Here’s a great reminder and charge to go and put our faith into practice in our everyday lives.
Here’s a great reminder and charge to go and put our faith into practice in our everyday lives.
I read this devotion from Tabletalk recently and thought I should pass it on to you. It’s based on a chapter of Scripture I memorized long ago and recite each week to this day. May it help you in your “love” life! – Arthur
That’s a good point, isn’t it, TD?
Yet, that seems to be something we are fighting each other about. “TD is too intense, too long, too deep” et al are the cries of those who want TD studies to be lighter, simpler, and more bite-sized for easier consumption. But is that really what God wants from us? Is that what’s going to help get you through high school growing spiritually stronger each year? This is something we all at TD, both students and leaders alike, need to consider and pray through, and then act upon. I believe the following article brings some insight into the discussion. – Arthur
In light of TD’ers heading to love and serve orphaned children, typical children, and college students in China and Taiwan this summer in Jesus’ Name, I’d like for us to pray for these trips and get an overview of what God is doing in Asia.
I read the following article a few weeks ago in Tabletalk magazine and would like to share it with you. Pray about it and ask the Lord what He wants you to do in response. Your response can come in many forms, big and small. But there should be some response of some sort, even if it’s to pray. – Arthur
by Jeffrey Jue
The advance of the gospel in Asia over the last century has been extraordinary. Christian churches are growing and thriving in countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, and of course South Korea, which boasts some of the largest churches in the entire world. Yet the gospel is also taking root in countries where we might not expect it to. For example, a movement of Reformed churches is growing in Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world. Moreover, the exponential growth of the house church movement in China is remarkable considering that the Communist government places strict restrictions on the activities of Christian churches. Clearly, the work of the gospel in Asia is something we rejoice over, continue to pray for, and look for opportunities to support.
PLANTING THE SEEDS
The roots of the modern evangelical movement are often traced back to the First and Second Great Awakenings in North America. These revivals have a mixed legacy, but we can be thankful for their emphasis on conversion and evangelism, which sparked a global missionary movement that ultimately marked the nineteenth century as the great century of Protestant mission work. Protestant missionaries traveled to Africa, South America, and Asia spreading the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. While we cannot ignore or fully disentangle the Protestant mission movement from the often-brutal historical context of Western imperialism, which led to many European countries’ annexing territories around the world and the subjection of indigenous people groups, missionaries did plant the seeds of the gospel throughout the world—including Asia.
A good example of planting seeds was the missionary work of Robert Morrison, who was sent by the London Mission Society to China in 1807. He was one of the first to translate the Bible into Chinese and bring the gospel to southern China. James Hudson Taylor followed Morrison, arriving in China in 1853. Taylor founded the China Inland Mission, with a focus on reaching the interior of China, away from the more popular and lucrative port cities. Unique for his time, Taylor and his colleagues chose to dress and eat like the local Chinese as a way of identifying more closely with those to whom they were trying to minister. The work of Morrison and Taylor introduced the gospel to China, and their legacy lives on today.
Another example of gospel seeds being planted in Asia and bearing amazing fruit occurred in Korea, where the first Protestant missionaries arrived in the nineteenth century. Protestantism grew during the early twentieth century with the famous revival (1907–10) in the northern city of Pyongyang. As a result of the revival, Christianity was firmly established and would play a crucial role during the period of Japanese colonial rule. Christianity served as a point of resistance against Japanese occupation, and especially against the imposition of Shintoism. After Korea gained independence, Protestant Christianity continued to grow, and today South Korea’s population has the highest percentage of Christians in East Asia.
THE GOSPEL IN ASIA TODAY
Asia is a vast region, and each country has a distinct story about the gospel’s spread. No country is the same, but the Holy Spirit is working to bring the same gospel to each country. Here are three examples that will give us a glimpse into the work of the gospel in Asia today.
