinners in need of grace just as we were and still are. And may we do all this for the fame of Jesus among all peoples. May the Lamb of God receive the reward for His suffering. 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Giving Up On Nationalism And Embracing A Missionary Identity


Republic: a state in which the supreme power rests in the body of citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by representatives chosen directly or indirectly by them.
Democracy: government by the people; a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system. (Definitions from dictionary.com)

Lincoln described this idea of government well when He said, “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish…” Whether or not it perishes remains to be seen, but for our purposes today I want to elaborate a little bit on the main thrust of a democratic republic. It is by the people. This means that the country (in a corporate sense) will always be a representation of the people. With that said, we should not be surprised as Christians that the USA is not as Christian as it once was; though one could argue that it was never that Christian to begin with (I just recently learned that when the U. S. was founded only 10% of Americans attended church—not to mention issues such as slavery and the like that were thriving in the early days of the USA).  

America is a nation made up of people from all walks of life from all around the world. That is part of the beauty of being the land of the free, we have freedom of religion and certain rights that are given to our citizens, and even resident aliens for that matter; and so people have immigrated here for years in hopes of a better-freer life. I heard a missionary recently note that though we must have a heart for getting the gospel to the nations in order to be faithful to the Great Commission, one can’t help but notice that in a very real sense the nations are coming to us, so we must also engage them on our own turf. And we know this to be true, that’s why immigration is such a hot button issue in America right now.

Now, if people from all walks of life from all around the world have been immigrating here over the years, including the founding fathers of this country, then it really should be no surprise that America has become such a hotbed for so many religions, atheism, secularism, and many other things and beliefs. Our founding documents promise freedom to practice such things (and this is a really good thing because it gives us the freedom to make disciples among other things). And because we are a democracy the government will always be a representation of the people. So if we are a people made up of numerous religions, atheism, secularism, and so much more, why should we be surprised that the USA is not as Christian as it once was?

Regardless of what you think the USA was, it certainly cannot be labeled a Christian nation now (I would note however that Jesus died to save people from every tribe, tongue, and nation, not for a nation. Part of the beauty of the church is that it is made up of all nations.). A Christian nation can really only be accomplished by force (I’m thinking of Christian nation here in the sense of Constantine or the later Crusades); though any Christian worth his salt knows that no one can be forced to become a Christian by man. One must be born again to truly become a Christian. So, having a Christian nation should not be our concern; however, what we should be after is having a nation full of Christians (as well as a world full of Christians).

These days in Christian circles I often here people bemoaning the secularization of the USA, but if we’re honest I think we’d have to say that what we are experiencing is more of a pluralization than a secularization. And while I never want to celebrate sin, I do think we have much to celebrate. Though I strongly advocate world missions, one can’t help but see that our own neighborhoods have truly become mission fields, with peoples from all around the world, who believe all sorts of things living within walking distance from our homes. So instead of longing for a Christian nation why not walk in glad submission to Christ’s commands and be about the work of making disciples? For that is our only hope of having a nation full of Christians, and that is far better than a Christian nation.

Strangers and Exiles

No doubt, it is becoming increasingly unpopular to be Christian in the USA, but that has by and large been the state of affairs for Christians throughout church history. This is why Peter says that we-the church are elect exiles and sojourners in this world (1 Peter 1:1, 2:11). The author of Hebrews says we are strangers and exiles, for here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come (Hebrews 11:13, 13:14). Jesus Himself said that though we are in the world we are not of the world just as He is not of the world (John 17:16). So, there will always be a sense in which we are strange because we are strangers in this world, until Christ returns and fixes this broken world. And as strangers we should not be surprised that we are not always welcomed in this world.

