The Only Foundation of True Ministry

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The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name!’ And he said to them, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven. || Luke 10.17-20

In this remarkable passage we have one of the profoundest Gospel statements in the whole of the Bible. It speaks to the bedrock issue of our adoption as sons and daughters of God. I would here like to think about its implications for our day-to-day lives and for the ministries to which we give ourselves.

The Lord of the harvest had sent out 72 of His disciples at the beginning of the chapter. He articulated the greatness of the need in Gospel missions and the ripeness of the harvest fields. He bemoaned the dearth of laborers and left us with the charge to pray for their raising up and sending. Then He sent the disciples to proclaim the Gospel and to drive out demons in the towns which they would pass through.

The 72 “returned with joy,” declaring that demons were subdued and driven out in the Name of Jesus. There was legitimate joy in their hearts, the joy of being vessels who carried out of the works of God’s Kingdom. Yet, the Lord of the harvest gives a startling response to their rejoicing, one which ought to be central to our consciousness as those laboring in Gospel mission. Like these 72 disciples, the kind of rejoicing Jesus encouraged is often lacking today among those who are engaged in various forms of the ministry. Let us consider this.

According to Jesus, they were not to rejoice mainly in the works that were wrought through them, but rather in the glory of their adoption as sons— as those whose names had been written by God in heaven.

Robert Stein, in his commentary on Luke, speaks to the meaning of the Lord’s exhortation:

This picks up the “joy” of Luke 10:17 and points out that their true joy should arise not from missionary accomplishments but from their eternal salvation.
….

That your names are written in heaven. This metaphor for eternal salvation is found in the OT, the intertestamental literature, and the NT. “Are written” is a divine passive meaning God has written your names in heaven.

[Stein, R. H. (1992). Luke (Vol. 24, p. 310). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.]

I want to say that it is indeed “upon this rock” that the Lord means to “build His church,” and only upon this rock-solid foundation will the “gates of Hades” be incapable of “prevailing” against Her. Jesus Christ crucified and risen is the one foundation. The message of His Person and Work and the presence of His very Spirit is what made the apostles apostles. What He accomplished as a “ransom for the many” is the glorious center and the immovable ground of our rejoicing. Without strong footing in that truth, we resort to rejoicing in mutable things- even in the ministry itself.

It should be obvious to the child of God that this present world system, with all its sinful allurements, should no longer be accepted as part of our identity. We are to “reckon” ourselves “dead to sin, and alive in Christ,” and no clear-thinking Christian would claim that a life given over to sin befits the life of discipleship. We will be battling our own sin until the Day of the Lord comes, but we are battling it because it no longer defines us. We are disciples, learning to crucify the world in our hearts; learning to walk in the way of the Master. This should be clear to us.

Less clear, often, is the fact that we ought to be battling against our tendency to interweave the good things (even things so good as driving out demons in Jesus’ Name) with our identity at the root-level. Bearing fruit in ministry is a great cause for rejoicing, but if it is the primary ground of rejoicing, something has been twisted in our understanding of the faith.

Jesus said not to give preeminence to the works that are being wrought through us, but rather to rejoice at the deepest level in eternal salvation; that is to say, delighting in the fact that we have become sons and daughters of God through the Gospel of the Kingdom.

Here is a simple way to think about it, one which is so simple that I’ve taught it to my children.

Our identity in the Gospel has vertical and horizontal implications.

Vertically, as we look unto Christ, our root-identity has become that of “sons” and “daughters” of God. Horizontally, our root-identity has become that of “brothers” and “sisters” in the family that we’ve been adopted into. We are not foundationally disciples (students) nor ministers (servants). These portions of our identity are central to the faith, but underneath them, the glories of sonship (vertically) and brotherhood (horizontally) must be perceived and treasured. Otherwise, we are prone to slip into asceticism before God and comparison among the saints.

The Scriptures are so thickly threaded with this truth that I haven’t the time to recite all the verses that speak to us along these lines.

Suffice it to say, whatever I may be engaged in with regard to ministry, even God-given ministries that are biblical and line up with my own unique giftings, they will all become distortions if I am not living as a son in the vertical sense, and as a brother in the horizontal sense.

This puts the Gospel-premium on my relationship to the Father through Christ, and my relationship to the church through Christ.

