Who Will I Vote For?

May 20, 2016

In this country, we citizens have the great and – considering the history of the world – the unusual privilege of having a role in choosing who will govern us. As Christians, we are foreigners, exiles, strangers in this world. We are ambassadors from our home country, serving our rightful King (2 Corinthians 5:20). Our hope is in Him, not in any political figure or movement. However, during this period of our exile, God commands us, like the ancient Israelites in Babylon, as foreigners and strangers to  “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7). One way we work for the welfare of our city and country is through this privilege of voting. Surely we are to vote wisely, prayerfully, and responsibly.

If you spend any time at all on social media, you’ve come across many statements recently, saying, “I will never vote for so-and-so.” A number of you have asked me who I intend to vote for when the candidates are so disappointing. Here is my answer:

  • I will gladly vote for judges in North Carolina who will uphold the law as written and make decisions with wisdom and equity.
  • I will gladly vote for legislators who will represent their constituents faithfully, and will make laws that will improve our country and state.
  • I will gladly vote for school board members and town council members who will help our town to serve its community – especially its children – well.

“But, Coty,” you say, “I want to know which presidential candidate you’ll vote for.” That’s my point. Way too much of the discussion has been about the presidential candidates – whether that discussion has been supporting one candidate or another, or bemoaning the choices we have. There are fine men and women running for office! Find them and support them! And these other offices – collectively if not individually – have more impact on our day-to-day lives than the president of the United States.

We are not electing as president a king with absolute authority. We are electing a man or woman whose role is governed by a constitution and limited both by other branches of government and by state and local governments. So, if you’re dissatisfied with the presidential candidates, take that much more seriously your responsibility to vote for candidates for other offices. Then joyfully support those who will do an excellent job.

In North Carolina, we have a primary election June 7. Neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump will be on the ballot. Vote! Especially consider carefully those running for the position of judge on the North Carolina Supreme Court.

As for president: We have almost six months to go before the November election. While we should not vote for a presidential candidate based on his or her stand on one issue, that stand on a single issue can disqualify a candidate from the office (see this post, written during the 2008 campaign). Perhaps both major party candidates in the end will show themselves to be disqualified. Perhaps one candidate or another will grow and change over the next few months and become much more acceptable. Perhaps one or both conventions will give us a surprise. Or, perhaps there will be a viable third party candidate. (Indeed, if in the next few months a pollster asks me who I would vote for if the election were today, I will give the name of whatever third party candidate is most likely to achieve the 15% support required to gain entrance to the presidential debates. In my view, our country would be much better off if there were a third voice in those debates.)

So, in my opinion, it’s much too early to make declarations about who you will never vote for. Pray. Find candidates you can gladly, enthusiastically support. Vote. Seek the welfare of this country of our exile.

 

What is T4T?

May 13, 2016

What is T4T?

If you are a part of Desiring God Church for long, you will hear the phrase “reproducing discipleship,” and the acronym, “T4T.” You may also be aware of debates within the wider evangelical church about whether T4T and church planting movements are biblical.

The name “T4T” stands for “Training for Trainers.” The name was coined by a missionary in southeastern China, Ying Kai, as he tried to describe a discipleship and church planting movement in which those who come to faith are trained immediately to share their faith with unbelievers in their circle of relationships. The movement that developed subsequently saw at least a couple of million people come to faith and gather in multiplying house churches in a short period of time. In this movement, all new believers were taught one way to share the Gospel, and one introductory set of Bible stories.

Praise God for that movement to Christ. But that history of the term “T4T” has led to misconceptions about its core principles. So let’s begin by making four “Not Statements” about T4T.

  • First, T4T does not consist of using a particular Gospel presentation, or a particular set of discipleship materials.
  • Second, T4T does not contend that if we follow the right program, many people will come to faith and many churches will be planted quickly. Indeed, T4T is not really about the number or speed of conversions.
  • Third, T4T is not contending that the church gathering in worship is unimportant, or that preaching is unimportant.
  • Fourth, T4T is not contending that house churches are better than churches that meet in church buildings.