And along with that, though we should always seek to make as many disciples out of the world around us as we can, we should expect to be the minority in this world. Jesus said, “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:14). In Matthew 13 Jesus tells a parable about four different soils that seed was sowed on. The soils represent people and the seed represents the gospel. Of all the seed that was sowed only one soil received the seed and produced grain. In other words only one out of the four people who heard the gospel received it rightly. This illustrates the truth of the narrow gate. In this in-between time, while we are waiting on the return of Christ, Christians will be the minority, and as such we should not be surprised when the majority does not think like we do, act like we do, or the like.

Missionary Identity

Recently I had the pleasure of attending a conference at Redeemer Seminary in Dallas. The main idea of the conference was that, though there is certainly an aspect of the church that is established in this world—because we are in this world, by and large the identity of the church is that of a missionary. The theme throughout the conference was that we have to re-embrace our missionary identity as a church. Think about that for a moment; a missionary is someone who willingly lays down their comforts, their rights, their conveniences and goes out into the land of the lost, into exile with the gospel to see the lost saved and disciples made. A missionary willingly pours out their life for the fame of Christ among people who might never have heard of Christ if not for their willingness to suffer for the cause of the gospel. This is what the men in this conference were calling the church back to; to embrace that identity.

Please, don’t misunderstand me, politics and public policy are important, but we should not expect too much out of a system of this broken world, and we can not lose sight of what’s most important. If we truly desire this nation to become more Christian then there has to be more Christians in it. And that will only happen when we embrace our missionary identity and begin making disciples of all peoples. But even then, we should expect to be the minority. That being the case our focus should be on the Great Commission not establishing (or reclaiming) a great nation.


After explaining to the church that they are strangers and exiles in this world Peter says, “you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). So, let’s not be a people who grumble and reminisce about the good old days when stores were closed on Sunday and little league teams didn’t practice on Wednesday night. Let’s be a people who joyfully pour out our lives for the fame of Jesus among all peoples; for that is the only hope of this nation and the rest of the world. God’s people armed with God’s gospel are what will bring lasting change in this world. May we count the cost and walk in glad submission to Christ’s commands, proclaiming His excellencies among all peoples.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014


The other night I had a dream that I was being forced to sit under the ramblings of a prosperity “preacher”. As I sat and listened to this so-called preacher explain how and why God blessed him with his millions I began to get infuriated. I got so mad that I woke my self up. I literally sat upright from a dead sleep, filled with anger because of what I was hearing.

It was about that time that I realized the things I was hearing in my dream were actually being said on the television in my room. My wife had stayed up later than me to finish watching some show and she must have fell asleep with the television on. Apparently 4am is primetime TV for all those who are looking to God like a lottery ticket, because at 4am some huffing and puffing preacher comes on the TV to tell you how to open the window of heaven in order to fill your wallet.

This guy (who is preaching in front of many people who are literally in tears over what he’s saying) begins to explain that God wants all Christians rich and that he is going to pray for God to bring somebody into the life of all of his hearers who would be in their life just to give them money. He explains that the only reason this person will want to be around you is to bless you financially. He then asked everybody to get out their wallets and open them up so he can pray for their wallets to be filled. He goes on to say, “Even you at home; get out your wallet. If you don’t have a wallet draw a picture of a wallet and I’ll pray for it.”

There are so many things wrong with this picture that I don’t have room enough to address them all in one blog post but for now let me simply address this heretic’s view on prayer. First off, think about yourself. How do you understand prayer? What type of things do you pray for? Though many of us despise the so-called prosperity gospel, far too many in the church pray very similar prayers.

Jesus said, “Pray then like this: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:9-13). Jesus certainly tells us to pray for needs such as daily bread, but the idea behind our asking for daily bread is that we will be so about the business of the Kingdom that we won’t have time to focus on our daily bread. Prayer is directly linked to the fulfillment of the coming of the Kingdom.

John Piper says it like this, “Prayer is meant by God to be a wartime walkie-talkie, not a domestic intercom...not for the enhancement of our comforts but for the advancement of Christ's kingdom.” It seems to me Piper is saying something very similar to Christ here. One of the main implications of what Jesus says and Piper says is that Christians are to use prayer as a means to get the gospel of the Kingdom out into the world in order that people from every tribe, tongue, and nation would repent and believe and bow the knee to King Jesus.