The evidence of my failure to “rejoice” that my name is “written in heaven” will show itself by prayerlessness, neglect of Bible-reading, a disregard for the many commands of Scripture pertaining to life and godliness, and the neglect of healthy relationship within a local Church. I must not be truly rejoicing in the Gospel if these things are neglected, for deficiencies of these kinds serve as evidence that I am no longer seeing myself as a son in the Son, nor as a brother who has been brought into a familial union with the Church. Without this “name written in heaven” awareness, there is no firm footing to equip and keep me in the ministry as a missionary, a pastor, a theologian, or any other role.

If I cease to see God as my Source through the Gospel, I am likely to neglect communion with Him and fellowship with His people. The sap has been clogged in the tree of service. I will invariably begin to see my “calling” as a preacher, a writer, a church-planter, a worship-leader, a missionary, ministry director, or whatever it may be, as being superior to my grace-given calling as a son before God, and a brother to the saints.

Being a Gospel-grounded son infuses me with the grace of Christ, and being a brother in the context of the life of church keeps me footed on the self-same foundation, guarding me from the variegated deceptions of old-Adam thinking; even from deceptive ways of doing all sorts of ministry.

Various kinds of destructive things have occurred in the name of ministry where these foundations are lacking. That’s because the Lord of the harvest never called his people to do things in the “name of ministry,” but rather in the “Name of Christ.” This is the foundational truth of the Gospel, that our names have been written in Heaven on the basis of the “grace through faith.” Moral collapses, doctrinal deviations, and misrepresentations of the church and its mission have issued from the want of this joyous conviction.

We are simply not living as disciples of Jesus when our ministries take the preeminent place in our souls. When our works to not issue from the foundational truth of adoption, strange fire is kindled and raised to a destructive flame.

When there is a fracture in our awareness of the vertical life-line of sonship, we can literally do nothing aright, for “apart from Me you can do nothing.”

When there is a fracture in the horizontal life-line of brotherhood, even the noblest of ministries become a distortion, for the Lord means to “build” His “church,” which is His family. That family exists not merely to perform a litany of detached and multi-faceted works, however much we might seek to establish them in His Name. Nothing can be established in the Name of the Head in the neglect of His Body.

Perhaps the most deceptive form of this neglect of the church is when we bear sound ecclesiological language on the priesthood of all believers, biblical eldership, Gospel-centric fellowship, etc., but lack the corresponding reality which belongs to those precious truths. We may have an intensive focus on the truths of Scripture while being devoid of the grace and life by which those truths find their issuance in our lives. We may honor the Head with our lips while our hearts are far from Him, and this is something which we need to be on most diligent guard against. If our Orthodoxy does not produce Orthopraxy, a coagulation has occurred at some point. It is probably owing to an inadequate rejoicing in the excellencies of Christ Himself and a neglect of the means of grace that have down to us in the Scriptures.

The Head cannot be detached from the Body, and that Body which seeks to work apart from the Head is destined to meet His disciplinary siftings. If our works are not actually building up His family, neither are they truly exalting the Head. If we are not experiencing life as members in His Body, neither are we experiencing the full-orbed life which issues from the Head. When the vertical and horizontal fruits of our belonging to Christ are lacking or being circumvented, we are swimming in sub-apostolic waters. Be assured of this: Sharks abound in those waters.

So what can be said of your works, saints? Are you rejoicing that demons are subject to you; that your sermon was hailed as great; that the missions work is expanding and doing much good; that your writings are being heralded as ground-breaking; that your theology is ship-shape and confirmed as Orthodox by men you esteem? Let the list go on, but be on guard. Many of these things could be an expression of God truly bearing fruit in your life, but they could also be a sign that you are slipping into deception.

The questions are crucial: Are you presently ministering with a fundamental joy in the fact of your adoption as a son? Are you vitally related to the local church for the ongoing growth of a true rejoicing in the eternal salvation that has come to you in Christ?