Yes, some practitioners of T4T at times have spoken as if one or another of those “Not Statements” is true. But T4T does not imply any of them.

Instead, T4T begins with these five biblical foundations. We all should begin with these same foundations whenever we consider our role as God’s agents of change in the world:

  • First, we start with the Word of God. The Word and only the Word is authoritative; the Word is able to make us wise unto salvation; the Word will guide us, instruct us, rebuke us, train us, and correct us so that we are equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:15-17).
  • Second, all nations must hear the Gospel. We must take God’s message to every people group – not only to those like ourselves, but to every tribe and tongue and people and nation. For “This gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14). Thus, whatever evangelism, discipleship, and church planting strategy we devise must at least have the potential to reach every people group.
  • Third, there is no other name than Jesus Christ by which men must be saved (Acts 4:12). Specifically, no program, no formula, no technique has ever saved anyone.
  • Fourth: God the Holy Spirit is the agent of change, miraculously shining the light of His glory in our hearts, thus giving us new life by grace through faith in Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6). God converts people, not us. We bear witness. We testify. We must do so. But only a miracle brings people to faith.
  • So, fifth: We must pray diligently, persistently, unceasingly for God to do that great work. Even the Apostle Paul tells others they must help him by prayer (2 Corinthians 1:11).

T4T rightly emphasizes those five truths, which are common to all biblically solid evangelism and missions. Always interpret missionary accounts of church planting movements and techniques used in light of those biblical truths.

But in addition to those five truths, the proponents of T4T emphasize four additional biblical truths, arguing that these have often been overlooked in the church.

First: “Go!” not “Come!” Our Lord tells us in the Great Commission:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you (Matthew 28:19-20a).

Too often our churches have thought of evangelism in terms of inviting unbelievers to an evangelistic service, or to an evangelist’s crusade. Praise God, some come to faith through such events. But our estimates in Charlotte are that somewhere between 40% and 60% of the population – including 100% of some people groups – will never come to an evangelistic event. Our Lord tells us to go to them, and we must do so. An evangelism and church planting strategy for a city does not even have the potential to reach all people groups unless it includes our going.

Second: “Disciples” not “converts.” Jesus tells us to make disciples. We are to teach new believers not only all that Jesus commands, but how to obey all that He commands. This implies practice and repetition; this implies looking at Scripture and asking how to obey it, then after a period of time looking back, being accountable, and seeing if I did obey. This also implies continuing in relationship with the person who has come to faith through my witness, helping him or her to become self-feeding from the Word, and day by day to become a more obedient follower of Jesus.

Third: Disciples make disciples. If that new believer is to learn to obey all that Jesus commands, he must learn how to make disciples of all nations – for Jesus commands that! So the new believer must learn to share the Gospel, to share the story of what great things God has done for him, and to lead others to share the Gospel and their story. So T4T emphasizes helping brand new believers to learn and practice a simple Gospel presentation, and then to learn and practice how to lead others in the same steps of discipleship they themselves have gone through.

The New Testament tells us of brand new believers whom God uses as evangelists, such as the woman at the well (John 4:1-42) and the man who had had a legion of demons (Mark 5:1-20). In the latter case, just hours after his healing, Jesus tells the man not to accompany Him. Instead He commands him: “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you” (Mark 5:19).

Many in our churches think they are not gifted in evangelism, and use that as an excuse for not sharing. T4T rightly emphasizes that we all share in the privilege and responsibility of sharing the Gospel – even while we value those with evangelistic gifts. A gifted evangelist may know 100 ways to share Gospel. He or she can adjust the presentation, respond to questions, and switch method depending on the listener’s response. A new believer, on the other hand, is probably better off knowing only one Gospel presentation. But he needs to know that one well.

