You may have seen reports of the murders of three people associated with the U.S. Consulate in Juárez, Mexico, earlier this month. Sadly, these are among the latest of thousands of murders in the city of Juárez and elsewhere in Mexico as the country battles drug traffickers. The weekend of the Consulate shootings, 28 other people were murdered in Juárez alone. Stunning doesn’t quite capture it; it’s devastating, a social shock to the people of Juárez.
We recently received some updates and prayer requests from Iglesia Gracia Soberana de Cd. Juárez
, the Sovereign Grace church in that city, and wanted to pass them along to you. Will you join us in praying for believers in Juárez?
First, some more specifics. As Mexico’s war on the drug cartels continues, the city of Juárez is embroiled in violence. On average, at least seven people have been murdered every day since 2009, including more than 500 murders since January. The violence is not limited to those involved in drug trafficking—innocent bystanders, including children, are among those killed. In addition, the city is facing a crime wave in which anyone can be a target of kidnapping, armed robbery, and extortion.
This ongoing social catastrophe has far-reaching effects. About 5,000 businesses have closed, and some estimate that as much as 15–20% of the city’s population has left. Those who remain face the daily threat of ruthless violence.
Carlos Contreras is senior pastor of Iglesia Gracia Soberana de Cd. Juárez (Sovereign Grace Church of Juárez). For more than 20 years this church has been a faithful gospel witness in their city. They have trained a number of pastors and leaders and in 2006 planted another church
in Aquascalientes, Mexico. And they’re continuing to preach the gospel faithfully in spite of the trials they’re facing.
After describing the violence in Juárez Carlos writes,
But there is good news also. The church in the city remains strong and has apparently become the only remaining source of hope for many people. We all pray and we pray a lot, and we pray boldly and we pray publicly for God to intervene in a miraculous way to change things and to do justice. But mostly we pray for revival and for the salvation of thousands.
Under the leadership of their pastoral team, Iglesia Gracia Soberana is taking the gospel to the streets. The most recent session of their Alpha class (an introductory class on the gospel) graduated 63 students, more than they’d ever had. The church is airing evangelistic programs on local TV. Earlier this month, 150 church members went to two busy intersections, handed out about 800 evangelistic tracts and about 200 New Testaments, and prayed for about 300 people. On Saturday they hit the streets again, handing out 6,000 invitations to church, 300 copies of the Gospel of John, and 200 New Testaments—and praying for 1,300 people.
Here’s a slideshow of their outreaches:
My friends, this is authentic Christianity.
Carlos’s email continues,
What is most encouraging to me is to see our dear church steadfast in Christ while enduring faithfully in the midst of all this. Christ is certainly our solid rock, there is nothing more to trust in. Scripture has been our guiding light in the midst of great darkness and our fellowship is a constant source of joy and encouragement….My main job is to serve them by almost daily having the privilege of pointing their eyes to Christ and away from the despair surrounding us.
So here’s our appeal: Will you join us in praying for our brothers and sisters in Juárez? Please pray…
• that God would grant wisdom and strength to Carlos Contreras and other pastors in Juárez
• that God would give sustaining grace to Iglesia Gracia Soberana and the other churches in this city
• that the gospel would be clearly preached and many would put their faith in Christ for forgiveness of sins
• that peace and justice would be restored to Juárez
Thank you for joining us in prayer.
For more about the Sovereign Grace churches in Juárez and Aguascalientes (as well as in Bolivia), see this 35-minute film produced in 2007.
If you’d like to support Sovereign Grace Ministries’ work outside the U.S., you can make a designated gift by clicking here.
March 25, 2010 by Dave Harvey
Categories: Church planting
You may have met Ian McConnell before. C.J. posted about him
a while ago. But let me give you some real facts about my friend. First, the guy is big. I’m talking 5-brothers-and-3-played-semi-pro-football big. And he’s got a personality to match. There’s just a lot of him. He loves Philly sports, too. We love church planters who love Philly sports teams. It demonstrates perseverance.
What’s most important about Ian is that he loves Jesus. And he lets everyone know about it. His joy is infectious and he inspires those he comes in contact with to love Jesus more. I’m serious. Five minutes with this guy and you’re getting schooled on how to love God.
Ian “re-planted” a church in north Philadelphia in 2005. The church was struggling and its numbers had dwindled to 27…and that included Ian and his wife, Rachel. With a new vision for the church, Ian became the senior pastor and replanted Grace Bible Church
Just last Sunday, Ian was telling us that they knocked down one of the walls in the church to fit all the people on Sunday mornings…over 200. But for Ian, it’s not about numbers. It’s about people hearing the gospel and learning about Jesus.
