Wednesday, June 12, 2013

As the Father sent me...

I am privileged to deliver the charge to the graduates of Radius International this year. I have been given a brief window to preach on John 20:21, "Jesus said to them again, 'Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you." I decided to put the text of my message in my blog to help me stay concise and hopefully to encourage you as well. This is written to be preached and not read, so bear with the grammatical errors etc. I also want to indicate that this text will likely change as I clean it up, make cuts to shorten it etc. This is really my first draft. In fact, I will cut out the whole beginning section between the lines I have placed below due to lack of time, except for the first paragraph. However, I have included it for your reading.

I want to begin by congratulating you all on working so hard this year to prepare to fulfill the Great Commission. I am thankful for the privilege of being part of encouraging you in your obedience to go and preach the gospel among people who have never heard of Jesus. Radius was started as a dream, and eventually became seen as a necessity, for many of us here and it is deeply satisfying to be graduating our first class of students. 

Joseph asked me to give you a charge as you leave here and hopefully transition to long-term cross cultural church planting. I admit I feel personally unworthy for such a task. I am always mindful that is only Jesus and His Spirit in me as I proclaim his Word that makes me qualified to stand before you, or anyone else, and proclaim his Word.

Let me start by saying that I consider you all far more obedient than myself to our Lord’s command. It is easy to excuse away my unfaithfulness to a clear command of Jesus to go and make disciples among all peoples. It is easy to say I believed I was called to something else in America. It is easy to say I was ignorant of God’s heart for the nations. But the fact remains that I did not lack the ability to obey our Lord’s command and our Lord’s command lacks no clarity!

Yet, I chose my path and I do not regret where it has led me. However, I recognize at the same time that I can be quite thankful for where I am and still realize I should have been more obedient in the past. 

Why do I bring up my own disobedience to the Lord’s command? I bring up my disobedience because I believe it was driven by fear. I was afraid of losing my own life for the gospel. I was afraid Jesus was not worth the loss of all things. I was afraid I could spend my life on making Jesus known among other peoples and lose out on all that the good life in America has to offer me. 

And, I bring up my fear because Jesus understood that fear and even addressed it as he commissioned his disciples.

Look with me at John 20:19-20.

Notice that the disciples have locked the door out of fear. Jesus has died. He was captured, tried, and put to death by the Jewish religious leaders. The disciples were afraid of what would happen to them as well. 

How did Jesus resolve this fear?

He came and stood among them and said to them “Peace be with you.”

Jesus resolved their fear by showing himself to them as their resurrected Lord and spoke to them “Peace.”

I want to elaborate on that more, but look with me first at John 20:21.

Notice, this begins with the statement, “Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you.’”

What an incredible scene! Don’t miss what Jesus is doing here.

His last word on the Cross was “It is finished.” He has paid the debt for your sin in full. He has accomplished what the Father gave him to do in dying for sins.

His first word to his disciples in his resurrection is “Peace be with you.” He actually says this to his fearful disciples twice. Why?

John Stott answers this well, “We learn then that the Church’s very first need, before it can begin to engage in evangelism, is an experience and an assurance of Christ’s peace—peace of conscience through his death that banishes sin, peace of mind through his resurrection that banishes doubt. … Once we are glad that we have seen the Lord, and once we have clearly recognized him as our crucified and risen Savior, then nothing and no one will be able to silence us.”

As those who will go to suffer for the gospel among a people group you have never lived among, and who will sacrifice so much of what you came to enjoy in the US, and who will possibly suffer diseases, hardship, and pain you would not have suffered in the US, is it not good to hear from our resurrected Lord that we have peace with God and thus we really can be at peace in life because Jesus is making all things new?

When you are in the field suffering for the gospel, you will likely reach the point where your only assurance is that you have a Lord who resurrected from the dead and that he is worth it. You may be left with nothing but the promise that you are at peace with God and his eternal peace is yours when you are faced with major unrest in your circumstances. And, you need to know and trust that God’s peace is enough.

This is the ever important setting for what Jesus says next.

Look again at John 20:21.


“As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”

This is John’s version of the Great Commission. This command from Jesus to reach the nations with the gospel is repeated at least 4 times in some form in the Gospels and Acts.

When God gives a command it is important. When he repeats it numerous times it only increases the importance and centrality of the command.

So, what does this command mean? How has the Father sent Jesus? 

Well, we need to look first at the immediate context and then consider what else the gospel of John says about how the Father sent Jesus.

As we look at these two contexts, we will learn at least 5 aspects of Christ’s having been sent that apply to our being sent (I will go thru these rather quickly):
1. Jesus hasn’t finished his mission. He is still working it through his church. 

One of the aspects of John 20:21 you don’t readily pick up in English is that verb “has sent” is in the perfect tense.

The perfect tense stresses that this sending was a past act that has ongoing implications.

In other words, Jesus was sent in the past, but his mission continues. He is at work saving people and we are his body sent out to continue his mission.

