May 28, 2007

Ethiopia Pastors Training, Round 2

Folllow the updates here.

Good News

The bad news is that all have sinned (Romans 3.23) and the wages of sin is death (Romans 6.23). That is actually horrible news. Sin deserves death. All of us are sinners. Therefore all of us have a death sentence hanging over our heads. And since we can never go back and erase our sins, we can never go back and alter the judgment. We are deserving of death. But is there any good news? Yes! Namely that, though God is rightfully angry with our sin, He loves sinners! He loves to set sinners back on their feet again! He is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love (Psalm 103.8)!

But, wait. God cannot just simply let us go free, can He? Wouldn’t that be a corruption of justice…to let a convicted criminal go free? How would you feel if the judges in your city began a new policy of letting thieves and rapists go free simply because they felt sorry for them? You’d be calling for a new judge! Letting criminals walk with no penalty is the worst kind of injustice. And if God were to somehow ‘work the system’ and bend the rules for us, He’d be sinning too!

So, we have a dilemma. God loves sinners and wants to set them free. But His perfection demands that He must punish the crime! What is He to do? How will He maintain His impeachable justice and at the same time reach out a hand of mercy to sinners whom He loves?

There is only one solution. Someone else has to pay. If God wants to both punish your sin and rescue you from punishment, someone else has to pay the penalty. It’s the only option. But where could God find a man who did not have sins of His own to pay for? There aren’t any! So the only option is for God to become a man Himself (in the person of His Son) and to be, Himself, the one who would pay the penalty for everyone else’s sins! This is the story of Jesus! He was pierced for our transgression, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him (Isaiah 53.5). Christ’s death purchases for us forgiveness, a right relationship with God, a fresh start, God’s supernatural help to overcome our struggles with sin, and a permanent home in heaven that will never be taken away!

Jesus Christ died to save sinners…even sinners like you. His job is done. That is the best news a person could ever hear! But you must respond. You must lay hold of this free gift by faith. What that means is this: You must rest in Jesus. You must stop running from God…and run to the care and provision of Jesus. And, if you are the religious type, you must stop trying to save yourself with good deeds, or religious activity…and rest in Jesus’ good deeds on your behalf! He is fully capable of rescuing you and restoring you to God. He does not need your help. But He will only perform the rescue when you stop running from Him…and stop striving to save yourself and rest in Him! Salvation does not depend on the man who wills, or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy (Romans 9.16). So, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved (Acts 16.31)!

A Comedy about Hurricane Katrina?

I noticed that Christianity Today had a full-cover advertisement pushing the new flick Evan Almighty. It seems even the secular world has noticed that the Christian demographic is a movie-making jackpot waiting to happen - just like everybody else (whoda thunkit 50 years ago?).

So I assume that some of you (or maybe some in your church) are planning on seeing Evan Almighty. Shame on you (or them).

Among the many reasons why Christians should abhor this movie (blasphemy, the playing-God motif, Morgan Freeman's god-character and the violation of the second commandment, etc.)...imagine this: Someone makes a comedy about the Tsunami, or Hurricane Katrina. Wouldn't seem very appropriate would it? Even the pagans would protest such a film. Yet, next month, 'Christians' will line up by the thousands next month to see a comedy making light of the greatest catastrophe in human history.

Kind of makes you think we don't really believe all that 'Flood stuff' doesn't it? I guarantee you that is the message the world is getting.

May 21, 2007

Bad News

Bad news?’ you ask. ‘I thought Christianity was supposed to offer good news!’ Of course it does…and don’t worry, we’ll get there. But before a life boat appears very useful to us, we have to realize that we have fallen overboard. And before the good news will have the poignancy that it ought, we have to hear the bad news. And there is bad news…

The Bible says that all human beings are, by nature, sinners (Romans 3.10-11). And our experience bears this out. Each of us has observed the fact that even small children (who seem hardly know right from wrong) figure out quite quickly how to defy mommy and daddy! No one has to teach them how to throw a fit, or hit their brother, or lie about it when they get caught. So, to say that human beings are naturally good not only denies the Bible, but our common human experience. We are born selfish. We are born knowing how to sin…and wanting to sin. And, as adults, these innate qualities continue to cling to us like filthy axle-grease. We still pitch fits (perhaps more sophisticatedly, but fits nonetheless!) when we do not get what we want. In our actions, and in the secret places of our minds, every one of us lives a life in defiance, sometimes of the laws of the land, and other times of the laws of our own conscience. All of us find ourselves, at times, deliberately doing that which we know is plain wrong. Why? Because we’re born sinners!

