Prayer for Ms. Mizzel: Missionary to Afghanistan

I have not met this woman. I have only heard report of her through another lady within my church and that only once, but such reports are cases of earnest prayer to our Father in heaven and belief in His Word, that God will use such circumstances to display the honor of His name and advance the Gospel of Christ.

Cyd Mizzel is a Christian missionary to Afghanistan who has been kidnapped by Afghani rebels, a woman in her early forties, never married, singularly captured, whether for being a woman or a Christian or both, no one really knows, and no one has heard any report of her situation since her imprisonment. Her church, our church, and many others have continually lifted up our prayers for her in our services over these past few weeks, and my plea here is for a continued pursuit in prayer to our God for her safety, boldness, witness, and the softening of rebel hearts to Christ. That we ought to knock on the door of God’s throne room constantly for her and for them is both obvious and eternally pertinent, both privately and corporately. My hope is that God will incline our hearts to a great and timely supplication.

And she is one of many thousands, yet unknown altogether, who are suffering for the sake of the name of Jesus Christ. These have gone out with the command and offer of the Gospel to bring the nations to the obedience of faith, and we need, I need, to uplift them in prayer. Upon their return, I think that many would deem our prayers the most necessary and appreciated means of support and grace. My charge to us all is that we might shrink the disassociation that we have with many of our Christian missionaries. If our earthly sibling took up a great philanthropic cause in a foreign country and found occasion of need while amongst the nations, gasping as it were for life, both for their own and that of the individuals under their charge, would we not be moved to earnest and daily works of supplication for them and of provision to accomplish the task? How much more those whom by faith in Christ we stand united as brothers and sisters in Christ, when they enter the occasion of suffering for Christ which is the blessed grace and promise of Scripture (Phil. 1:28-30), ought we to pray for them and supply their missionary need (Phil. 2:25-30)?

Until further report upon the condition of Ms. Mizzel, and for our encouragement in suffering for the sake of Christ and the Gospel, I have found great substance from God’s Word in the imprisonment epistle of the apostle Paul to heap my hope and trust upon. “Gospel imprisonment” God blesses as a seed of greatest type, bringing to tremendous fruition:

“I (Paul) want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the Gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear,” Phil. 1:12-14.

God blesses Gospel imprisonment; imprisonment for the sake of Jesus Christ, which imprisonment had and does occur because of the proclamation of that name amongst the nations. Imprisonment “happened” to Paul because of his missionary endeavor with the Gospel of Christ. He made the primary thing the primary thing; that is, though I am sure he engaged in missionary activity, he made preaching the Gospel and defending the Gospel his utmost priority, and we ought to imitate our Lord and the apostle on this point. The solid hope that overwhelms the soul is what God does and what God imparts from the affliction of His Christ-enlisted soldiers:

1. Gospel imprisonment “advances the Gospel”. When the missionary is taken captive by Christ, they are soon taken captive for Christ, and their “captivity” serves to “free” the Gospel, to advance it. God seems to use captivity both for the development of the captive, for the penetration of those normally hidden from Gospel conversation (the “imperial guards”), and for a witness to “all the rest”.
2. Gospel imprisonment is “for Christ”. When Christ was taken captive by the hands of men, He was thereby crucified, and God made use of the imprisonment and crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ to procure the salvation of those very same men; and so after the pattern of our Lord, Paul, and we who follow them, God uses as vessels of mercy and of Gospel propagation by the very fact of our imprisonment for that cause.
3. The maintenance of Gospel witness in the midst of Gospel inprisonment God uses mightily to bring many under Gospel conviction so that all know that the captivity is “for Christ”.
4. Gospel imprisonment advances the Gospel by emboldening the Church; by the faith of one, so the many are made bold; by the passion of the one, so the many are made passionate; by the chains of one, so the many have their tongues made free for Christ and Him crucified. The “brothers” became “confident in the Lord by” Paul’s “imprisonment”.
5. Gospel imprisonment removes human apprehensiveness for the Gospel. The brothers were more bold to “speak the word without fear”. God-begotten boldness in one breeds God-begotten boldness in others. When one loves God more than he fears men and their attacks, others are infused with a like love that overcomes the obstacles to evangelism.
6. The knowledge that God is the Author of such things, that the imprisonment was “for Christ”, encourages our faith and trust in a faithful God who works in accordance with the kind intention of His will; and this is why it is written that it is a thing “granted” or “graced” to us “that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in Him but also suffer for His sake,” Phil. 1:29.
7. And so, God authorizes and makes use of Gospel imprisonment to advance the Gospel by way of the captive’s witness for Christ, boldness for Christ, love for Christ, and the imputation of such godly attributes to the Church, who so emboldened and powerfully encouraged, move forward with the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Our God is an awesome God, and what He does, and how He attends to the means of His ends, are wonderful in our eyes, and they shall remain wonderful still when it is you or I that become those means of grace in the face of suffering. The Christian does not seek out suffering for the sake of suffering, but they seek the face of Christ, and so quite naturally, follows chains of some sort, whether on the wrists, or over the tongue. The challenge is to understand the truth of God’s Word through Paul “that my imprisonment is for Christ”, that it serves to “advance the Gospel”, and the example of our Lord Jesus Christ, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world…I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world,” John 16:33, 17:14-16.