Matthew 24:14 says, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” This implies that when the gospel reaches all those the Lord wishes it to Jesus will return and the Kingdom will come in its fullness. In their book Faithmapping, Daniel Montgomery and Mike Cosper say, “The gospel of the kingdom is the announcement that life with God, under the rule of God, is made immediately available to us through Jesus, our King.” Jesus came to earth, lived a perfect life, had the wrath of God that all sinners deserve poured out upon himself while He hung on a cross, died the death that all sinners deserve, and rose from the dead on the third day conquering sin, Satan, and death for all those who will repent and believe in this message. That being the case, the prayers of the church should be focused on getting this message out in order to push back the darkness and fulfill the Great Commission. The last thing Christians should be doing is holding an open wallet in front of some guy who is promising them the world if they will merely send a check to his “ministry.”

Remember what the Word says, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Timothy 6:10). “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul” (Mark 8:36)?

So please, don’t fall for the nonsense these prosperity preachers are dishing out. They are lies that deceive, distract, and disappoint. When you pray, pray with great intention for the cause of the Kingdom. Get your eyes off of yourselves and turn them to Christ. Jesus is better than a full wallet any day. And the thing this world needs more than anything is something that money cannot buy anyway. The greatest need in the world today is for people to be born again, and this only happens through the preaching and hearing of the gospel (Romans 1:16-17, 1 Peter 1:22-25).

We should be praying for God's Kingdom to come, yes for our good, but most importantly so that “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14). Or as Jesus put it, so that Our Father in heaven would be hallowed or glorified. 

So, what are you praying for?

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Wake Up and Share the Gospel

Colossians 1:3-6
We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing-as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth...

The gospel is the good news about the person and work of Jesus Christ. I LOVEthe gospel! I truly believe with all my heart that the gospel is the power of God to make disciples (conversion), and the power of God to mature disciples (sanctification). This message is truly one of the biggest passions of my heart.

I really love this passage in Colossians, for many reasons, but perhaps the greatest is because it so communicates my heart. First off Paul says that he thanks God for the faith and love of the Colossians; and he says the reason they have this faith and love is because of the hope they have laid up in heaven, the hope of Christ, the hope of the gospel. Then after he says that he explains why that is the case.

When the gospel comes in it bears fruit and increases. Paul says, “the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing-as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth...” So, someone becomes a Christian when they hear the gospel and understand it (truly understand it which leads to repentance and faith). And from that day on it bears fruit not only in them but also through them and increases out into the world. In other words, when the gospel does a work in somebody, it also does a work out of somebody. This is what is called Gospel In ~ Gospel Out.

Most new Christians are always excited and eager to talk about Jesus. Why is that? Because they recognize the profound work that God is doing in them through the gospel. They want to talk about what excites them. They want to talk about what they care about. But, with that in mind, many of us think of this as merely a passing phase. “Sure that guy is on fire for Jesus now, but he’ll cool off after a while.” And if we’re honest that usually happens. But why?! I think it is because we stop being amazed by grace. We stop marveling at the gospel and then we become cold, sleepy Christians who keep the amazing news about the person and work of Jesus Christ to ourselves.

So, what are you? Are you a cold, sleepy Christian? Or are you an excited Christian who burns with a white hot passion for the gospel? So many churches are full of nominal and sleepy Christians; so much so that the Christians who are on fire for the Lord feel out of place. I pray that God would revive our churches and give us new passion for the gospel. Tim Keller says, “In a revival, sleepy Christians wake up, nominal Christians get converted, and non-Christians get reached… When sleepy and nominal Christians get revived, attractive and bold in their witness, people who would never have believed before begin to get converted.” The gospel goes in and the gospel goes out; it truly bears fruit and increases.