THE GOSPEL IN KOREA
After the Korean War, South Korea continued to see tremendous growth in churches and ministries. The fervency for evangelism and discipleship gripped Korean Christians, resulting in tremendous growth for the church in Korea. The numbers today are astounding. The largest church in the world is the Yoido Full Gospel Church, with more than three hundred thousand congregants. Yoido Church is a Pentecostal church, but many Korean Presbyterian churches have membership numbers in the tens of thousands. The Hapdong denomination which is a conservative Reformed Presbyterian denomination similar to the Presbyterian Church in America, has a membership of more than three million. In comparison, in 2015 the PCA reported a total membership of slightly more than 370,000. The largest Presbyterian church in the Hapdong denomination has a membership of more than 75,000.
The astounding growth of the church in South Korea has led to estimations that Christians make up nearly 29 percent of the population. This is one of the highest percentages of Christians in any country besides the United States. But the Korean church is not content to see the gospel impact only their country. Korean missionaries are now going out to the entire world in the same way their nineteenth-century Western predecessors did. Korea is often listed as the nation sending the second-highest number of missionaries, with the United States still sending the most missionaries of any country in the world.
THE GOSPEL IN CHINA
It is notoriously difficult to assess the growth and state of the church in China. In 1949, when the Communists defeated the Nationalists for control of the country, it is estimated that there were five hundred thousand Christians. With the Communist government’s restrictions on religion, many Christians gathered together in unregistered churches, avoiding public activities and gatherings that would draw scrutiny from officials. Yet all accounts point to the fact that the church in China, even under these hostile circumstances, grew and continues to grow. Chinese Christians are not deterred in their desire to spread the gospel even in the face of severe government opposition. Many scholars estimate that there are close to sixty million Christians in China. One scholar projects the growth to reach two hundred million by 2035. In comparison, there are 159 million Christians in the United States, and that number has been declining each year in recent decades. Consequently, China could eclipse the United States in total number of Christians in the next two decades. If the growth in China continues, Communist China will have one of the largest Christian populations in the entire world. The potential for the Chinese church is great. Not only is there an enormous opportunity for evangelism and church planting in China, but also for missionaries to be sent from China, especially to regions such as the Middle East where it may be more difficult for Westerners to gain entry.
THE GOSPEL IN INDONESIA
One last example is found in Indonesia. The country comprises a series of islands and is the largest Muslim country in the world. In the midst of this Islamic stronghold, the evangelist Stephen Tong started a growing Reformed evangelical church movement. Tong’s church in the capital city of Jakarta averages four thousand attendees each week. He has also founded a seminary and a Christian school, and he has planted multiple churches throughout Indonesia. Tong holds gospel rallies throughout Indonesia, where he preaches to thousands in stadiums and other open-air settings.
As his ministry has grown, Tong’s impact has extended beyond Indonesia to other Asian countries. He has established a regular preaching tour every week to Singapore; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Hong Kong; and Taipei, Taiwan; in addition to his Sunday preaching in Jakarta. Recordings of many of his sermons and lectures have circulated throughout the Chinese-speaking communities, earning him the reputation as one of the most influential preachers in Asia. Tong is likewise committed to Reformed theology and has introduced many in Asia to this rich biblical tradition.
THE GOSPEL MOVING FORWARD
The gospel is moving forward in Asia in unprecedented ways. Borrowing the words of Jonathan Edwards, who ministered during the First Great Awakening, this too is the “surprising work of God.” The gospel seeds that were planted more than two centuries ago have produced great spiritual fruit. What can we as Christians in the West do to support this movement of the gospel? Let me close by making a few suggestions.
1. Pray for the work of the gospel in Asia.
Many brothers and sisters are serving in countries where there are enormous challenges and significant dangers.
2. Participate by reaching out to and sharing the gospel with foreign students and workers in your community from Asia
In this age of globalization, there are many students and workers from Asia coming to the United States for short periods of time. As they hear and receive the gospel in America, they will return to their home countries with the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ.
3. Finally, if you have the opportunity, go and travel to Asia and see for yourself what the Lord is doing
Contact missionaries and churches and ask what their needs are and how you can go and help. I am certain it will be a life-changing experience.