Let us pray for Ms. Mizzel with great expectation that God will deliver her by our prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ (Phil:1:19), while advancing the Gospel by her imprisonment, and granting each of us a measure of her love for Christ that we may be more passionate and able to endeavor forward, boldly speaking “the word without fear”. Amen.

The Acid of the Word?

“I see where you are coming from now…But I must go because I cannot endure what you are saying to me…what you are saying to me feels like acid being poured over my flesh.” This was the response that I recently received from a philosopher when I addressed her on her playing field with six verses of Jesus Christ. This is a somewhat graphic response to the internal medicine of God’s Word, albeit typical from a sinner initially reached with Gospel conversation. What does one do when confronted by a secular philosopher (or any educated sinner), well-educated and well-traveled? What if this philosopher engages you in a conversation about truth and knowledge? Will you be able to address the person on their level, where they are, and raise them up to where Christ is? And how are you to do this? Know God’s Word! Speak God’s Word! Live God’s Word! Share God’s Word:

“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’ Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater (philosopher) of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through (human) wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe,” 1 Corinthians 1:18-21. Again, I say, know God’s Word!

Recently, I was confronted by an elderly woman about knowledge, seeking to impart her wisdom to me. Her theory was one of proper growth in knowledge. That human knowledge is the highest sort of knowledge; that if one is to truly make the most of their short time on earth, and to advance in this world, one must take advantage of every sort of human knowledge already available to them apart from the knowledge that they have attained for themselves by their own study. If someone else has already attained the knowledge, then it is not necessary for me to do the leg work on it; all that I must do is listen and learn and grow. And while there is some validity to listening and learning from others, yet her philosophy was centered on humanism; she did not believe in a knowledge that transcends the natural level, or the human intuition. All that we need to know or can know is attainable for us via study or other beings, and the world around us.

So I responded. If knowledge is to be had, then ought we not to pursue that greatest sort of knowledge, that highest knowledge, which is of God the Father in heaven through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. And this knowledge does in fact transcend the natural man’s ability to discern. If she had here admitted as much to be true, she would have necessarily had to forsake the foundation of her worldview and lifestyle and philosophical presuppositions. If God is the Sovereign of the universe, the Creator, the Almighty and Free Potter, the Alpha and Omega, and yet, the Author and Perfecter of faith, a Savior, a Lord that would willingly sacrifice Himself on a Roman cross for sinners, rebel enemies of this Almighty King; if God is Who is says He is, then to know Him is the highest and greatest sort of knowledge. Both reason and Scripture attest to this. For from the Fall, no one has known Him lest He reveal Himself to us through His eternal Son, Jesus Christ.

I quoted John 17:3 to this person. Here Jesus defines eternal life: “This is eternal life, that they know You the One True God, and Him Whom You have sent, Jesus Christ.” This “know”ledge of the One True God through faith in Jesus Christ is a transcendent sort of knowledge; it goes beyond the earthly realm and penetrates into the heights of eternal glory; no man has ascended into heaven except He who descended from heaven, the Son of Man who is in heaven (John 3:13), and so God had to reveal these sort of truths because of the inability and exclusivity of man from heaven and, hence, the knowledge of spiritual things relating to the joyful reign of God in the soul and in glory and above all earthly powers.