So what are some things we can do to pull us out of our slumber?
1.      Pray
2.      Read, meditate on, and memorize Scripture
3.      Sit under the preached Word
4.      Gather with God’s people and celebrate the gospel
5.      Preach the gospel to yourself over and over again
6.      Always keep an ongoing cycle of confession and repentance going. This requires you to be in community with some people. These should be close gospel-centered friendships, and of course your spouse.
7.      Share the gospel with and love and serve the people around you.
8.      Seek to meet new people who you can build relationships with, share the gospel with, invite to church, etc…

Number eight is by far the hardest one for me. I get so caught up in my day to day routine that I forget to slow down long enough to engage the people around me when I’m out and about. I heard a new church planter say the other day that he and his core group committed themselves to meeting 7-14 new people a week (each) and sharing the gospel with them and inviting them to church. If everybody in the church committed themselves to doing this I believe we would really start to see the kind of thing that Tim Keller was talking about (Lord willing).

I don’t know about you, but I’m not content with being a cold, sleepy Christian. I want to fight for gospel amazement. I want to be a part of a church that has the kind of faith and love that Paul talks about in Colossians. I want the gospel to work in and out of me. I want to pour out my life for the fame of Jesus among all peoples. What about you?   

Tuesday, May 13, 2014


Success is not always immediate results…

Think with me if you will about what the modern day church in America looks like in contrast to the way Jesus did ministry. Most churches in the western world define themselves by what programs they offer, what events they host, what type of music they have, and the personality of the pastor. Jesus’ ministry however, was very basic; He simply focused on preaching, teaching, and discipleship. Often the main concern in the western church is to draw a crowd, whereas Jesus often retreated from crowds in order to disciple His apostles. Why did Jesus do this? In Robert Coleman’s book The Master Plan of Evangelism he writes:

“Why did Jesus deliberately concentrate his life on comparatively so few people? Had he not come to save the world? ... Surely the Son of God could have adopted a more enticing program of mass recruitment. Is it not rather disappointing that one with all the powers of the universe at his command would live and die to save the world, yet in the end only have a few ragged disciples to show for his labors? The answer to this question focuses at once on the real purpose of his plan for evangelism. Jesus was not trying to impress the crowd, but to usher in a Kingdom.”

Jesus’ view of ministry was not one of quantity but of quality. Yes, Jesus cared/cares deeply about the world, and we know that He is saving people from every tribe, tongue, and nation. But what we see in His ministry is not a neglect of the world but a ministry that takes the long view in order to have a larger impact. Jesus’ example makes us ask ourselves the question, “What if instead of trying to casually impact everyone, we focused our efforts to radically impact a few?”

Robert Coleman continues:
"Here is where we must begin just like Jesus. It will be slow, tedious, painful, and probably unnoticed by people at first, but the end result will be glorious, even if we don't live to see it. We must decide where we want our lives and ministry to count - in the momentary applause of popular recognition or in the reproduction of our lives in a few chosen people who will carry on our work after we have gone. Really it is a question of which generation we are living for."

The way in which many churches do ministry often seems to be having much immediate success; but how many are actually agents of true lasting change in their people, their community, and out into the world? How many are really seeing lives transformed? I heard David Platt say in his sermon at Together for the Gospel this year, “If we’re not careful we will deceive ourselves, mistaking the presence of physical bodies in a building for the existence of spiritual life in a church.” So, in other words, numbers do not equal success. We can’t measure success by immediate results. Ultimately what equals success is faithfulness to the gospel; and God’s Word teaches us that faithfulness to the gospel will lead to true lasting impact and change.

A vision for something closer to Jesus’ ministry philosophy…

If we don’t need a whole bunch of programs to do ministry, what do we need to reach people and transform lives? I propose three things: gospel-centered discipleship, community, and worship. These three not only transform the lives of the individuals who make up a local church, but they also transform the church as a whole, the community the church is in, and on out into the world; and this all works together to glorify God.