© Tabletalk magazine
Dr. Jeffrey K. Jue is provost, executive vice president, and Stephen Tong Chair of Reformed Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. He is a teaching elder in the PCA.
With so much formerly-unquestioned institutions, definitions, relationships, etc. being redefined and made hazy in our culture today (i.e. marriage, gender, sexuality, etc.), the idea of true friendship hasn’t been immune; and neither has Christian friendship. As with everything else, we need to go back to God, the Author of friendship, for the right and proper idea and intention for friendship.
I read a great article on Christ-driven friendship this morning in Tabletalk magazine by Ryan Townsend (Executive Director of 9Marks in Washington D.C.) and thought that it would be good for the rest of you to read and consider for yourselves and for God’s honor. – Arthur
by Ryan Townsend
One of my favorite songs in high school was U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.”
It captured my youthful angst and dissatisfaction in this world and its friendships. Now, I had a great childhood, and I’ve always been a happy extrovert. But I wasn’t raised in a Christian home, and never experienced the full joy of Christian fellowship until I found Jesus—in a local, evangelical church on Capitol Hill, when I was twenty-three years old. God used friendships in this church to bring me to Christ (Matt. 5:16). Then, the Lord used (and is using) these relationships to help me grow in Christ (Col. 1:28). This has been the greatest existential joy I’ve experienced here on earth (Ps. 34:8). It makes my heart long for heaven, where we will have unending, joy-filled fellowship with God and all believers (Rev. 21:3). So, friendship is deeply important for the Christian life and ministry. And the church is foundational in all this. Here are three reasons why.
The Apostle John tells us, “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). This verse captures the relationship between the gospel, the church, and friendship. The blood of Jesus cleanses us from our sins, and we have genuine, joy-filled fellowship with God and with one another—if we walk in the light, that is; if we repent of our sins and believe in Jesus. This means that the church is a blood-bought community that grounds us in real relationship—with our Creator and with one another. It gives us real friendships that are unlike any other.
Biblical friendship, then, is a committed love that unites us in fellowship and allows us to finish the race and fight for faith together, through Christ who strengthens us (Phil. 4:13). And a local church is the gospel setting in which these friendships take place and allow God’s love to reverberate into the world. The church is the community where we serve King Jesus and learn to walk in a manner worthy of Christ—together, with friends. This community thereby allows us to encourage and exhort one another in the faith through the friendships it creates.
Encouragement and Exhortation
During high school, I visited England. We were driving one afternoon in the country, and I remember seeing a flock of sheep for the first time in my life, stumbling down the road right in front of us. I had never seen sheep so closely before. I thought sheep were white, but they’re not. Up close, they’re dirty—and messy and stupid. Some were falling into the ditch by the roadside; some were going the wrong way and biting at each other. But after ten minutes or so, with the help of the shepherds and the sheepdogs, they all made it home safely to the sheepfold.
In the same way, stronger and weaker Christians need one another—for love, discipleship, and encouragement. You see, we’re often like those sheep. We snap at one another and are easily swayed off the path. We fall into ditches and go the wrong way, but, by God’s grace, by being together in a flock, we can make it down the road.
This means we’re better stuck in the middle of the flock, even if it inconveniences our lives now. Why? If you know your own heart well, you know that it is actually more dangerous to be alone or on the edge of the flock because we’re prone to wander. Older men and women in the faith are commanded by Paul to disciple and encourage younger Christians (Titus 2). Younger Christians are also called to care for and love older Christians. That means that in the church, there is no such thing as an individualistic Christian. God has bound us together as one body in Christ and commanded us to care for one another (Heb. 10:24–25).
By joining a local church, stronger and weaker Christians make their love for Christ definite by loving others in a committed fashion. These friendships become the instrument that enables us to:
Encouragement is a powerful antidote to unbelief. And friendships are a great gift of God that bring us together in covenant love.
By God’s grace, they enable us to carry out the countless “one another” commands and make disciples who image His holy, pure, unified, and loving wisdom (Eph. 3:10). This brings us to the third reason why friendships are important to the Christian life.