I asked Ian to tell us some of what he’s learned about planting churches in the city. Here’s what he wrote.
Lessons I’ve learned in planting a church in an urban setting (Ian McConnell)
I’m humbled that Dave would ask me to offer some thoughts on church planting in an urban setting. We’re learning as we go, and benefiting from the mercy of God in our mistakes, so don’t read this as if it is coming from an urban church planting guru. I’m just a guy trying to serve the Savior and care for his church in Philly. But here are some things I’ve learned so far.
I’ve learned that there is no such thing as a “one size fits all” urban church-planting model.
When you think of the word urban, what comes to your mind? Lively ethnic neighborhoods where everybody knows you and all your family back for four generations? Burnt-out rows of dilapidated crack houses? Gentrified townhouses on tree-lined streets? Highrise condos strategically situated right off the business district? A bohemian enclave with cool little bars, coffeehouses and art galleries?
If I asked ten people for a definition of urban, they would most likely give me ten different answers like the ones above. Urban is a fluid concept. The word itself is an adjective that means “characteristic of a city.” So when approaching planting in the urban setting, I don’t think we should be asking the question, “What are the common ‘characteristics of cities’ that affect planting churches?” Since planting in Philadelphia, I have come to believe that one of the only things I can count on being true when somebody says they are doing an urban work is…population. When I hear “urban,” all I know for sure is “a whole lot of people.”
Cities are where there are a lot of people. It’s a place where a lot of people—some very poor, some very rich, some very in between—live close together. It’s a place where a lot of people—some hipsters, some hip-hop, some metro professional, some artsy, some immigrants—all live close together. It’s a place where a lot of people—some Caucasian, some African American, some Hispanic, some Asian, some Haitian, etc. etc.—you guessed it, they live close together. That is what makes urban church planting so crucial and so risky. And for guys like me, so exciting!
All that is to say that I have come to learn that stereotyping the urban setting, and approaching planting from that stereotypical vantage point, can be a huge detriment to urban planting before it even begins.
The challenge this presents for approaching urban church planting is that we really want to create a model of urban church planting that works the same in every city, and every part of every city. That would be so nice! What potential planter wouldn’t want to get a manual in the mail from Urban Church Planting Headquarters, turn to page one, and just get on with it. I’ve stopped looking in my mail for that package. What I have learned over the past seven years is that our approach to planting in the urban setting will be as fluid as the definition of the word urban itself.
And that’s what keeps it interesting.
I have learned that I must think neighborhood and not whole city.
I know every guy who has driven through a city with the burden of Christ pressing down on his soul, block after block, has at some point had this vision. What would happen if the gospel swept through this city? Why can’t there be a great revival—it has happened before! And why can’t it begin with me?
Come on, you know that last one at least has crossed your mind. And if we understand the power of the gospel, it should cross our minds. But planting a church is not running a crusade. And cities are big and complicated and busy. They resist people trying to change them—just ask the mayor. So as humbling as it may be to our Whitfieldesque dreams, when we think church planting, we need to think neighborhoods first.
Anybody who has lived in a city for any time knows that neighborhoods are well defined, and everybody knows the definitions. Everybody knows the folks on that side of the tracks are different than the folks on this side of the tracks. You know how far to go down a street before it goes from safe to not so safe. As an old East Coast city, Philadelphia was populated through immigration over the past 200 years. Different ethnic groups and nationalities came and dug into sections of the city, importing and planting their cultures side by side—coexisting, but rarely blending together. You tell a Philadelphia native what neighborhood you live in, he can guess your religion, your favorite food, and probably the last syllable of your name. Any big city, whether it is Sunbelt, Midwest, or West Coast, will be a city of neighborhoods. If you’re going to take the city for Jesus, it’s likely going to happen a neighborhood at a time.
This is a big deal to me as we approach reaching our city. I think that the neighborhood planting approach, over time, will be the most effective way to reach our cities. Our core theological values will be the same, and our Gospel message is absolutely unchangeable. But how it plays out methodologically will have to vary from neighborhood to neighborhood. This challenge requires what I like to call demographic exegesis. We need to study and understand the characteristics of the particular urban setting we are exploring and know what we may be getting into. We need to know who the people are in the neighborhoods we are considering for the church plant.