But the major problem comes when we realize that we are not simply sinning against the laws of the land or the laws of our own consciences…but against the laws of God! St. Paul described the human condition like this: Even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks (Romans 1.21). That’s pretty accurate isn’t it? All of us know that there is a God out there (Romans 1.20). We see Him evidenced in the created order. And our moral consciences also inform us that there is a God who has set certain moral principles in place for all his creatures (everyone knows, innately, that certain things are right, and others wrong…and that knowledge is from God). Yet each of us ignores, dishonors, and outright disobeys what we know of this God. Examine your own heart and you will find this is true.

God’s response to such defiance? The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth (Romans 1.18). We suppress the truth, Paul says. We deliberately ignore God, His commands, and His authority. We have thumbed our nose at our Creator! And God has, therefore, shut the door on relationship with us, and is preparing eternal punishment for His rebellious creatures!

That is the bad news. It is awful news! We are sinners and there is, literally, hell to pay. But once we have come to terms with our rebellion, we are candidates to hear and love the good news…namely that “Christ died for sins, once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring us to God” (1 Peter 3.18). Have you come to believe the good news? Have you let Christ bring you to God?

Freedom of Speech

OK. After several months 'I-cannot-post-comments-on-your-blog' type emails to the complaint department...I have finally gotten around to changing the settings so that anyone (even those of you are are not citizens of the Google Empire) can leave a login name needed.

If you want to respond to a post, just click on the "comments" link at the bottom and type away!

It really is now a free country!

May 14, 2007

Who is Jesus?

A great teacher? Founder of the world’s largest organized religion? Prophet? Humanitarian? All of these descriptions have been attached to Jesus Christ of Nazareth through the years. And none of them without warrant. For Jesus did teach like no one ever taught. Millions of people world-wide do claim Him as the founder of their faith. And Jesus did care for humanity with a power and a compassion unparalleled in history. But none of these man-made descriptions fully captures the essence of the true man, Jesus. So who, really, is Jesus? Let’s let Him answer the question Himself.

Jesus claimed to be God Himself. He took on prerogative that belong only to God Himself (e.g. forgiving sins, Mark 2.5). He claimed to be one with God, the Father (John 10.30). He commended the apostle Thomas for calling Him “My Lord and my God” (John 20.28). And He was constantly referring to Himself by God’s personal name, “I AM” (John 4.26, 8.58, 18.6, etc.). And yet…

Jesus also claimed to be fully human. Even after His resurrection, He made it clear that He was flesh and blood, just like us: “See My hands and feet…touch Me and see Me, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see” (Luke 24.39). Surely his agonizing death, along with the testimony of eye-witnesses, also prove clearly that Jesus was fully human just like you and I.

How can a person be both fully God and fully man? The question is beyond full comprehension. But we get some clear insight when we read about the virgin birth of Jesus (Luke 1-2). Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit (and thus is fully God), and yet was born of Mary, a Jewish woman (and thus is fully human).

And why are these things important—and why is Jesus Himself so important? Because…

Jesus claimed to be the only hope for man’s salvation. He claimed that no one (no one!) can know God unless they come to God through Him (John 14.6)! Why? Because all of us are sinners—intentionally ignorant of God and rejecting our innate knowledge of Him (Romans 1.21). Yet Christ came to bring sinners back to right relationship with God; to give His life as a ransom payment for our sins (Mark 10.45); and thus, to grant us eternal life (John 3.16) in place of the judgment we deserve.

