Gritty wisdom for church planters

Over at Raw Christianity Gunner is posting a series called Church Planting Among the Unreached: Gritty Wisdom with Brad Buser. It’s a recounting of some notes he took during one of Buser’s classes when he was at The Master’s College.

He writes:

Listen to people with scars. That’s become a motto of mine. Brad Buser has scars. In processing some old files recently, I came across one of his handouts from a class on Cross-Cultural Church Planting at The Master’s College around 2004. I never took the course, but Brad and his teaching were so well received by the students who took the course that I sat in on several sessions during my time on staff. The handout was entitled “Ministry Team Startup Talk,” a title that completely understates the priceless value of what Brad had to say. Brad’s teaching is rich in experience, incomparably honest, and fiercely missional (before missional was cool). The outline contains 20 points, and I’ll be sharing five at a time in coming days.

I remember Buser speaking at one of my church gatherings when I was in college, and being deeply moved. This guy has something to say worth hearing. Stop by and get some of the time-tested wisdom from a missionary who’s been-there-done-that.

Part One (Points 1-5)

Part Two (Points 6-10)

Part Three (Points 11-15)

Part Four (16-20)

Tyson Larson: One year later

Sometimes writing is therapeutic for me. So last June I wrote some blogs about Tyson’s death and the surrounding events. Out of all the posts I’ve written, these are still the most read posts– even a year later. Apparently, no one has forgotten Tyson. I think it’s safe to say no one ever will.

They say hindsight is always 20/20. A year later, looking back, it doesn’t look 20/20. It seems like a haze of confusion, fear, and sorrow. No one can say, “Ah! Now I know the reason for Ty’s death!” It’s not like that. We simply move on, knowing that clarity isn’t for us at this point in time. Ty has clarity. We won’t have clarity until we meet him, and Jesus gathers us together, puts a little one on his knee and tells the great story of all he accomplished through this. Until then, we live by faith, not sight.

And though the hindsight isn’t quite clear the lessons we’ve learned are beyond number. They’re not quantifiable. If you asked me what I learned I’d probably reflect and say I’m not too sure– but I’d go on to list the ways I’m different. Ty’s death has taught us all a little more about life, about reality, about this fallen world, about God, about human-ness, about ourselves.

The most encouraging part of all this was the Larson family. In the darkest times of despair, there eyes were watching God. They reminded the watching world that God is enough; Christ is sufficient– we can lose it all here on earth, and still have a reason to rejoice. Hallelujah, all I have is Christ.

Praise be to our God, the only true God, who gives life and takes it away, who sets up kings and brings them down, who rules over every last floating molecule in the solar system, who did not let this happen in vain. Praise be to God who is not a God of absurdity, vanity, or futility. Praise be to him who comforts us in our affliction, guides us through our pain, who purchased a happy eternity for all who believe through Christ’s death on the cross. This is all our hope.

“Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. my flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Ps. 73:25-26).

Here is Lindsey’s blog that she wrote yesterday: Who Was Tyson? Read this.

Here are the blogs that I wrote last year.

  1. Tyson Larson: No Guilt in Life, No Fear in Death
  2. Tyson Larson: Bringing Us All Back Together Again
  3. Tyson Larson: What We’ve Learned
  4. Lindsey Larson: Grace for One Day at a Time
  5. One Million Years Later

Here is my sister’s blog that she wrote yesterday: Remembering Tyson

Here’s my wife Ashley’s blog: A Year Ago Today.

God’s power upholds your faith

[3] Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, [4] to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, [5] who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

The “who” in verse 5 refers back to the “us” in verse 3.

That means that those who have been born again through the resurrection of Jesus Christ are being guarded by God’s power through faith.

I haven’t gotten to the bottom of this, but it fascinates me that God preserves believers through their faith. Believers have the infinite might of God upholding their faith. Your faith will never die, because the power behind it is God’s power.

It’s another reason we shouldn’t put our faith in faith, but rather our faith should be in the God of our faith.

Kapeesh?

Some words to a scared, dying man

Clement Read Vaughan, writing to his old friend who was about to die and fearing death, wondering if he’d have enough faith to die well. He gave the metaphor of a traveler coming to a chasm over which a bridge was built:

What does he do to breed confidence in the bridge? He looks at the bridge; he gets down and examines it. He don’t [sic]  stand at the bridge-head and turn his thoughts curiously in on his own mind to see if he has confidence in the bridge. If his examination of the bridge gives him a certain amount of confidence, and yet he wants more, how does he make his faith grow? Why, in the same way; he still continues to examine the bridge. Now, my dear old man, let your faith take care of itself for awhile, and you just think of what you are allowed to trust in. Think of the Master’s power, think of his love; think how he is interested in the soul that searches for him, and will not be comforted until he finds him. Think of what he has done, his work. That blood of his is mightier than all the sins of all the sinners that ever lived. Don’t you think it will master yours?…

Now, dear old friend, I have done to you just what I would want you to do to me if I were lying in your place. The great theologian, after all, is just like any other one of God’s children, and the simple gospel talked to him is just as essential as it is to a milk-maid of a plow-boy. May God give you grace, not to lay too much stress on your faith, but to grasp the great ground of confidence, Christ, and all his work and all his personal fitness to be a sinner’s refuge. Faith is only an eye to see him. I have been praying that God would quiet your pains as you advance, and enable you to see the gladness of the gospel at every step. Good-bye. God be with you as he will. Think of the Bridge!