What is their culture? What is the predominant religious background (and believe me, you can have a neighborhood where nobody goes to church but everybody thinks they know all they need to know about God). If we open our doors on this block, who will come, and who will never even know we’re there? If we offer a certain ministry, who will think it is meeting a need and who will think it’s a cultish intrusion on the community? If we have this kind of music, who will like it and who will think the devil is in the building? This, folks, is called contextualization. And you can’t do urban without it.
I’ve got a few more thoughts as well, but I’ll wait for the next post to pass them along.
leads international expansion and church planting for Sovereign Grace
Ministries and is based in Glen Mills, Pennsylvania. For more
information about the Sovereign Grace church-planting process, click here.
March 23, 2010 by Tony Reinke
On Sunday Maryland was knocked out of the NCAA tournament by Michigan State in a buzzer-beater. The game was also the topic of a little wager between C.J. (Maryland) and Kevin DeYoung (Michigan State), which explains why C.J. can be seen sporting Spartan green on Kevin DeYoung’s blog. See here
March 18, 2010 by Tony Reinke
recently released a special edition of R.C. Sproul’s classic work, The Holiness of God
. The book was originally published in 1985 and over the last 25 years it has appeared in a variety of formats including hardcover, full-sized paperback, pocket-sized paperback, a translated Spanish paperback, and also as an e-book and audio book.
For the 2010 paperback printing Ligonier requested an endorsement from C.J., which he gladly penned. Here’s what C.J. wrote:
“When people ask me which books have most marked my life and ministry, I never fail to mention The Holiness of God
—its effect on me has been revolutionary. And the message of this book has never been more needed. If we fail to grasp God's holy character, we will never know God truly, we will never understand ourselves accurately, and we will never comprehend the significance of the cross. On such a critical truth, we need biblical clarity and appropriate solemnity, both of which mark this classic work by my friend R.C. Sproul.”
—C. J. Mahaney, Sovereign Grace Ministries
March 16, 2010 by C.J. Mahaney
Categories: Adoption | Music
Congratulations to my friend Bob Kauflin whose album Sons and Daughters has won the 2009 Worship Compilation of the Year award in the Worship Leader Magazine Readers’ Choice Awards.
I love this album!
And apparently many others love this album as well.
What I love about the album is the theological lyrics on the theme of God’s adopting grace.
So why did Bob focus this project on the doctrine of spiritual adoption? A while back on his blog, Bob wrote this:
The project came out of a perceived lack of songs that help us meditate on the unfathomable love God has shown us in adopting us through Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:5). We are now part of God’s family—in Christ we will forever be the objects of God’s particular and passionate mercy and love. We are not only forgiven, we are co-heirs with Christ, and never again have to doubt God’s care for us. That biblical reality, rather than leaving us focused on ourselves, drives us once again to proclaim the greatness of the God whose grace turns hopeless rebels into precious children.
We need songs on this important topic—especially worship albums for individual and corporate worship.
In his classic book Knowing God
, J.I. Packer writes:
If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all. For everything that Christ taught, everything that makes the New Testament new, and better than the Old, everything that is distinctively Christian as opposed to merely Jewish, is summed up in the knowledge of the Fatherhood of God. “Father” is the Christian name for God.…Our understanding of Christianity cannot be better than our grasp of adoption. (pp. 201–202)
I highly recommend Sons and Daughters. It will help convince you of God’s passionate and personal love for you. This album will remind you of God’s adopting grace, a theme that should prompt and control our worship. What better album to do this than Sons and Daughters.
Congratulations to Bob and to all the musicians and songwriters that made this album possible!
See related posts by C.J. on the theme of adoption here.
There’s a group of 15 believers in a remote village in south central Burma (or Myanmar) somewhere near the Irrawaddy Delta, who are quickly becoming some of my spiritual heroes. Unlike me, these men and women are consistently facing opposition as they seek to plant a gospel-centered church. Opposition for me is the weird look I occasionally get when mentioning I’m a pastor.
But listen to how my friend David describes this group of people:
Our church plant continues to meet on a regular basis, but with significant pressure from both local and religious leaders. At first, we had informal gatherings, but when [the authorities] see a pattern of our folks worshipping on Sunday morning and that our church planter is going from house to house, they accuse us of “changing their religion” and “creating problems” in their village. But the believers have all agreed and confess boldly that they have been changed by Jesus…
Western Christianity is much different than this; stories like this can sometimes be difficult to connect with. But there’s more. The cloud of oppression for this small group of believers changes their actual meetings. During worship, they sing softly. When they’re taking requests before their Heavenly Father, it’s barely above a whisper. Why? They don’t want to draw unnecessary attention resulting in targeted persecution. They live out a Christianity where that possibility is never far from their minds. The pastor of this small church spends each week encouraging these believers to hold fast in their faith. The current study diet: “to be strong in the Lord.”