This is what Luke means when he begins Acts 1 by saying that in his gospel he “dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach.” His birth, life, ministry, death, and resurrection were only the beginning of his doing and teaching.

Jesus’s work continues through his body, the church. This is what Paul is referring to when he says in Colossians 1:24, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church...”

Paul doesn’t mean that Jesus’s affliction lacked anything necessary for our justification. He means that the suffering of Christ is not complete until his ministers suffer with him as we gather his church.

This is why Radius focuses on reaching the unreached people groups no matter the cost to us. We want to see Jesus’s message carried to those He wants to save in every tribe, tongue, and nation. 

This leads quickly to the second point.
2. Jesus was sent in the power of the Holy Spirit and so are we.

Look at John 20:22.

Jesus was empowered by God’s Spirit to speak God’s word and do God’s will. He promises numerous times to give the disciples the same Holy Spirit.

In Acts 1:8, Jesus says “but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit come’s upon you and you will be my witnesses...”

No man is saved apart from the work of the Holy Spirit and no man contains in himself the power or skills necessary to be effective in ministry.

The Holy Spirit qualifies you and Jesus promises he will be with you and empower you for the task.

And, the Holy Spirit works through the Word, which is why Radius has focused on equipping you to teach people the Bible story from Genesis through Revelation. The Spirit blesses and empowers his Word to the salvation of people.

For faith comes through hearing and hearing through the Word of Christ.~Romans 10:17
3. Jesus was sent to proclaim the good news of salvation and so are we.

Look with me at John 20:23.

Jesus went and preached the gospel and cared for those in need. As he did he had authority to offer forgiveness of sins.

As those who are sent, we have authority to offer forgiveness of sins in the name of Christ as well. I don’t mean we can forgive sins, nor does Jesus.

His point is that when we bring the gospel to people and they believe, they will be forgiven. When we do not bring the gospel to them, they will not be forgiven as Jesus is the only name under Heaven by which men must be saved.

Jesus came to seek and save the lost. That is what the Father has sent him to do.

Now, Jesus has sent us to do the same. This is why Radius stresses church planting and not other good endeavors.

Does Jesus care about the whole person?

Absolutely! However, our ultimate concern is the salvation of their souls for eternity and thus this is why you see the apostles fulfilling the Great Commission by planting churches throughout the book of Acts.
4. Jesus was sent humbly into the world and so are we. 

In the High Priestly prayer of John 17, Jesus says the following, “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.”

Jesus did not proclaim the gospel from the heavens.

Jesus was sent to live among us as one of us. He took on flesh and dwelt among us. He humbled himself and took on the nature of a man.

He suffered with us. He grew with us. He felt what we felt. He knew us.

He is sending us in the same way. We are sent to humbly live among people and know them and suffer with them as we bring the gospel to them.

I want you to hear how John Stott reflects on this:

“I personally believe that our failure to obey the implications of this command is the greatest weakness of evangelical Christians in the field of evangelism today. We do not identify. We believe so strongly (and rightly) in proclamation, that we tend to proclaim our message from a distance. We sometimes appear like people who shout advice to drowning men from the safety of the seashore. We do not dive in to rescue them. We are afraid of getting wet, and indeed of greater perils than this. But Jesus Christ did not broadcast salvation from the sky. He visited us in great humility. … We cannot give up preaching, for proclamation is of the essence of salvation. Yet true evangelism, evangelism that is modeled on the ministry of Jesus, is not proclamation without identification any more than it is identification without proclamation. Evangelism involves both together.”

This is why Radius in committed to long-term, incarnational church planting.
5. Jesus was sent to be about the Father’s will for the Father’s glory, and we are sent likewise.

Finally, you can’t read the Gospel of John and not notice that numerous times Jesus says he was sent to obey the Father’s will. He is all about the will of his Father.

He is all about the will of his Father because his ultimate end is the glory of his Father.

In John 17:4, Jesus says, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.”

Our aim is the glory of God and that aim is hit through obedience to the will of our Lord.

We are sent to do the will of our Lord! We are sent to teach others to do everything the Lord has commanded!

This is ultimately why Radius exists at all. We exist because we believe we are sent to do the will of our Lord...and we believe he has been emphatic and clear that we are “to make disciples among all peoples.” It is our prayer you will remain committed to the same.

Making an Educational Decision (Part 5)

I have promised to deliver on strengths and weaknesses of homeschooling, public school, and private schools as we have experienced them. It has taken me a while to get around to that list. The reason it has taken so long is because I have had to reflect so much. My slowness in reflection is driven by two considerations:

1. I not only have my own children who have been through all 3 educational platforms, but I have seen and worked with thousands of kids who have gone through these various systems.

2. I want to be careful how I approach this as the academic platform you are using is what Protestants call "adiaphora," or "indifferent matters," or "matters Scripture does not directly address or drive you to by good and necessary consequence." By saying an academic platform is "adiaphora," I don't mean that you don't have a clear command to disciple your children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. I also don't mean you needn't exercise wisdom in how that is best accomplished. I mean that the Bible does not prescribe a particular academic platform, and your wisdom as to what is best does not constitute a law for everyone else.