Your brother,

C.R.V.

From Why Johnny Can’t Preach: The Media Have Shaped the Messengers by T. David Gordon, cited from The Life And Letters Of Robert Lewis Dabney (1903), by Thomas Cary Johnson

Put faith in Christ, not faith in faith.

I tend to be an introspective person. This is not a virtue or a vice; it’s simply the way God made me, and it’s complete with its benefits and struggles. Sometimes I wish I was different (something introverts do a lot), but, by God’s grace, I am what I am, and I must make do with what I’ve got.

Believe it or not, a tweet has rattled my little introverted world of self-examination. Earlier this week, Desiring God hosted a conference for pastors on the topic of prayer. Typical of these kinds of conferences, my twitter feed was bombarded with listeners tweeting good quotes from the messages. The little 140 character note that stayed with me was not a quote from any of the speakers themselves. It was a quote from the long-dead Robert Murray McCheyne:

“For every one look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ.”

I am guilty of abusing 1 Corinthians 13:5 “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith.” I’ve used that as an excuse to constantly and continually dwell upon me. Scrutinizing my every action and motivation; dissecting every word and deed. I dwell more on my faith than my Christ. And the result is a very self-centered and self-belittling lifestyle that paralyzes forward progress in Christ.

Our hope is not in faith, it’s in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the source, the sustenance, and the satisfaction of our lives. The constant need to examine my faith, examine my faith, examine my faith— is rooted it self-trust. The underlying assumption is that it’s my faith that earns God’s smile, completely forgetting that faith itself is a gift from God (Eph. 2:8-10). We can’t trust our faith, it’s often feeble and frail. What we can trust is a strong, faithful, merciful Savior. Our hope is not in faith. It’s in Christ.

I’ve thought of a few signs that might mean you’re putting faith in faith instead of Christ, or that you’re looking to closely at yourself instead of Christ:

  • You live with a low-level constant tinge of guilt, that you’re not doing enough.
  • You doubt your ability to overcome sin issues in your life.
  • You sink into depression you feel your faith is weak.

Consider this quote by A.W. Pink that I came across in his old book Spiritual Growth:

“Nor are the justified bidden to ‘live upon their faith,’ though many try to do so. No, the believer is to live upon Christ, yet it is only by faith that he can do so. Let us be as simple as possible: I break my fast with food, yet I partake of that food by means of a spoon. I feed myself, yet it is the food and not the spoon I eat…The Christian makes a serious blunder when he attempts to live upon the faith he fancies he can find or feel within himself: rather he is to feed upon the Word, and this he does on the Word, and this he does only so far as his faith is operative– as faith lays hold of and appropriates its holy and blessed contents.”

To grow in faith, look to Christ, not to faith!

Eternity is tomorrow

How would you live your life today if you knew you’d step into eternity tomorrow?

Or, to put it more practically, how would you live your life if you really believed in eternal rewards and eternal consequences?

For example, I believe (have an intellectual conviction) that winsome evangelism in the name of Christ for the glory of God will be rewarded. I believe that those that suffer the embarrassment of evangelism will say, in the end, that it was totally worth it. I believe that in eternity we will only regret the times we passed up the opportunity to speak the truth in love.

I believe those things.

What keeps me from acting on them?

Essentially, it’s unbelief.

My head believes them, but my heart isn’t so sure. Authentic belief described in the Bible results in obedience. Faith creates action. Belief produces movement.

My only conclusion is that this intellectualism has not reached the deep recesses of my heart. God, help me see the brilliant reward of taking risks to expand your Kingdom.

Consider it Pure Joy

I’m getting ready to teach on James 1:1-4 this Sunday. I’ve always loved this passage. On gloomy days when hope seemed to escape me and despair imposed its grip on my joy, I’d live here:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

The desperate, fragile faith can hold on to these massive, mountainous promises. From the jutting peak of James 1:2-4 a worn down, weary saint can look past the valleys of tribulation and see the horizon line of stability, security, and restoration that is promised to the tired traveler. The air up here is fresh and life-giving; the cold water restores the soul. The beauty is astounding. We need to go here, daily, lest we think that life consists of traffic jams, car horns, and brake lights.

God isn’t that small. There’s a much bigger story going on here.

Keep your eye on the horizon. Life is coming.

Thoughts on Spiritual Wisdom

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.

