As we prepare for a new missions course at GFC, I wanted to learn how John Piper and the elders of Bethlehem Baptist Church laboured to create a vision and passion for missions in their local church. Here are seven discoveries and truths they have learned and taught.
- We discovered that God is passionately committed to His fame. God’s ultimate goal is that His name be known and praised and enjoyed by all the peoples of the earth. (Matt 24.14; Isaiah 52.7; Rom 9.17; Isaiah 12.4; Rom 15.9)
- We discovered that God’s purpose to be known and praised and enjoyed among all the nations cannot fail. It is an absolutely certain promise. (Matt 16.18; 28.18; Isaiah 46.10; Hab 2.14)
- We discovered that the missionary task is focused on teaching unreached peoples, not just people — people groups, not just individuals — and is therefore finishable. (Matt 24.14; Rev 5.9)
- We discovered that the scarcity of Paul-type missionaries has been obscured by the quantity of Timothy-type missionaries [by this he means that the number of workers who go overseas obscures the true number of those who go to the unreached, which is actually quite small]. (Timothy ministered in the young church in Ephesus, 1 Tim 1.3; Paul went to the unreached, Rom 15.20)
- We discovered that domestic ministries are the goal of frontier missions, and frontier missions is the establishment of domestic ministries.
- We have come to see that God ordains suffering as the price and the means of finishing the Great Commission. (Matt 24.9, 14; Col 1.24; Matt 10.16; Luke 21.16-18)
- Finally, we have discovered that God is most glorified in us when we are so satisfied in Him that we accept suffering and death for His sake in order to extend our joy to the unreached peoples of the earth. (2 Cor 4.17; Phil 3.8; Heb 13.12-14)
Full explanations of each of these can be found in his book, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, in the chapter called, ‘Brothers, Give Them God’s Passion for Missions.’
I’ve Got a Problem
Tomorrow I’ll know more than I do today. Or at least, I hope so.
That’s the typical pattern, right? Who of us hasn’t been horribly embarrassed by reflecting on things we did and said five years ago? Yet, at that time, it seemed like the right thing to say or do.
Sometimes I’ve wondered: ‘If twenty-years-from-now me could speak with the me-of-right-now, what would I say to myself?’ I usually think that having this kind of input from my future self would be of value.
But, sadly, I’m not so quick to extend that grace to others.
Here’s what I mean: There are Christian brothers and sisters all around me who are 20 years ahead of me already; but do I listen to them? And when they speak, do I treat their words with as much reverence as I would the words from future-me?
The Problem Played Out
Recently I’ve been listening to an excellent new album by James Hoffman. One song in particular resonated with me over the last day (it’s the song cued up below). In the song, Hoffman is singing about the experience of holding his newborn daughter. He’s reflecting on the truth of what his mother told him: ‘Now I know what my mother meant when she said I’d never understand — fully — till I held you.’
“Can you scratch my elbow?”
“Scratch. Right here.”
“Scratch your elbow? Seriously? You can reach it yourself; why do you want me to do it?”
“It just feels better when you do it.”
Conversations like this one happen between me and my wife. Frequently.
Why? Because of a relational principle that Stacey gets, but I am slow to pick up on: Sometimes what you ask people for, what you feel free to really ask for, even though you don’t need it actually says something about your relationship and how each of you perceive it.
For example, just imagine how the conversation would have gone differently if I was sitting beside a stranger on the bus who asked me the same question. I’m not sure if I’d reply or move straight to pushing the bus’ panic button.
A Part of the Body
Christians acknowledge quickly enough that they are part of the body of Christ; the question many of us face is, ‘What part of the body am I?’
When Paul writes to the Ephesians he says that ‘grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift’ (Eph 4.7). He then goes on to explain how Christ’s incarnation, perfect life, death, resurrection, and ascension have given him the right to sovereignly distribute gifts as he sees fit. He can give what he wants to whom he wants. He purchased that right.
Some of the examples that Paul gives are the more obvious gifts: ‘apostles, prophets, evangelists, and shepherds and teachers’ (Eph 4.11). Those are gifts that stand out, right?
But what if I’m not an apostle or prophet or evangelist or shepherd-teacher? How do I know what part of the body I am? I know that I’m supposed to serve the body, but where?
The sad truth is that sometimes we get stuck in seasons where we are not using our gifts or serving our church, not because we don’t want to, but because we just don’t know how to. We don’t know where we belong.
Two Balancing Questions to Find Your Place
Question 1: What gifts does this body part have?