Fourth and finally: Disciples gather into churches. As people come to faith, as they are taught to obey all that Jesus commands, they must become part of a church. Many of us in the American church have assumed that when someone local comes to faith, that new believer should become part of the same church as the one who spoke the Gospel to him. But that’s an extra-biblical assumption. Instead, T4T emphasizes that we should ponder the question: What should church look like for this new believer? And part of the answer to that question is: What church structure will help this new believer to continue to grow in obeying all that Jesus commands – including the command to go and make disciples? That is: What will keep the reproduction process going? If this new believer immediately shares the Gospel with friends and relatives who also come to faith, one possibility to consider is the beginning of a house church – with the initial evangelist continuing to invest in building up this new believer in understanding what a church is biblically, and being able to teach and share with those he has brought to faith.

Some are disturbed by the notion that a new believer could lead a church. But consider Acts 14. Paul and Barnabas spend a little time in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra. People come to faith, but opponents become stirred up also, and they drive out the apostles. But then – perhaps only a few weeks later, at most a few months – Paul and Barnabas return, and appoint elders for them in every church (Acts 14:23). They appoint as elders men who had not been believers for more than a few months.

So the reproducing discipleship process called T4T is built on foundational principles common to all biblical evangelism. T4T emphasizes four other biblical principles which also should characterize our disciplemaking. I encourage you, like the faithful Bereans, to search the Scriptures and see if these things are true (Acts 17:11) – and then to go, make disciples who make disciples, and gather them into disciple-making churches.

(For a book-length examination of the biblical foundations of T4T and church planting movements, see Steve Addison, What Jesus Started: Joining the Movement, Changing the World.)

The Business of Preaching

May 12, 2016

“”The business of preaching is not merely to make the hearer feel a little happier while he is listening or while he is singing particular hymns; it is not meant to be a way of producing an atmosphere of comfort. If I do that I am a quack, and am a very false friend indeed. No, the business of preaching is to teach you to think. We may have to be severe, to chastise you, and to show you that your thinking has been altogether wrong. And not only so, but also to show you that you have not grasped the doctrines, because the comfort that is given by them is a deduction drawn as the result of working them out for yourselves.” Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans 8:17-39 – The Final Perseverance of the Saints, p. 24.

Similarly, Ray Stedman from “The Glory of Preaching,” presented at the 1982 Congress on the Bible: “It is the business of the preacher to change the total viewpoint about life of every member of his congregation, and to challenge the secular illusions of our day, and strip them of their deceitfulness, and show people how human wisdom fails, . . . and point out to them what that failure is doing to them if they follow it. The instrument is the exposition and proclamation of these mysteries of God.”

Have You Tasted That the Lord is Good?

May 5, 2016

The Apostle Peter writes:

Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation– if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1 Peter 2:2-3)

Babies love their mothers’ milk. They grow by it. So they long for it. They cry for it. They become anxious when they go for lengthy times without it. They know very little else; but babies know they need that precious milk. They know it is good. They know their mother who feeds them is good.

Peter tells us we have been born again through God’s word, God’s Gospel, God’s Good News that endures forever and grants life (1 Peter 1:23-25). This is the pure spiritual milk that feeds and nourishes us. Thus, like little babies, we must long for that Word – if we have really tasted that Jesus is good.

So note: Peter is identifying two events with each other: Our salvation; and our tasting that Jesus is good. There is no salvation without our tasting that Jesus is good, without our tasting that God is for us, that God is supremely valuable. We must hear this word; we must believe it; and we must take it to heart. We must taste.

What, then, does “taste that the Lord is good” mean?

Peter here alludes directly to Psalm 34:8: “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!”

But hear other Scriptures that say something similar:

I will feast the soul of the priests with abundance, and my people shall be satisfied with my goodness, declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 31:14)

My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.
My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me. (Psalm 63:5-8)

How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! (Psalm 119:103)

The LORD is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him. (Nahum 1:7-8)

Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth!
Serve the LORD with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!
Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!
For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations. (Psalm 100)

These Scriptures all maintain God’s goodness. However, from our human perspective, our Lord often does not appear good. We see natural disasters. We see human tragedies. In our own lives we experience hardship, pain, and suffering. How do we taste that the Lord is good when life tastes bitter?

As we will see on Sunday mornings in the weeks ahead, Paul addresses these questions directly in the second half of Romans 8.