Stunned to silence, I progressed with her to John 3:3, 5-8, and spoke to her the words of Christ to Nicodemus, who was likewise well-educated and experienced in his field, and yet, Christ breaks in upon his natural worldview and undoes any thought that Nicodemus had it all figured out. “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God…unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” And just as Nicodemus was undone by these words, so the soul that God appointed to me for Gospel conversation was undone.

In an instance, her calm, cool, philosophical conjectures were turned to sarcasm, and inward rage, an inferno of pride. This educated, well-traveled philosopher was overwhelmed at the hearing of six verses of Holy Writ, Jesus Christ, the Word of God. Her intellect succumbed to her emotion, for her the lostness of her soul had been engaged by the Savior of the universe. Her philosophy bowed the knee to her religious ancestry, which I am sure was a last resort. What is more, she claimed Judaism! She was Jewish! Here I am by the appointment of God in a conversation with a philosopher who, herself, initiated our time together, and we are speaking about knowledge, and I have just quoted to her the words of Jesus, a Jew, to the Pharisee, Nicodemus, a Jew, about his need for a spiritual new birth without which he and all of his discernment are but “flesh”, all of his natural knowledge falls short of that knowledge which saves and thereby transcends human understanding because the saving knowledge stands on the right side of faith, whereby the disciple of Christ is equipped with the lens of faith, the mind of Christ, the ministry of the Holy Spirit that we may initmately know God and worship Him.

To these things, she replied, “I see where you are coming from now…But I must go because I cannot endure what you are saying to me…what you are saying to me feels like acid being poured over my flesh.” Six verses of Jesus Christ she could not endure and now I remember why – “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart”; and it is a terrible imagery that she gave, though she considered not the spiritual truth of it – “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned”! Acid on the flesh! What she meant in a physical fashion holds true in the spiritual realm; for though she meant it as illustration, yet her description was quite true of what she was inwardly experiencing – the Word of Christ was reverberating in her soul, like a hammer smashing through her hardness of heart, breaking down philosophical presuppositions, acting as a restraining agent, and I pray the womb of regeneration. She was confronted with the laver of the Word of God, and she called it acid. But, as acid will certainly eat away at the flesh, so the Word of God, in a sense, does the same, as it eats away, restrains, and cleanses that spiritual carnality that the Bible deems “the flesh”.

I hope to see her quite often over the next several months. I find myself both greatly burdened for her because of her blindness, and I am thereby exceedingly earnest to continue to pursue her for the sake of the name of Christ; and though I stand burdened and hungry to share with her, I also stand in amazement at the power of God’s Word, it’s piercing, penetrating, lively, active, dividing, restraining, and saving power and the promise of God that it will not return to Him void when He has sent it out. Moreover, my great hope is that those six verses of Christ might continue to rain down upon the soils of her heart, softening her to the seed of the Gospel in due time, and that as Nicodemus was with Christ in the end, so in the end Christ will be in her and she in Him to the glory of our God. It is sufficient to conclude with this for now, that God’s Word is awesome and powerful both to convict and to save; that the therefore, let we who love God through Christ attend to this Word with a great urgency in proportion to the urgent condition of the lost in this world, for the Word of the cross is the power of God to those who are being saved. Amen.

The Sovereignty of God: What About Evangelism?

If God is Sovereign over His salvation, then what of human responsibility? What of human accountability? What of evangelism and prayer and holiness and the rest of the means of conversion? In essence, what about me? Where do I fit in to this redemptive plan?

In these questions and the like stands a prominent problem. I do not here intend to type with an expansive keyboard about the aforementioned thoughts, but only to address this problem quite briefly that I see in the questions such as these that I have encountered from the lips of genuine, Jesus-loving Christians. Allow me, first, to address the problem, then the Scriptural support in contrast with the problem.

The problem is cultural individualism. At some point we grow out of a Christ-centeredness and become immersed in a self-centered culture, and as it pervades and permeates and flavors the thinking and affections of the body of Christ, so we digress back into an Ephesian state of affairs. We have continued in Christian activity but abandoned the right context for them, namely, our preeminent love for Christ. Many have come to view evangelism and prayer as things that we do because God is rendered disabled if we do not so engage, rather than the activities of a heart set ablaze by and for Christ.