Being fully God, Jesus had no sins of His own for which He had to die (Hebrews 4.15)—and was, therefore, spiritually capable to die for ours. And being fully human, Jesus was physically capable of entering into the physical death that our sins deserve. No other character on the pages of human history claimed to be capable of dying for the sins of the world. But Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man, not only claimed the ability, but demonstrated the willingness to do so.

Amazing claims! And Jesus not only made them, but proved them by raising Himself from the dead!

May 4, 2007

Second-Hand Faith

The first time Tobey and I visited Cincinnati, a few of you turned us onto to Valley Thrift Store. If I remember correctly, it was ‘Half-Price Monday’ or something like that. What a find! We’ve gone back again and again. In fact, on my way to Ethiopia, I bought a couple of $70 dress shirts for $5 each! Second-hand clothing can be a real blessing!

But there are some things you don’t ever want second-hand—toothbrushes, engagement rings, syringes, cigarette smoke…and faith! Faith is never any good when it is second hand. Faith cannot be handed down from generation to generation, or from one friend to another, like a suit-jacket. Each person must believe on Christ for himself. So how is it that so many people (particularly young people) are content with second-hand faith? How is it that so many believe that all is well because their parents believed, and brought them to church, and taught them wrong from right? All this is wonderful…but it doesn’t make a person a believer!

Let’s do a case-study of one Old Testament second-hander: Joash, king of Judah (2 Chronicles 23-24). Joash became king when he was seven years old. Of course, with such a young king, the nation needed a steady, faithful man who could act as regent while Joash grew up and learned how to act like a king. And God provided such a man—Jehoiada, the priest. As I read his story this week, it seemed to me that Jehoiada was one of the most exemplary characters in the Bible. He ruled well in Joash’s stead. He led the people back to the LORD. He raised Joash and taught him the ways of God. And Joash obeyed the Lord—restoring the broken-down Temple and serving well as king.

In fact, according to 2 Chronicles 24.2, “Joash did what was right in the sight of the LORD all the days of Jehoiada the priest” (italics mine). Now those italicized words should signal to you that something must have changed once “the days of Jehoiada the priest” were ended. And something did change. 2 Chronicles 24.17-19 tell us that once Jehoiada was dead, Joash began to listen to ungodly counsel and eventually turned against the LORD altogether—finally murdering Jehoiada’s son because he dared to point out the king’s unfaithfulness.

How could a man who started so well, finish in such a mess? One answer: His faith was second hand. His devotion, it seems, was more toward Jehoiada the priest, than toward Jehoiada’s God. And so, like many young-people whose religion is more out of duty to their parents than out of love to Jesus, he crumbled when Jehoiada died.

Isn’t this why so many young people leave the church when they go off to college, or get their own place? They are no longer under the watchful eye of their parents. If their faith was really in Jesus, they would remain and serve the LORD. But, as it is, their religion is second-hand. They are only doing it because mom and dad are watching. But let mom and dad die…or let the child be out from under the roof…and what appeared to be faith soon appears to be falsehood.

So what must we do? Well, as parents (or grandparents, pastors, SS teachers, etc.) we must constantly point away from ourselves and to Christ. We must plead with young people to be sure that their devotion is directed toward Him, and not toward us. And, if you find that you are a second-hander yourself…seek Christ while He may be found! Realize that no one else’s faith can save you. Make sure that you are devoted to, in love with, and believing in Christ for yourself.

May 3, 2007


Listen to the report (about 60 minutes including audience Q&A) by going to the PRBC Website and scrolling down to the "Out of Africa" paragraph at the bottom of the page. Then follow the link...

May 1, 2007

Ethiopia - A Wrap

Here is a write-up I did for folks who were relatively unfamiliar with what Anthony is doing in Ethiopia...and why Scott and I went. Most of it is probably familiar to all of you...but maybe it will be something you can print up and use to remind yourself to pray over the next two years (and more!