But for today consider the answers that come from Psalm 135 and 145:

Praise the LORD! Praise the name of the LORD, give praise, O servants of the LORD,
who stand in the house of the LORD, in the courts of the house of our God!
Praise the LORD, for the LORD is good; sing to his name, for it is pleasant!
For the LORD has chosen Jacob for himself, Israel as his own possession.
For I know that the LORD is great, and that our Lord is above all gods (Psalm 135:1-5)

Why is God’s Name pleasant to us? Because He has chosen His people. Out of all His creation, He has chosen His church as His precious possession, to declare the excellencies of the One who called us (1 Peter 2:9). And since He is above all gods, no power can snatch us out of His hand. We are His. We are guarded and kept by Him. So while suffering and hardship will come, we can taste that He is good, and rejoice in Who He is.

Then from Psalm 145:

I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever.
Every day I will bless you and praise your name forever and ever.
Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable.
One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.
On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate. . . .
The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
The LORD is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.
All your works shall give thanks to you, O LORD, and all your saints shall bless you!
They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom and tell of your power,
to make known to the children of man your mighty deeds, and the glorious splendor of your kingdom. (Psalm 145:1-5, 8-12)

We taste that He is good in part through reminding ourselves and one another of what He has done. We remember both His mighty acts and His majestic character, and in remembering, meditate on these truths revealed to us through the living and abiding Word of God.

Prompted by those remembrances and meditations, we thank Him – and we make sure those around us know these truths; we make sure they know what we have tasted.

So we taste in part through remembering, reminding, and retelling Who He is and what He has done. We drink in that precious spiritual milk of the Word and, nourished and satisfied, share that milk with others. And that very sharing deepens our experience of tasting that the Lord is good.

So how are your taste buds? Are you tasting each and every day? Do you experience God’s goodness? Do you know Jesus as satisfying and filling?

Taste that He is good!

Runners, To Your Marks; Get Set; Go!

May 5, 2016

“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 1:13

Think about this verse as a daily exercise: Every day, begin by preparing your minds for action. Then throughout the day, be completely sober-minded. This enables you, thirdly, to set your hope fully on the future grace we will receive when Jesus returns.

Before we elaborate on each step, think over this analogy:

Consider each day of living the Christian life as a 400 meter run. Prior to being called to the start, you need to make sure you’re dressed in running clothes. Your shoes must be tied. Your spikes must be tightened. Then, crouched in the blocks before the race starts, you must prepare your mind for action: You have to get ready to make an extreme effort. You must put aside all other thoughts, all distractions. You must focus on the starter, ready to explode as soon as the gun sounds.

Then, throughout the race, you must be “sober-minded.” That is, you must maintain your focus on running well, even as your body screams out that the sprint is too painful. You must relax your shoulders and your jaw, while maintaining your knee lift and efficient form.

Finally, you set your hope on the coming, certain end. The race will seem interminable. The finish line may appear to recede instead of drawing closer. Your legs may feel like lead. But the end is certain. The race will end, and its end will be glorious.

Prepare Your Mind for Action

The King James Version translates this phrase literally, “Gird up the loins of your minds.” In Peter’s day, men normally wore robes or tunics that draped down to their ankles. Imagine trying to run in such clothing! So any time a man had to move quickly, or to engage in difficult labor, he would tie up the robe around his waist. In this way he prepared himself for action.

Similar ideas occur several times in the Old Testament. For example, God tells the Israelites to eat the Passover “with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand” (Exodus 12:11). They are to be ready to move the minute God gives the command.

How do we fulfill this on a day to day basis? How do we prepare ourselves, so we are ready for whatever action God has in store for us?

  • We must remind ourselves of the truths of the Gospel, of the promises of God, of His character, of the work of Jesus Christ, of the Holy Spirit’s presence.
  • We must reflect on how we failed in the fight of faith yesterday, and determine how to depend on God to fight that fight today.
  • We must pray for ourselves, and pray for others, confident that brothers and sisters are praying for us.
  • We must go to the Word, seeking the Spirit’s insight and encouragement, picking out what we will meditate, learn from, and put into practice this day.