The gospel is the glorious message that tells us that God has made a way for lost wicked sinners to be reconciled to Him and live forever with Him in a world free of sin and its effects through His Son, Jesus Christ. It is at the center of the Christian life because it is what creates and empowers the Christian life in every stage; therefore every aspect of the Christian must be tethered to the gospel. A person hears the gospel and gets knowledge of this glorious message. Faith comes upon hearing this message and as that faith grows the character of this person will begin to grow in Christlikeness. As the person becomes more and more like Christ the person’s faith and character will lead to action; the action of being a doer of the word. And then the cycle continues because the riches of God’s grace in the gospel are unsearchable; we’ll never reach the bottom of this glorious well (Romans 11:33). So, for the individual, discipleship—the Christian life really, would flow something like this.

Now for the church as a whole there is a similar pattern of life. Like the individual, the church as a whole is created and empowered by the gospel; therefore every aspect of the church must be tethered to the gospel. God accomplishes His purposes for His people through His Word (Gen. 1:3; Isa. 55:10-11; Acts 12:24), so the doctrine of a church is crucial. As gospel doctrine is laid out week in and week out through discipleship and preaching the lives of the members begin to be transformed by the power of the gospel leading to a gospel lifestyle. As the lifestyle of the members of a church become more and more in step with the gospel (Gal. 2:14) the overall culture of the church begins to become gospel-centered.

To be gospel-centered means that the gospel and Jesus himself is our greatest hope and boast, our deepest longing and joy, and our most passionate song and message. It means that the gospel is what defines us as Christians, unites us as brothers and sisters in Christ, changes us from sinners to saints, and sends us out to live our lives with intentionality to edify the saints, evangelize the lost, and worship God. A gospel-centered church is about Jesus above everything else. The sermons we preach, the lessons we teach, the songs we sing, the prayers we pray, the way we do life with one another, and the way we live our lives when we are scattered into the world will be focused on and saturated with the gospel and its implications.

As this culture becomes established in a church it will begin to shine out the nature and character of God to the watching world, leading to true gospel witness. As the witness of a church grows in gospel clarity it will have more of an impact on the surrounding community because as Christ says, it will shine out like a city on a hill. So, the greater the gospel transformation in the church the greater the gospel witness. The greater the gospel witness the greater the influence, impact, and evangelistic witness on the world. And this too is an ongoing cycle. So, for the local church, life would flow something like this.

The gospel creates something beautiful and powerful…

In his new book The Gospel, Ray Ortlund says, “Gospel-centered churches are living proof that the good news is true, that Jesus is not a theory but real. . . . When the doctrine is clear and the culture is beautiful, that church will be powerful.” So simply through gospel-centered discipleship (evangelism and helping others pursue Christlikeness), community (living life together and fulfilling the “one anothers” of the New Testament), and worship (both corporate worship through the preaching of the Word, prayer, and singing, as well as living a lifestyle of worship), we can become true agents of change for the mission of the gospel in our city and to the nations.

This may sound great but in real life this is slow moving, hard work. Along with the church being made up of a bunch of repentant sinners, the world is made up of a bunch of unrepentant sinners; add that combination to an already fallen world and a real enemy who hates the gospel and gospel-centered churches and you have a recipe for grueling hard work. But, by God’s grace this vision for the church can be accomplished. As Robert Coleman said, “It will be slow, tedious, painful, and probably unnoticed by people at first, but the end result will be glorious, even if we don't live to see it.” So, the question is, are we willing to put in the time and effort to see gospel transformation in ourselves, our churches, our communities, and the world? Are we willing to pour our lives into a few as Jesus did in hopes of having a more meaningful impact? When each member of a church focuses on discipling a few and living lives that are in step with the gospel I truly believe we will have a much bigger impact than we ever could through an event or a program. Oh, how I so long to be a part of something like this...