A Display of God’s Glory
When Christians covenant together in genuine fellowship, these friendships image God well and put His character on display as the gospel unites people across great barriers amid great diversity.
In his book Love in Hard Places, D.A. Carson tells us:
Ideally . . . the church itself is not made up of natural “friends.” It is made up of natural enemies. What binds us together is not common education, common race, common income levels, common politics, common ancestry, common accents, common jobs, or anything else of that sort. . . . In this light, they are a band of natural enemies who love one another for Jesus’ sake.
We sacrifice our comforts, preferences, resources, time, and habits to help foster unity in diversity, and serve as a picture of supernatural, God-glorifying friendships that image God in our communities, commend the gospel, and bring joyful satisfaction and blessing in our own lives.
So, ultimately, friendships are important for the Christian life and ministry because they create a supernatural, compelling community that displays and protects the gospel, transforms lives and communities, and shines as a beacon of hope in a dark world. This is God’s plan for the local church (Eph. 2:13–3:21), and He carries it out for our good and His glory.
Have you ever been so desirous to honor God and keep His Word that you actually break His Word in doing so? I have. And I’ve had it done to me. And neither have been right, nor felt right (though the latter feels much worse initially, the former arrives in due time).
Here’s a reading from Tabletalk magazine that speaks to this propensity of ours. Learn and apply. You’ll be thankful you did (and so will your family and friends!):
“9 He was also saying to them, “You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition. 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother, is to [a]be put to death’; 11 but you say, ‘If a man says to his father or his mother, whatever I have that would help you is Corban (that is to say, [b]given to God),’ 12 you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or his mother; 13 thus invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down; and you do many things such as that.” Mark 7:9-13
Zeal without knowledge puts one in great spiritual danger, and we see this demonstrated in Jesus’ clashes with the Pharisees and scribes regarding their extrabiblical traditions. No one could question the zeal of these sects to keep God’s law. So concerned were they to make sure they did not violate the Lord’s commandments that they developed what they called a “fence around the law” consisting of various regulations designed to help ensure that the Mosaic law was obeyed. They reasoned that people would certainly be innocent of transgression by observing those extra regulations. Judaism’s system of kosher laws is a classic example. (Modern Judaism is based more on the traditions of the rabbis than on the Old Testament) Exodus 23:19; 34:26; and Deuteronomy 14:21 all say, “You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.” Over time, the kosher law that milk and meat products should not be eaten together developed out of a desire to keep the commandments of these passages. After all, if one never puts meat and milk together, one will certainly never boil a young animal in its mother’s milk, even accidentally.
That extra rule is legalistic enough, but even worse are rules that end up causing direct transgression of the commandments. Legalism is a problem because misplaced zeal for the law can lead one to violate the law without even realizing it. One tradition of the Pharisees, the Corban rule to which Jesus refers in today’s passage, took a good thing—giving gifts to the temple—and turned it into a means by which God’s law was broken. One commentator likens the Corban rule to the modern practice of deferred giving, which allows individuals to deed property and other gifts to another at death while retaining control over the gift in the meantime. Under the Corban rule, Jews could pledge something to the temple and have it pass into the temple’s possession at their death, but while the givers lived, they stewarded the property and lived off its proceeds.
In itself, such a rule was not evil and in fact could be a good thing. The problem was that the Pharisees and scribes were allowing people to use the Corban rule to escape their obligations to other parts of the law. According to the Corban rule, men and women who made gifts to the temple in such a way were free from having to support their elderly parents. This broke God’s command to honor our fathers and mothers (Mark 7:9–13).
Matthew Henry comments that “it is the mischief of impositions, that too often they who are zealous for them, have little zeal for the essential duties of religion, but can contentedly see them laid aside.” Like the Pharisees, we can be obsessed with good but optional things (giving extra gifts to the temple) in a way that makes us break God’s law. Let us have zeal for God’s law, but let us not let it develop into legalism that makes us break it.
– Reproduced from Tabletalk magazine, May, 2016 Issue, “John 3:16,” May 16, 2016 devotion, “Making Void The Word of God.”