Are you living, thinking, praying and laboring as a purchased son? Do the Christians around you truly know you as a brother— in accountability, vulnerability, and godly responsibility in their midst? Or are you more known by your particular gifting or position in the world or in ministry? If latter is true of you, you are standing upon a faulty foundation, however fruitful your ministry may appear to be. A ministry of that kind may be alive by way of reputation, but God will only reward finally what has been wrought by His Spirit and carried out in accordance with His Word. We must labor as recipient-sons, or else the ministry will will be top heavy with worldly wisdom, and we will be robbed of the rest that should be its lifeline. Jesus would have none of this for the 72, and He will have none of it for us. His love for us is too great and too true to permit it.

Little wonder that the most fruitful of apostles in Church history “determined to know nothing among” the saints “except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” Paul wanted the church’s identity to be founded upon and issuing from the only faithful and immutable foundation. He was eager to preach the Gospel to the sinners and saints, for only in the Atonement can the saints receive and enjoy the familial identity of sons and daughters before God, and brothers and sisters in His family.

Look at your life and ministry in light of the exhortation that Jesus gave the 72. Aim to discern and tear out the threads of inferior rejoicing that you’ve permitted to define your identity and drive your decisions and ambitions. Let the cross of Christ bring you to the place Paul boasted in, that cross “by which the world has been crucified to me, and I have been crucified to the world.”

Your joy will be fuller and fuller as you grow in an identity of sonship and share intimately as brothers and sisters in the grace of the Gospel. On this foundation He means to build His church in the nations, and by His zeal He will accomplish it. May we be found in the company of souls who know the preciousness of this truth, carrying out His work upon the only true foundation of life and ministry.

But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His Name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. || John 1.12-13

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Let love of the brethren continue. || Heb. 13.1

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Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through Him you believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and glorified Him, and so your faith and hope are in God.

Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For,

“All people are like grass,

and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;

the grass withers and the flowers fall,

but the word of the Lord endures forever.”

And this is the word that was preached to you. || 1 Pet. 1.17-25

Israel, the Church, and the End of the Age: An Eschatology Seminar

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Greetings, saints.

We have an upcoming eschatology seminar which will take place on four consecutive Sunday evenings at Bellicose Church.

Here are the dates (and subjects to be addressed), times, and the location:

Dates:

November 12th:

“Unto All Who Love His Appearing”: Why Eschatology is Not a Peripheral Issue, but Is Central to the Faith

November 19th

Covenant Pre-Millennialism: A Christ-Riveted, Pre-Millennial, Post-Tribulational, Gospel-Grounded, Israel-Focused, Godliness-Nurturing, Prayer-Stoking, Missions-Inducing, Joy-Increasing, Church-Engaging View of the End of the Age (I aim in this session to give an overview of what I believe to be the harmonious testimony of Scripture with regard to the consummation of the age and the summing up of all things in Jesus Christ.)

November 26th

“Look At the Nation Israel”: The Meaning of Israel, the Theology of Israel, the Crisis of Israel, and the Glorious Destiny of Israel

December 3rd

“What Sort of People Ought You to Be?”: The Character and Role of the Church in the Eschatology of Both Testaments

Time:

7:00 P.M. (all sessions)

Location:

Bellicose Church
207 Westport Rd.
Kansas City, MO 64111

All are welcome. Invite as many friends as you’d like. The doors will open at 6:45 P.M. Coffee and other beverages will be available. Childcare will also be available, space permitting.

We’ll begin promptly at 7:00 P.M. with a hymn, followed by a teaching and a Q & A session with myself and Brandon Quezada. The sessions will be over at 9:00 P.M. (including the childcare), but I will stay longer for those who wish to spend a bit more time dialoguing and praying. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me at bryanpurtle@mac.com.

I’m very much looking forward to opening the Word with you, saints. The old poet George Herbert gave us the wonderful line, “Bibles laid open, millions of surprises.” I’m praying that we will share in a rich and fruitful time together as we look to the One “Who was, and is, and is to come.” 

Affectionately,

BP

Treading Wisely Upon Wilderness Grounds

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Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. || Colossians 4.5-6

Paul issues a charge to the saints in Colossians 4 with regard to how we ought to carry ourselves in a world which “lies under the power of the evil one.”

Very simply, he tells us to “walk with wisdom toward outsiders.” Every believer needs to hear this exhortation. We are not to take lightly our goings and doings in the daily life of discipleship. We are regularly rubbing shoulders with “outsiders,” in our neighborhoods, as we’re running errands, meeting with blood-relatives, and in the natural cycles of employment and entertainment. Outsiders are everywhere about us, and we are to seek the Lord for “wisdom” as to how we see them and relate to them.