Be Completely Sober-Minded

Having been prepared, we must run today’s race. We must maintain a constant vigilance against the distractions that come our way continually.

Satan sometimes tempts us directly to doubt God’s goodness, to doubt His power, and to doubt our status before Him.  Other times he instead tries to distract us from the task, encouraging us to think of other aspects of life – our jobs, our families, our health, our safety, our entertainment, our education – as more important, more vital, more urgent than Jesus and His Kingdom. One way or another, he tries to envelope us in a fog on unbelief, in which the truths of God seem unreal, immaterial, and unimportant. In that fog, we effectively are drunk, not sober; we’re not thinking clearly about Who God is; we’re not trusting His revelation of the nature of Reality.

So we must maintain our sobriety. We must be completely sober-minded.

Set Your Hope Fully on the Grace That Will Be Brought to You at the Revelation of Jesus Christ

Note that Peter tells us to set our hope on future grace. God has given us great grace already if we are in Christ. We are to reflect on that in preparing our minds for action, and hold on firmly to that truth by being sober-minded. But we are to set our hope fully on the future grace that will be ours when Jesus returns, when the kingdom of this world becomes the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ (Revelation 11:15).

What grace will we receive in that day? Peter has already mentioned some aspects of this grace:

  • 1 Peter 1:4: An inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, unfading, protected in heaven for us
  • 1 Peter 1:5: The completion of our salvation, which is ready for us, and will be revealed to us in the last time.

From other Scriptures we know: We will know fully, even as we are fully known. We will see Him face to face. He will rejoice over us with loud singing. He will wipe every tear from our eyes. We will receive incorruptible, sinless, eternal bodies. The entire creation will be made new. There will be no more sin, no more sorrow, no more pain. God Himself will be our light.

The glory of the finish line helps the 400 meter runner to endure. Just so, the glories of Jesus’ return help us. But Peter hints that we have another reason to hope in the midst of trials.

Literally, Peter says, “Set your hope fully on the grace that is being brought to you.” That is, the participle Peter uses is in the present tense, not the future. What’s the difference, since Jesus’ return is obviously future?

Had the tense been future, Peter’s emphasis would have been solely on the grace that will be ours on that great day. By using the present tense, Peter emphasizes, in addition, that right now all you experience is bringing about the culmination of God’s Plan. All your pain, all your sorrow, all your difficulties and trials work to bring about this coming grace, this return of Jesus – and with Him, your inheritance of all things.

This is our hope. Day by day, throughout every day, remind yourself: Right now, God is working through all that happens to bring about that Final Day, with its great outpouring of grace.

The Foundation for Peter’s Commands

Consider finally some of the exhortations and commands Peter gives in the remainder of this letter. All are grounded in 1 Peter 1:13:

  • Be holy in all your conduct
  • Abstain from the passions of the flesh, which includes putting away all malice and deceit and hypocrisy and envy and slander
  • Long for the spiritual milk of the Word
  • Love one another earnestly, having unity of mind
  • Be subject to authority: everyone to governments, wives to husbands, servants to masters, the younger to elders
  • Husbands, live with your wives in an understanding manner
  • Elders, shepherd the flock eagerly, willingly, setting an example
  • Proclaim the excellencies of the One who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light
  • Be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you
  • In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy
  • Live for the will of God
  • Show hospitality without grumbling
  • Use your gifts to serve one another to God’s glory
  • Rejoice as you share Christ’s sufferings
  • Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another
  • Cast your anxieties on God
  • Resist the devil

So, my friends, today and every day: Prepare your minds for action! Gird up that long robe! Get ready to run! Listen for His command! Be like the Israelites at Passover, all ready to head out at God’s command.

Keep being sober minded. Prepare your minds so that you can avoid the fog of unbelief and maintain your focus.

Hold to the solid hope that even now God is working all things together to bring about that Final Day, when every tribe and tongue will praise the Name of Jesus, when He will wipe all tears from our eyes, when we will see Him face to face.

So: Runners, to your marks. Get set. Go!