That’s serious stuff. When we talk about church-planting difficulties in the States, we rarely see seminars on how to avoid arrest or suffer persecution for God’s glory. And yet, when you interact with David and this church, you find a group of people who are less aware of suffering than they are of the Savior. I want to be like that.
In Sovereign Grace, we’re thinking a lot about people like this group in south central Burma. We’re also thinking a lot about the 41% of the world’s population that still exists unreached by the gospel of Jesus Christ. And we need your help.
David is a pastor from Burma who graduated from our Pastors College. He’s got serious game when it comes to planting churches and a real heart to see the gospel preached in his home country. In fact, he is responsible for leading and directing a well-known church planting center, as well as a portion of the teaching. The guy never stops! Currently, David is looking to plant another church near the Irrawaddy Delta in a village largely unengaged and unreached by the gospel. As an inroad, he’s starting a preschool there. It’s crazy stuff, but we’re excited to partner with David to make it happen.
But there’s even more. We continue to look at other areas of the world where unreached people groups exist. We’re considering involvement with unreached Muslims in an African nation. We’re supporting translations work and other ministries that work on the front lines. There are also men related to these ventures that we’re considering for the Pastors College.
These are all exciting updates that appear to change on an almost daily basis. And each day, we’re reminded that what we need more than anything are your prayers. As you read this, a few Sovereign Grace pastors are visiting this small church in south central Burma to encourage the believers in their faith. Pray that God would use these men in mighty ways. Pray that more would be converted in this small village. Please pray for David. Pray that God would soften the hearts of those unengaged among the Karen people with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Pray for the selection of leaders for these churches. Pray that the gospel would go forth and many would be saved to the glory of God. Pray that we would play our part in Sovereign Grace Ministries and that every dollar spent would be multiplied so that God’s kingdom would expand.
May God bless the advancement of the gospel in Burma, North Africa, India, and among the unreached people groups beyond our borders!
leads international expansion and church planting for Sovereign Grace
Ministries and is based in Glen Mills, Pennsylvania. For more
information about the Sovereign Grace church-planting process, click here.
March 11, 2010 by Tony Reinke
Thabiti Anyabwile answers this question from his home in the Grand Cayman Islands in the newest T4G study tour video:
Thabiti Anyabwile - Study Tour from Together for the Gospel (T4G) on Vimeo.
March 10, 2010 by Tony Reinke
Categories: Book reviews
Theologian Jonathan Edwards looms large in church history and in the history of theology. Yet because his writings are often very difficult to read, they are inaccessible to many readers. Making Edwards’s theology and writings accessible to a broad audience was the burden behind a new series of books: The Essential Edwards Collection.
The set contains short paperback volumes for a total of 760 pages. It was written and edited by Owen Strachan and Doug Sweeney with an introduction by John Piper. The series includes five topical books:
- Jonathan Edwards: Lover of God
- Jonathan Edwards: On Beauty
- Jonathan Edwards: On Heaven and Hell
- Jonathan Edwards: On the Good Life
- Jonathan Edwards: On True Christianity
C.J. endorsed The Essential Edwards Collection. Here’s what he wrote:
Books on the life and theology of Jonathan Edwards could fill a library. So where does an average reader (like me!) begin? Right here, with The Essential Edwards Collection. Strachan and Sweeney provide a doorway into the life and teaching of one of the church’s wisest theologians. But this book is more than history. The authors have included notes of personal application to help us apply the life and teaching of Edwards to our own lives. I’ve read no better introduction to Jonathan Edwards.
And here are four other noteworthy endorsements:
D.A. Carson: “Everyone says Jonathan Edwards is important. Quite frankly, however, his writing style is pretty dense by contemporary standards, so few pastors and other Christian leaders have invested much time reading him. Edwards is one of the ‘greats’ of whom everyone has heard and whom relatively few have read. This new series tackles the problem. Here is the kernel of much of Edwards’s thought in eminently accessible form.”