So what follows is my best attempt to summarize what I have seen as strengths and weaknesses in short form. I am not claiming these strengths and weaknesses are researched facts of social science. I am merely commenting on my own observation, so take it with a grain of salt. I hope this will be mildly helpful to you.

Important note: I have not been comprehensive. This is a short list. Further, some of the strengths and weaknesses that are shared by public / private schools in contrast to homeschool have been left out and assumed in my list of strengths and weaknesses in homeschooling.

Public School Strengths

1. It's already paid for by your taxes. Let's face it, some people have financial struggles.
2. In our local area there are some fantastic teachers and administrators who will bless you and your children.
3. There are many opportunities and activities that are not afforded by other options due to the sheer wealth of money going into the public schools.
4. It can be very good for your children to be exposed to unbelievers and have to trust in Jesus in a more hostile context.

Public School Weaknesses

1. Your children can, and likely will, be overwhelmed by the sheer force of secularism in the classroom and worldliness on the playground. This secular and worldly encroachment is growing daily through the laws being passed by our state legislature.
2. The worldview of the curriculum (and sometimes the teachers) is something you will have to spend time counteracting on a daily basis.
3. The public school system is compulsory and thus they tend to believe your children are on loan to you and belong to them.
4. There are several poor teachers who have gained tenure. You will likely run into some.

Private Christian School Strengths

1. The curriculum is generally well-aligned with a Christian worldview.
2. The teachers are free to pray and discuss the faith with your children during class time.
3. The playground environment is often better controlled than at a public school.
4. Private schools understand that your children belong to you and thus are less likely to infringe on your parental rights.

Private Christian School Weaknesses

1. They can be quite expensive.
2. They tend to overwork students with homework because they believe this is tied to superior academic achievement.
3. There are often less opportunities than the public school (except in large private schools).
4. The schools are often so ecumenical in approach that one wonders if the theology your child is learning is really better than what is offered in public schools. At least your kids are abundantly aware that the public school curriculum is hostile to their worldview.

Home School Strengths

1. You have control over curricular and schedule decisions for your children.
2. It is far less expensive than private Christian school options.
3. You are able to flex your educational decisions around the unique needs of your individual children.
4. There is more time to establish a family rhythm of worship and play.
5. Your children are less exposed to worldliness and secularism at young ages.
6. You can expose your children to some of the best classics of western literature that they will sadly never read in private or public school due to the tragic decision in those circles to predominantly use textbooks in the humanities.

Home School Weaknesses

1. It is a lot of work. It should not be taken on by those who won't follow through.
2. It is naturally more isolated from other people. This can take a toll on both mom and the children.
3. It can lead to not engaging with unbelievers which is never good discipleship.
4. The pressure of the responsibility of leading all day in the home can overwhelm some moms. They are not faulty women because they can't do this well. They are not less committed to the Lord or their children.
5. Young boys, particularly those approaching or in their teen aged years, can be stifled by being under the thumb of their mom all day.
6. There are less abundant activities and opportunities for your children, unless you are in a more wealthy family or attached to a homeschool cooperative program with a local private or public school.

One Last Matter

If you are against homeschooling, you might point out that I left out the fact that homeschool children are more likely to be socially weird. I am not convinced that is a problem with homeschooling. I think that is likely because they are being homeschooled by socially weird parents. Let's be honest, we have seen weird kids in all kinds of settings and they are usually the product of weird parents.

A Final Note about the Holy Spirit and Parental Responsibility

Won't sending my kid to public school damn them to a secular worldview and a life of ungodliness? Won't putting my child in Christian school make them into a snob and a natural Pharisee? Won't homeschooling my child make them into a person who is unable to cope with the real world? Doesn't one choice insure a better product in the end?

The answer to this question is emphatically, "NO!!" Your child is born a sinner. They don't catch the sin disease from other people. The enemy of sin is not only outside your home. Further, there is NOTHING you can do to guarantee your children will be born again and walk with the Lord. The faith of your children is in the hands of the Lord. I have watched public school kids with ungodly parents become some of the strongest Christians I know. I have watched homeschool kids with godly parents become atheists. There is no educational system you can choose with guaranteed spiritual outcomes.

This does not, however, absolve you from the responsibility of making the wisest possible decisions for your children. You must pray fervently for them. You must teach the Word to them. You must model love for God and others to them. As you fulfill your responsibility, you must point them relentlessly to Jesus as their only hope. You must also insure that you never lead them to believe you, or they, are the hero of their story. Jesus is the only One who can save your kids. Without him rescuing them there is no hope. Please remember this when choosing an educational setting for your kids.

What we Decided

For those who care and who have bothered to read this far, we decided to return to homeschooling this year. We look forward to the coming years of discipling our children in the fear and admonition of the Lord.