The thought is that we are something, we are special, we are really awesome and on the cutting edge, and indeed, many churches today in this contemporary scene would boast in as much. But in so far as we adhere to this, we move away from the glory and beauty and honor due Christ. The apostle Paul knew of his inadequacy, his insufficiency for Christian ministry, and he made his boast Christ and Him crucified. And it is not that we should focus so much on our own inadequacy or insufficiency for these things as much as this is a cry for us to return to a vivid love of the adequacy and sufficiency of the Lord Jesus Christ for these things. For it is in a radical love and passionate dependency upon Christ’s sufficiency to save rather than our own that will advance the Gospel most truly and powerfully.

Must we evangelize? Must we pray? Must we live holy lives? Must we venture into distant islands? Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! But if God were not the Lord of the harvest, all of our laboring would amount to something, just not sound, biblical born again Christians. If the Lord does not build the house, the laborers labor in vain (Ps 127:1). Must we labor? Absolutely! But our labor is met with worth and fruit because it is built by and upon God. I would emphatically state that God does need you and me to evangelize and pray, etc.; but, more than this, God wants us to do these things, and be assured of this, that unless we do these things the Gospel will not be advanced. But this is not to assume a human-centered advancement as if God is handicapped without you. God has made a donkey speak with greater wisdom than a man, angels attest of His glory, and if you do not delight in these means of conversion, then God will give mouths of praise to rocks, and they will cry out to sinners. God does not need you; but He enlists you for Himself, not to evangelize from a dutiful, human-centered soul, but from a soul that delights in Christ, delights in God, delights in what has been accomplished for you, and delights to share with others this Gospel of God’s grace in Christ Jesus.

It is necessity, rightly considered, that we must adhere to, and this necessity belongs to active decree, not human exaltation. That is, if one begins to think themselves a necessity in the scheme of Gospel propagation because their complacency would thwart the plan and purpose of God, or that the omnipotent God would somehow become paralyzed by our sloth from saving sinners, then our understanding of our role is unbiblical. However, if when we say that God needs us to bear testimony of Christ unto the lost, and by that need, we mean that God in His infinite wisdom has actively ordained that His redeemed would proclaim the excellencies of our Redeemer, and that He has ordained that our sharing of the Gospel and our going to the nations and our praying for the lost is the sole and chosen means of propagating His grace and that His ordained end of saving sinners will not be accomplished without the means of conversion that He has decreed, then, indeed, God needs us to be the means of conversion. But, again, our necessity in the kingdom of God is an ordained necessity. In infinite wisdom, God chose to save sinners like you and me, and then to send us to those still in their sins. He could have ordained another way, but He did not! God’s need is not due to a shortcoming of His ability as if He could not save apart from men; rather, the need is one that God chose as the means to the end of salvation.

One would do well to consider our Gospel endeavor as a thing necessary because it is what God has ordained as the means to His ends, but with that felt-necessity we ought to be humbled, not puffed up with pride; the need that we have expressed is better stated to be the desire of God and the overflow of the soul satisfied in Jesus Christ to the point where we are a continual aroma of Jesus to all men. The need is synonomous with an active desire on God’s part, a “want” if you will may be more accurate, and so we ought to “want” to go to the nations armed with the Gospel.

I urge you to reconsider your motives in these things. As God has appointed ends, God has appointed means to those ends, and it is certain that if you do not participate in these things that God will enlist another who will delightfully do them, and you might consider again the state of your soul, as the father of modern missions, William Carey (a Calvinist), would write in his Enquiry, “conscientious activity therein (evangelism, etc) would form one of the strongest proofs that we are the subjects of grace.” In other words, Gospel activity is one of the greatest evidences of your personal conversion. Spurgeon would add, “if you have no great desire to see the lost saved, then you yourself are not saved.” Carey had two missionary motives that I believe we must keep in mind: “love for and obedience to the God who had redeemed him, and the state of the world without Christ. It is because of this twofold consideration that the people of God are obliged ‘to use every lawful method to spread the knowledge of his name'” (Carey and the Missionary Vision, Webber, pg. 21).

In Romans 10:13-17, we are blessed with a wonderful text of God’s missionary strategy:
“For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?’ So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

Hearing the Gospel is the means of faith. And God has sent preachers to proclaim and live this Gospel before all men unto the end of conversion. These are called the ‘means of grace’ without which no one would be “believe” and “call on the name of the Lord”. We must go with the Gospel. This is our loving obedience for God and His grace, and our in depth awareness of the state of the sinner, made practical. We must go with the Gospel of grace. But be assured of this, though we go, if God does not there meet our endeavor by appointment and grace, our audience will reject the message because their own natural desire is to do just that. There were many that the disciples met on the road, stopping from door to door, and yet were greeted with rejection and scorn. Our encouragement in these things is that not all will reject; some will believe, and when they do give glory to God for their faith.