We are too casual about this, often seeing men only as a means to our immediate benefit, counting anything beyond utility as an inconvenience and hassle, and this reveals our lack of Godly wisdom. Too often the saints can be found mingling with the world and being stained by their garments, or swinging to the other pendulum-end by disregarding and avoiding them while we tend to our busy-headed life pursuits. The former dilutes and invalidates the brightness of our witness. The latter makes witness impossible, creating a kind of isolated Christian bubble, which ends up being un-Christian altogether.

Our lack of Godly wisdom in dealing with unbelievers has two root maladies which Paul addresses here, and he calls us to repent and reconfigure them, that we might become wise, seasoned with holy salt, and enabled to answer the labyrinth of worldly paradigms with the rock-solid truth of Jesus Himself. We live in a world that is languishing for want of truth, and only the redeemed of the Lord can address it rightly. Are we walking wisely, that we may do it?

The first root malady has to do with how we manage our time. Paul tells us to make “the best use of the time.” That is to say, we must “take every thought captive,” that every moment of the day might become a window through which the glory of Christ freely shines. We must establish the secret place of prayer and Scripture reading firstly, and secondly, we must learn the art of abiding in Christ throughout the day, and prioritizing all things rightly beneath the canopy of His rule. This will affect everything, from our theology, to our responsibility to the local church, to the ways in which we handle our finances, our families, our work ethic, and our management of all earthly pleasures (including food, entertainment, smart phones, etc.).

The second root malady he addresses is the manner of our speech. We are called to let our “speech always be gracious.” That is to say, we must learn to bridle our tongues, and bring them into submission to the Scriptures, and to the very Spirit of God Himself. There are times when we should be silent, and there are times when we should be speaking. Knowing how to discern these times, to be dependent on the Spirit and submitted to the Scriptures, will determine whether or not our speech is “seasoned with salt,” preserving in our hearts a love of the truth, and flavoring our words in such a way that men might “taste and see” the goodness of God in our conversations with them.

Only this kind of wise-walking amongst outsiders will equip us to “answer each person” in their respective mindsets and worldviews. Only this kind of gracious, salty living and speaking will bear ample witness to the crucified, resurrected, and soon-coming King.

Are you walking in this kind of wisdom, or are you neglecting the command to make the most of your schedule and to be careful about how you listen and speak to others? Your answer to this question may mean the difference between eternal life and eternal damnation for the “outsiders” around you. Indeed, it may mean the difference for your eternal destiny as well, for the child of God who is truly justified will find that his soul is on the road to being sanctified in these ways. If we refuse to grow in this, it may be that we do not belong to Christ at all— that we are “insiders” by way of reputation only, living cultural “Christian” lives which can only lead to the Lord’s fatal pronouncement, “Depart from Me. I never knew you.” We must “work out” our own salvation “with fear and trembling,” and as we do, we become vessels for the salvation of “the many” who otherwise could only be called “outsiders.”

This is our privilege and call. Let us be washed afresh and warmed anew in the grace and holiness of Christ, and give ourselves to the wise-walking which the apostle encourages. Thus may we constitute a “city on a hill” which cannot be “hidden.” One which faithfully casts Gospel-light upon “outsiders”, so that a “people dwelling in darkness” may see the “great light,” even Jesus Christ the Righteous. May we walk in this wisdom, and may it be said of our neighborhoods and cities, even of Israel and the nations, that “those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.”

Humble Teachableness Beneath the Canopy of Holy Fear

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Teach me Your way, O Lord,
    that I may walk in Your truth;
    unite my heart to fear Your Name. || Ps. 86.11

Humble teachableness befits the true child of God. The children of the world cannot know it, indeed they wish not to know it, for a true knowledge of God’s ways requires the upending “me-firstism”, a total transition and reconfiguration of the man-centered life, until it is suffused with Divine grace and wisdom. “Not my will, but Thine be done.”