Colossians 1:9-11

It’s hard to imagine knowing God’s will without having spiritual wisdom and understanding, but I think Paul’s extra words to modify this knowledge are necessary, because knowledge and wisdom are two distinct things. Knowledge has to do with facts. Wisdom has to do with applying facts to lifestyle. Knowledge of God’s will without spiritual wisdom is incomplete. Knowing God’s will without the wisdom to live it out is sin—James agrees: “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (4:17).  Knowledge without wisdom can only lead to pride (1 Cor. 8:1). Though knowledge is absolutely necessary for wisdom—so much so that in most of Paul’s prayers he asks for it specifically—it is not complete without the wisdom and understanding that puts it all together and translates it into action.

Spiritual wisdom essentially  is the ability to see reality. That doesn’t explain what I mean very well because reality can be a very ambiguous term. Hopefully this will clear up what I mean: “for we walk by faith, not by sight” — real faith has eyes to see the spiritual reality that our physical eyes cannot see. It sees ultimate reality. Abraham went to live in a foreign land because we was “looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10)– and that was the ultimate, absolute reality. His physical eyes couldn’t see heaven, but his spiritual eyes could—that’s faith. Wisdom walks like that. We walk by faith, not by sight.

Not only does faith see spiritual reality; it loves spiritual reality.  It sees the beauty of God himself and pursues him. It sees the beauty of the unseen, unfulfilled promises of God and pursues them.  It seeks the reward of obedience. It is enamored and overwhelmed with God’s glory. Faith enables our spiritual tongue to taste the sweetest morsel in all the universe—and thus we become enthralled with this taste that we continually come back to it for more. That’s what the Psalmist means when he bids us “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8). Spiritual wisdom is grounded in a faith that sees the fullness of reality—including the glorious goodness of our Lord Jesus Christ and the eternal reward.

Therefore the exhortation that Paul gives later on in Colossians “seek things that are above, where Christ is” is not only a call to duty. It is like a treasure map to the born-again believer.  It is like giving advice for the treasure hunters out there—like saying if you want more of the Treasure, do this: learn to think about the spiritual things in heaven! Wean yourself from being so focused on the temporary, earthly things. Think of sitting next to Christ on his throne! Think of eternity with Him! Faith can see those things. Faith loves those things. Faith is the foundation of the wisdom that sees the fullness of this reality and lives to attain its highest reward in heaven. “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Heb 11:6).  Central to real faith is the belief that there is a beautiful spiritual reality for those who seek God. There is a reward—and the spiritually wise man wants it. And he doesn’t act out of duty, he acts out of joy. C.S. Lewis said, “A perfect man would never act from sense of duty; he’d always want the right thing more than the wrong one.” A man with perfect spiritual wisdom would have spiritual eyes to see reality for what it is, and thus would always want the right thing more than the wrong one.

So in recap, spiritual wisdom is eyes that see the real, eternal, and spiritual consequences of every action (or non-action) and thus lives to attain the highest reward in heaven. That is why, as Paul shows in the verse above, that spiritual wisdom results in “walking in a manner worthy of the Lord.”

A Spiritual Tour

I made a discovery last year when I was studying Hebrews 11:6

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because everyone that comes to him must believe that he exists and that rewards those who earnestly seek him”

I concluded that there were two elements that made Christian faith real: 1) believing in God and 2) believing that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

When I discoverered that faith involves believing and relentlessly pursuing a reward, it mezmorized me.  The idea that our seeking a reward for ourselves from God was actually not only glorifying to God but unconditionally central to Christian faith (without which it is impossible to please God) is one of the most freeing truths I have found in scripture.  It led me to go deeper, and seek the connections of faith and reward, and how they are intertwined.

I did a series on it over the summer.  We talked about Christian self-denial, which I explained as giving up something good now for something infinitely better in the future.  We talked about sacrifice.  And we ended there.

My spiritual nose sensed there was something more, something deeper– but I couldn’t figure it out.  Eventually, as ministry goes, we moved on to different subjects.  I thought my teaching on faith and its relation to reward was complete.

And then I started reading John Piper’s The Purifying Power of Living by Faith in Future Grace. And it baffled me.

It’s like I was walking along in a forest, and found an old, gnarled off-shoot path in the forest, dark and unpromising but a path nonetheless.  I explored it, but potholes and low hanging branches prevented me from going in too deep.

So I went back to the main path, only to find expert forest explorer and tour guide John Piper with his long, cutting machette and his hemp hat, saying, “Wait! Come back! I’ve found gold!”

And he takes down the path I had previously abandoned and points out beauties and I had imagined but had never seen with my own eyes.  He talks about how the plants and trees and birds and butterflies all live together in harmony.  He recites the names of the trees as if they were old friends.  He winks at the blue jay as it whistles by.  And at the end of the path there is a river, with gold sparkling in the current.  And then he stops and says, “Enjoy. I must find another.”

That is what Future Grace has been to me so far.  So I commend it to you.

Future Grace