We are vessels of mercy, Beloved, garbage cans with the greatest Treasure within for the purpose of delighting in God, losing our lives by comparison to that delight, and moving actively with the Gospel. But we are vessels, garbage cans in the Greek (2 Cor. 4:7). We are not the mercy within; we are not the Treasure that saves; this is the Lord Jesus Christ, to “show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.”

There is a greater motivation inherent in God’s sovereign rule and grace than in self-centered, human-empowering, demigod forming, individual exalting evangelistic methods. What becomes of Christ if one goes in this direction? Why need Him if we can do it? What of His power if He necessarily needs us? He is lost in the noise of human logic, philosophy, and pride. I would contend that God is sovereign in salvation, that He overcomes in power the rebellious faculties of the human soul, and that the whole of salvation belongs to God; and that we as the redeemed bride of Christ have been plucked out of the harvest by the Lord of the harvest to be commissioned by Him to be placed back in it for His glory and the means of grace unto the conversion of others still in the soils of the world. And this is a delight for us! God saves! God saves! God saves! And He does it through the Lord Jesus Christ alone! Because of this let us go more boldly with the Gospel of grace!

“Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord,” 1 Corinthians 1:31. Soli Deo Gloria!

The Essence of Unbelief

Unbelief is not a popular subject, just a necessary one. It must be taught, for it is found frequently amongst the biblical witness. Moreover, it precedes the conversation of belief or faith. Jesus warns Nicodemus of this eternal pitfall which the masses are even now wholly ignorant of. He reproves, explains, and warns the religiously religious man against this folly. He speaks to the essence of unbelief, the consequential hardening of simple unbelief, the reasons and wages of it, and the provision of God that overcomes this eternally condemning sin.

Deriving occasion from Nicodemus’ inquiry in John 3:2 and 4, our Lord answers him, not on the basis of his inquiry but on the condition of his soul, which despite his external displays of religion, was yet dead in sin and trespasses, incapable of desiring God. He Divinely teaches of the new birth, the inability of man to effect this birth, the carnality of man, the necessity of the work of the Spirit of God, and the sovereignty and mystery of the Holy Spirit in the operation of this creative act (v. 3, 5-8). Within this discourse, Christ implies spiritual realities that would have been obvious to Nicodemus provided he was alive in Christ, but since he was not yet, his response is marveling unbelief – “How can these things be?” (John 3:9)

This phrase is quite commonplace today when sharing the truth of human inability and true Spirit-empowered regeneration. And yet, these things, and those commands testified of by Christ, “earthly things” (v. 12), that, being Divine in origin, take place on earth while we live and must be so, lest we otherwise perish, are yet simple (earthly) things spoken of by Christ in a simple (earthly) style so that they might be understood. But Nicodemus cannot believe “these things” (v. 8). Today, the lost person may respond with different sounding words, but the meaning remains the same – “How can these things be?” And this is usually followed with a declarative statement of unbelief and an emphatic assertion of what is more suitable to their liking – a salvific perspective that many in hell now would cry out against in warning.

Nicodemus was a preacher, “the (definitive) teacher of Israel”, a “ruler of the Jews”, educated, experienced, and according to tradition would have had Genesis 1:1-Deuteronomy 34:12 memorized. To this man, God replies, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?” (John 3:10) And to what do we attribute this inability to understand spiritual things? “Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and we bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony.” (John 3:11) Faith precedes understanding (Hebrews 11:3). He does not understand, because he does not receive, but rather rejects the testimony of Christ. This is the essence of unbelief: rejection of the Word of Christ, or the Testimony of God, or the Gospel. Nicodemus would stand before the people of Israel and proclaim the Word of God (OT) to them, and yet he knew not what he proclaimed. The “we” of verse 11 is particularly strong. It indicates a reprsentative flavor – Christ and the writers of the Old Testament, which actually means Christ alone, for it is written that the Spirit of Christ was in them (the prophets) (1 Peter 1:11). When the prophets were sent of God, He sent them saying, “Thus says the Lord…”. Nicodemus, a preacher, rejected the very testimony of God. And not to belabor the point, but I find it necessary to mention that God does not waste words as we often do. When He speaks, He speaks truly, perfectly, in harmony with His glorious character, and thus, to reject the testimony of Christ, what He has Divinely seen and Divinely knows is to reject the very person of God, in particular, the Son of God, the Savior of sinners. This is made plain in John the Baptists testimony a little bit later in John 3:31-36, particularly v. 33 where he makes the following link between the testimony of Christ and the seal of the believing man, “Whoever receives (believes, contrary to the immediate response of Nicodemus) His testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true.” Again, the essence of unbelief is the rejection of Christ’s testimony, for what one here rejects is what Christ has seen, knows, and made plain to us about our nature, God the Father, the will of the Father, the work of the Spirit, and redemptive truth, etc. To reject these is to reject the very truth that Christ offers to you to save you from sin and falsehoods.