The people of the world do not care for enlightenment; they feel no pressing need for it; in all probability they have an instinctive feeling that if enlightened they would know a little more than they wish to know, that their newly acquired knowledge would interfere with their old habits and ways, and this is one reason why all spiritual teaching which goes beneath the surface is distasteful to the majority of men. They cannot bear to be brought into contact with God, in anything but a general way; the particulars of his character may not agree over well with the particulars of their lives! It is the fashion in the present day to talk of man’s enlightenment, and to represent human nature as upheaving under its load, as straining towards a knowledge of truth; such is not in reality the case, and whenever there is an effort in the mind untaught of the Spirit, it is directed towards God as the great moral and not as the great spiritual Being. A man untaught of the Holy Ghost may long to know a moral, he can never desire to know a spiritual Being. || John Hyatt, 1767-1826

To be teachable before God means to make ourselves willing for death; the suffocation of our pipe-dreams and strong-headed aspirations. It does mean a transformation of our moral choices, but the moral change is not the center of the exchange. The center of our becoming teachable is God Himself. It means a radical exchange of our glory for His. Our morals change not because of human preference or opinions, but because we “see the Lord, high and lifted up,” and as Hyatt declared, we are “brought into contact with God,” desiring to “know a spiritual Being.” This brings about not merely a tweaking or improving of our morals, but an exchange of all that we deem moral with the very morality or holiness of God.

“Teach me to know Your way.” The way matters because the “Your” precedes it. The majestic King is the One source and aim of sincere, humble teachableness. He is at once the Source:

Christ is our Way, Truth, and Life, because he is Man united to God, and is one substance with the Father. || Christopher Wordsworth.

There is no learning of His way or walking in His truth apart from the Gospel. Jesus justifies us in the immediate and sanctifies us over time. He “is Man united to God.”

The Psalmist did not merely want to agree theoretically with the truth of God, he wanted to “walk” in it, and this is crucial. His desire was that the very ways of God would permeate his very perspectives and actions. This was true orthodoxy wedded to orthopraxy, faith with works, worship with obedience, a heart “united to fear His Name” in all of life.

Do you possess this kind of humble teachableness, child of God? It is a most precious thing to live in this state of child-like circumspection before God. The same light that pierces and kills the pride of our own way is the light which warms our souls and brightens our vision of the narrow path of discipleship. It must be a daily cry for the pilgrim en route to eternal glories. The world, the flesh and the devil would have us to stand erectly in the deception of self-sufficiency and know-it-allness. The Spirit of truth leads us to humble teachableness, moment by moment, bowing again and again before the authority of His Word, panting and believing for the help of His power and grace.

Our aim then is not to walk in our own way, nor even merely to agree with His way as a category, but to “walk.” To “live, move, and have our being in Him.” 

A life lived outside of this kind of experience, despite even accurate credal affirmations, will be “distasteful to the majority of men,” for by nature we do not yearn for this kind of humble teachableness. We want to do it our way, as Frank Sinatra has so eloquently and devastatingly sung. But to cling to our way, even if we have a “reputation of being alive,” is to go from death to death, to be “double-minded and unstable in all our ways,” and the “end thereof is the way of destruction.” The Scriptures must be our guide along the way, and this applies not only to moral actions, but even to the manner of our ministry in the local church and in missions. Those who lack this kind of humble teachableness can only build works that will at the final Day be left in ashes.

Better to humble ourselves before the wise and gracious Judge, and to sink our souls into the prayer of the Psalmist. “Teach me Your way… that I may walk… Unite my heart to fear Your Name.”

Our hearts must be freed from the double-mindedness of seeking the variegated paths of the worldly. To live under the influence of the spirit of the age means to have a thousand paths before us, all of them wide and quite accessible, but leading ever and always to confusion, uncertainty, and godlessness. In fact, they lead to ill conditions precisely because they are godless, for the One True God is the ground of “righteousness, peace, and joy.” The one path of truth leads to holiness and assurance, and it cannot be traversed without the grace which teaches our hearts to fear God— “amazing grace”, as Newton put it.

Forsake your strong-headedness, your hardness of heart, your insistence to walk in your own way. By faith now look unto Christ, and pray that He would tie your heart in the firmly cinched knot of humble teachableness— that He would unite your heart to fear Him, to learn of His ways, and thereby to “walk in newness of life.”

In knots, to be loosed never,
Knit my heart to Thee forever,
That I to Thy Name may bear
Fearful love and loving fear.
—Francis Davison.