Mark Dever: “In The Essential Edwards Collection, Owen Strachan and Doug Sweeney play the role of the good friend who pulls the book down off the shelf. With knowledge and excitement, they open the large and intimidating tomes, and point to some clear and searching section which illuminates God’s truth and searches our hearts. In this collection, Edwards is introduced to a new generation of readers. His concerns are made our concerns. This is a worthy effort and I pray that God will bless it.”
Al Mohler: “Why hasn’t this been done before? The Essential Edwards Collection is now essential reading for the serious-minded Christian. Doug Sweeney and Owen Strachan have written five excellent and accessible introductions to America’s towering theological genius—Jonathan Edwards. They combine serious scholarship with the ability to make Edwards and his theology come alive for a new generation. The Essential Edwards Collection is a great achievement and a tremendous resource. I can’t think of a better way to gain a foundational knowledge of Edwards and his lasting significance.”
Carl Trueman: “Jonathan Edwards is surely one of the most influential theologians of the eighteenth century, yet until now a representative sample of his work has required the reader either to wade through poorly printed double-column editions or to purchase incredibly expensive scholarly editions. Now at last we have a wide-ranging and representative sample of his work published in an attractive, accessible and, most important of all, readable form. The authors are to be commended for the work they have put into this set and I hope it will become an important feature of the library of many pastors and students of the Christian faith.”
March 5, 2010 by Tony Reinke
Categories: God's love | Parenting
In his recent sermons on Jude
, C.J. spoke about the tendency of Christians to have an inaccurate view of God the Father and to have “hard thoughts about God.”
In the first message C.J. said, “I have interacted with many Christians over the years who are not certain of God’s love for them. They can be reluctant to admit it, but they aren’t convinced in their heart and mind that God loves them. In light of their sin and the holiness of God they wonder whether God does indeed love them.”
After the message C.J. received an email from a father who fears that he is unintentionally introducing to his children these hard thoughts about God. He wants to know what to do to model the grace and love of God to his children. Here is the email exchange between C.J. and John (not his real name).
Thanks for your message from Jude on Sunday. It is always a privilege to hear God's Word through you. I am reminded of His grace to me through the truths preached by you over decades now.
When you noted how we often have hard thoughts of God and fail to appreciate His initiating love, I immediately thought of my example and communication about God to my kids. And when you asked at the end, "What are you most worried about?", I think it is that I will hinder my children from knowing that God not only rightly expects their obedience and submission—a bar they cannot possibly reach—but also that he loves them as a Father so deeply that He sent His son for them.
I am afraid they do have hard thoughts of God and that’s largely because of my own sinfulness (anger, impatience, anxiety), which I am eager to continue killing by the Spirit. But apart from that, the question I have is, how do we as parents insist that our children obey us in the Lord without cultivating hard thoughts of Him?
Grateful for any thoughts you would have on this.
This a great question that I can’t possibly cover fully in one email. But here are a few thoughts that I hope are helpful.
- You have the privilege of introducing them to God the Father and describing the ways in which he is different from you, different from all sinful fathers, and how in any way you are like him it’s only because of grace that you reflect him. See Luke 11:11–13.
- Your honest confession of your sin to your children will protect them from having hard thoughts about you or God.
- Communicating your affection for them—and joy when you are with them—promotes both good and accurate thoughts about God.
- Initiate time with them at both planned and spontaneous times. Don’t leave them with the impression that they get most of your attention when they disobey. Let them know you are so grateful for them and love being with them as much as possible.
- Bless your children with many gifts in many forms! See Luke 11 again. Study your children in order to discern what gifts would genuinely bless them and then purpose to surprise them as often as possible.
- Requiring appropriate obedience does not promote hard thoughts about God. This only happens when we do so in self-righteousness or anger. See point 2 again.
- Frequently preach the gospel to them (and not at them). Reveal to your children just how far God has gone to show his love for sinners like us.
My friend, if you follow the example of our gracious God, your children will not have hard thoughts about him. They will have accurate thoughts about him—and a deep love for you.
I hope these brief thoughts help, John.
March 4, 2010 by Tony Reinke
Perhaps the most neglected book in the New Testament is the little book of Jude, a postcard really. Yet Bible scholar Tom Schreiner writes that “some of the most beautiful statements about God’s sustaining grace are found in Jude.”
Recently C.J. preached through Jude in a two-part message at Covenant Life Church. The audio is available here:
Jude: Called to Contend: A Postcard from the Past
Feb 14, 2010
Listen or download here
Feb 21, 2010
Listen or download here