Over the last two weeks of April, a fellow pastor (Scott Duley) and I traveled to Ethiopia to assist missionary Anthony Mathenia in the training of 80 church-planting pastor trainees. In this country whose landmass is approximately twice that of Texas, there are over 80 million people in 80-plus different tribes. Official statistics show that roughly half the population is Ethiopian Orthodox and about a third Muslim. Actual on-the-ground estimates say that the number of Muslims is closer to 40% and growing.

In the midst of this largely unbelieving populous sits the evangelical community. The believers we worked among are strong in many respects. There seems to be an absolute certainty about the exclusive claims of Jesus. The singing in our worship times was always done with great enthusiasm. There was a servant spirit evident everywhere. The men were eager to learn and usually on the edge of their seats to drink in the teaching of the Word. And (how encouraging!) the director of education (Alem, pictured below) for the Addis Kidan Baptist Church (the denomination with whom we worked) said to us on the second day: “You are reformed theologians! I like reformed theology!”

Amid these encouraging signs, there are definite areas for concern and prayer among the evangelicals in Ethiopia. The residue of several false ideologies still clings to a significant number of believers. The Orthodox background of many of the believers has left behind (in only a few of the men, it seemed) a false dichotomy between Old and New Testaments…almost as though God changed His personality between the two. The surrounding pagan culture has also left behind a whole host of tangled knots in the area of sexual ethics—particularly in the more rural communities. Western culture has bred an unhealthy emphasis on theological education in English—and this in a country where only 36% of the people are literate in their own language (Amharic)! In addition, there is a great need to strengthen many of the pastors in the areas of ecclesiology, robust hymnody, expositional preaching, and the doctrine of sin.

All these facts point to one great need—sound, careful, reformed theological training in the Amharic tongue. Enter Anthony Mathenia. Anthony has been traveling to Ethiopia for the last seven years. Two years ago, he and his family made the capital city, Addis Ababa, their permanent home. His pursuit? Amharic-based theological training for local pastors and trainees. This past winter, the Addis Kidan Baptist Church approached him with an offer. “We have 70-plus men who have committed, if we can provide them theological training, to plant churches, two-by-two all over unreached Ethiopia. Would you design and head up the training program?”

Would he ever! The result of that initial meeting has been Pastor’s Training Institute. PTI will consist of eight 2-week training modules over a two-year span. The trainees are housed and fed through a local church in Addis Ababa, and attend Institute classes for six hours a day, five days a week. The curriculum is arranged systematically, beginning with the doctrine of God and moving forward the way any systematic theology text-book would. Interspersed are practical seminars and sermons as well. For this first two-year round of PTI, the training will be mostly done by English speakers and translated into Amharic by able men.

Scott and I traveled from the US in April to be the inaugural teachers at PTI. Scott taught the Doctrine of God, while I taught the Sermon on the Mount (taken out of the systematic order because I also taught it as a Christian Ethics class in the English-based Baptist Bible School). The hope is that Scott’s class began the men on a sound, God-centered footing heading into the rest of the systematics courses. The Sermon on the Mount, we hope, served a dual purpose: as a solid course in Christian ethics; and as a practical example of the fruitfulness and process of expositional preaching. The men seemed to listen eagerly, intently, and with teachable hearts. Many of their questions were incredibly perceptive. The Spirit was surely at work on behalf of Christ’s church in Ethiopia.

Eventually, Anthony would like for PTI to transition completely into the Amharic language. This will require his own mastery of the language, as well as selecting and training of a group of Ethiopian men who will become the instructors in a long-term Amharic PTI. Would you pray with us about all that the Lord is so graciously doing in Ethiopia? A few requests…

  1. Successful long-term progression to an all-Amharic based PTI.
  2. The next PTI module happens the last week of May and first week of June (Jordan Thomas and Nathan Sawyer of Memphis, TN teaching).
  3. Lasting fruit through the eventual planting of up to 40 Christ-centered churches in the unreached corners of Ethiopia!
  4. Hosting logistics, travel, finances, and other nuts and bolts the Mathenia’s will be dealing with as they organize round after round of PTI.

Thank you for your interest and prayers. I may stick an audio version of all of this (and more) on the blog sometime in the next few days...