I’ll end with a few thoughts: first, John 3:36b-c identifies the consequence of unbelief – “whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” That is, Christ commands faith in His testimony (Him). To disobey is equivalent to rejecting His Word as is certain when comparing 3:36b-c with its parallel in 3:36a, e.g., “whoever believes (36a)…whoever does not obey (3:36b-c)” in the context of Christ’s testimony. Secondly, simple unbelief gives rise to a greater hardening towards “heavenly things” – “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (3:12) That is, if you do not believe my testimony about the command of faith, and the earthly illustration between the wind and the Spirit, then how will you understand “heavenly things”, i.e., the Godhead together in the throne room with an infinite number of redemptive possibilities laid before them, and out of all of them, they elect one, and only one, perfect redemptive plan and purpose and it will most powerfully and lucidly display and demonstrate the grace, love, mercy, and wrath of God, etc. and it is, for time’s sake, John 3:14-16 – a crucified Messiah! Simple unbelief prevents the sinner from nearing redemptive truth. Lastly, what man cannot ascend to get for themselves, God descends in the form of sinful flesh under the law to bring to man, so that by the appointment of God Christ might make known to them these precious truths of redemption (John 3:13).

I have had inumerable conversations recently where in the midst of them my counterpart casts aside the simple things of the Word of Christ. They hear of sin, but they do not believe in sin or that they are, in fact, a sinner. They hear of the cross, but they dismiss it as either folly or a novelty of thought. They turn from truth to postmodern ideologies of relativity, interpretation, slippery absolutes, and an impersonal conversational style. For the truth compresses the sinner, engaging the individual soul, and this is unpleasant to the flesh of a spiritually dead person. Like Pilate, they say “what is truth?”, when the Truth stands before them; like Nicodemus, they respond in unbelief, “how can these things be?”, when it is God who has told of these things. And more grievous are we today against the witness of the Bible, the Word Who is God. My commendation then is this, do not harden your heart any longer, but rest in Christ. Believe His Word and you will believe in the Word, Jesus Christ. And lest I leave you hopeless, allow me to end here: Once Christ has declared the personal problem of unbelief to the man, Nicodemus, telling him that he cannot believe “heavenly things” and that no one has ever ascended into heaven so as to bring down God’s revelation of redemptive truth for himself that he might save himself, the Lord continues, “except He who descended from heaven, the Son of Man who is in heaven,” John 3:13. “Except! Except! Except!” This is truly beautiful. Man of himself was not in heaven when redemption was planned, nor can he ascend there to get it for himself and bring it down to do it by himself…but, Christ was there, is there, and from there descended to reveal the truth to sinners, the Son of Man – a Messianic title referring to His human likeness and His cross work, taking upon Himself the likeness of sinful flesh, condemning sin in the flesh on the cross, that we might live through faith in Him – does this; God brings redemptive truth to sinners and so it would follow two verses later:

“For God so loved the world (how so?) that He gave His only Begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life,” John 3:16. Amen, and amen.