Sometimes people end up getting placed in ministry programs and roles that need to be filled simply because ‘this is what the church does.’ This can lead to bad places. People who aren’t fit, gifted, or qualified to serve in specific roles are placed there to simply ‘fill a gap.’ In the end it doesn’t build up the body, it wears out the person serving, and the ministry is in a worse spot than when the person started.
Who Is a Good Parent?
It’s a loaded question, isn’t it? It seems to me that often the people who think they are great parents aren’t, and the parents who are doing a great job (even if imperfect) tend to feel their weakness the most acutely.
As evangelicals in the western world in the 21st century, it seems that there is more pressure than ever to do well at this parenting thing. We have Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram telling us everyday how great everyone else is doing at this parenting thing; the proof is in the nicely edited photos, right? The family lives of so many others around us seem to be smiling faces, happy hearts, and many memorable moments of family fun.
And that’s just the world. Nevermind in the church. Other Christians are doing a great job at family devotions, praying for world missions, and teaching their children to memorize the whole Bible (or so it seems). And doesn’t that make sense? I mean, if the non-Christians in the world are doing well at this family thing, should we be doing better? Isn’t family a Christian thing?
Sadly, many Christian parents end up feeling guilty, over-burdened, and stressed trying to keep up with all the family things that we feel we need to do to be good parents.
My friend, Kevin Dibbley, wrote an excellent note a couple of weeks ago to a new father. Reflecting on his own experience raising his daughters, Kevin offers some sound advice that rebuked me, encouraged me, and moved me to tears of thankfulness.
If you’re a parent (or know one) you should read this post (or get them to read this post).
Here’s a snippet:
Don’t take yourself so seriously. That may sound like a strange thing to say, especially at a time in our culture when there is a great need for serious parenting, and in particular, diligent and faithful fathering. I am not saying that as a Dad you don’t need to give yourself fully to your calling to love and to lead. What I do mean is that you need to recognize that God is big enough for the road ahead. When Moses was in the midst of his journey leading the nation of Israel, he became overwhelmed by the task. Israel was a tough nation. Moses’ fear, however, was not the dread of seeing how messed up Israel was. He was afraid of seeing his own inadequacies and failures. In fact, at one point, he pleads with the Lord that if the Lord has favour upon him, that He should kill Moses, so that Moses wouldn’t have to look at his own “wretchedness” (Numbers 11:15). You are about to get a life long tour of your own inadequacies. Remember then that God did not put this child in your hands because He wanted you to show how competent you are. He put this child in your hands to show you how great His love and goodness are. Your goal is to point your child to Jesus. You don’t have to be the hero of your child’s story.
Read the full post here: “A Note for Josh at the Birth of Grace.”
In his excellent commentary on Luke’s Gospel, David Garland spends some time thinking about forgiveness as he reflects on the Lord’s model prayer (Luke 11.1-4). He then cites C.S. Lewis on the topic of forgiveness and what Christians really believe:
We believe that God forgives us our sins; but also that He will not do so unless we forgive other people their sins against us. There is no doubt about the second part of this statement. It is in the Lord’s Prayer, it was emphatically stated by our Lord. If you don’t forgive you will not be forgiven. No exceptions to it. He doesn’t say that we are to forgive other people’s sins, provided they are not too frightful, or provided there are extenuating circumstances, or anything of that sort. We are to forgive them all, however spiteful, however mean, however often they are repeated. If we don’t we shall be forgiven none our own.
Garland then continues:
Though most people agree that forgiveness is admirable, it is not easy. Alexander Pope’s adage, “To err is human, to forgive is divine,” may explain why human so often fail to practice this divine trait. It has been said that some bury the hatchet but leave the handle sticking out of the ground so that it is ready to grasp when they want it. Others ask, “Do I have to forgive if the offender does not repent?” It may never occur to them to ask, “Can the offender repent if I do not forgive?”
Jesus understands that forgiveness is as important for the one who has been hurt as for the one who caused the hurt. Forgiveness keeps one from being clobbered again and again when the memories resurface. Harboring a grudge opens persons up to the danger of defining their lives by how they have been hurt. Forgiveness provides release. Smedes writes, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”
It’s easy to understand forgiveness in theory. It’s another thing to be defined by it and display it. Forgiveness is one of the most costly things anyone can ever do. It always has been; especially at the cross. Forgiveness hurts. But it also heals.
May God give us grace to live this. Only the power of the cross can make it so.