Christ-Centeredness at the Coffee Shop

I sit and sip and God seems to appoint. Over the past weeks, God has not failed to bring someone to my table. I doubt that they come because of the intensity of my natural draw. Perhaps it is because they see the many books scattered about me, an organized chaos of sorts. Perhaps they come to simply enjoy a nice chai latte, and having nothing else to do at the moment, they engage me either directly or indirectly through another conversation. Or, most likely, God appoints a time, a place, a person, and having already provided the beautiful means of salvation through a crucified Christ, so He provides the boldness to witness of it. I do not mean all of this to be juxtaposed against “the Great Commission Christian (crucifying) any hesitation to proclaim the Gospel to any sinner in any place at any time, (Russ Moore)” or the necessity of confrontational evangelism, but rather the grace of God in also providentially granting opportunities to witness on a daily basis.

All of this considered, God has not failed to provide a soul to engage. Some have been unbelievers looking to enter into religious discussions. Some have been brothers and sisters in Christ who are looking for comfort everywhere and in everything and in everyway other than by nearness to Christ. Still others have been young men and women divided over doctrines and truth and reality, contemporary and traditional stigmas, and the various ways of “doing church”. And others are heart broken mothers desiring more for their disgruntled teens and not knowing exactly what to do or where to find answers. The coffee shop is a true microcosm of the world, a great bundle of independencies and self-centeredness and complacencies towards the things of God.

So what do we evangelicals offer to these in the coffee shop, or anywhere else in the world? Our own Laodicean state? Our vested self-righteousness? An impure Gospel that is no Gospel? A vision of a God that is co-equal with His creation, or, worse still, trumped by the power of the “almighty” decisiveness of men? Prosperity? Large crowds? Cool atmospheres? Entertaining light shows and rock concerts? A personal witness so corrupted by our carelessness that it has become like the salt that is good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled under by the feet of those still unsaved?

People are not idiots within their personal arenas, in general. Most are strong upon their convictions and what they believe to be true. They will fight for what they hold most closely to their hearts. So, again, what do we offer to the 73 year old retiree from Milwaukee, Wisconsin who holds to orthodox Roman Catholicism; to the mother frantic over the state of her lost 15 year old; to your own father whose religiosity condemns him before God and hardens him in unbelief; to the artsy 18 year old atheist self-worshipper; to the college group confessedly confused over right, wrong, truth, error, etc.; to the brother or sister in Christ who is soul-deep in biblical error, being led by wolves in sheeps clothing?

I commend quite passionately, Jesus Christ, the Lord. Offer an air-tight presentation of the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ, the awesome glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, the holiness demanded within the words of Jesus Christ, the righteousness offered in the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus Christ, a worldview that exalts the Lord Jesus Christ, the King of Glory, a personal radical passion for Your Savior, Jesus Christ, a Christosoteric position on salvation, the absolute reality that Jesus Christ stands this day to comfort, to save, to sanctify, and all of this to the glory of God and the accomplishment of the most perfect plan of redemption devised within the very throne room of the Almighty, our God. By your closeness to the Word of God and the fragrance of Christ that permeates your attitude and words and love towards them, make them so full of Jesus that they are hungry for nothing else and sick of themselves. Herein, Christ will be truly sweet, and the Gospel the power of God to save.

And a bit of testimony: As God has provided the time, the people, and the Word of Christ, so God has been pleased to flavor each that I have had the privilege of speaking with. So, wherever you are, whoever God gives to you, make Jesus Christ and Him crucified the sole intent of your conversation. Center all upon Him, His work, His satisfaction. Do not stray from the Word of God. For in proportion to your straying from it, so you will stray from Christ, for they are one and the same, and so will the soul given to your charge in that moment miss out on a conversation – not with you, but with Christ in you. A man recently told me of the sure torment that he would face should he now perish, and asked me for comfort from it, that he wanted what I had; I told him, “What I have is Jesus Christ because Christ gave Himself to me and for me. I cannot comfort you…but Jesus Christ can! Believe in Jesus Christ! Turn from sin and believe in Jesus Christ! Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!” Sinners need not a teacher to indoctrinate them on the caveats of theology, nor do they need Christians to engage them with anything less (enculturated Christian practices designed to woo the sinner) than the biblical Christ which seems to be the “in” thing right now, for the former sounds to them like “blah, blah, blah”, and the latter is more dangerous in that it fails to confront them with the greatest problem in the universe, i.e., a sinner before a wrathful and holy God, and the need for immediate salvation (it rather seems to comfort the sinner in their practices because the Christian is willing to engage with them in the like practices); sinners need a Savior, and as the carriers of this Treasure, we must centralize Jesus Christ exclusively for He is the greatest solution in the universe unto the glory of God!