We’ve had a great winter here in Pennsylvania. Among many other things, Mollie has been enjoying making some homemade bread, homemade butter, and even some homemade maple syrup! I’ve been busy calling churches and making new contacts for additional ministry support. The kids, meanwhile, continue to enjoy the snow and playing with the new friends they’ve made with the other missionary kids on the campus here. There’s still a fair amount of snow on the ground, too, but little by little it’s starting to melt and the grass is beginning to poke through. Barring any late season snowstorms, it should all be gone in another few weeks. With the increase in temperatures also comes an increase in our travels. We’ve been blessed with the opportunity this winter to present our ministry to a couple churches here in Pennsylvania, but soon we will be hitting the road for some more extensive travels. In light of that I wanted to post just a little update to keep everyone abreast of what we’re doing and where we’ll be headed in the coming weeks.
It all begins this week, as we travel to Brooklyn Baptist Church in Brooklyn, New York. Then, in just a little over three weeks from now we head up to New Hampshire again for a week. We had initially thought this trip was going to take place this month, but instead it will occur in mid April. We’re so excited, too, to be in New Hampshire again. Even though it’s been only five months since we were last there it seems like so much longer, and we are anxious to be back again and to continue familiarizing ourselves with the area we’ll be ministering in and getting to know some of the believers there. We’ll be visiting with two churches while in New Hampshire: South Baptist Church of Laconia, NH, and Newbury Bible Church of Newbury, VT. Then, only two weeks after that we’ll be heading down to Georgia for ten days where we’ll be visiting with our sending church and at least one of our other supporting churches.
Please be in prayer for us we travel and as we present our ministry at churches and visit with some of the churches that have already partnered with us. Please also consider whether you might be able to assist financially with our upcoming trips. As is the case with any trip like these, a significant cost factor is always involved. Therefore, any help we could receive to cover those costs would be greatly appreciated. If you would like to contribute to our upcoming travels or if you would like to become one of our regular, monthly giving partners, please click on the following link http://clo.do/un77/ or send your contributions to our sending church/sending agency at the address below.
Poplar Springs Baptist Church
422 Poplar Springs Road
Ringgold, GA 30736
* In the memo line of your check please indicate: Plant New Hampshire
As always, thank you all so much for your continued prayers and support!
For many in the United States this winter has been especially brutal. Sub-freezing temperatures, snow, and ice have come to places even in the Deep South. Even as I type, I’m looking out on a snow cover of about 12 inches and temperatures in the teens. Our friends down south are also expecting another blast of winter weather that will reach us here in the northeast tomorrow. Thankfully, the weather hasn’t disrupted our schedule. We’ve been able to get involved with a great church in the area and have become part of a wonderful Bible study group with some of the families there, and the winter weather hasn’t kept us away from church or these other activities. I was also able to travel a couple weeks ago to present our ministry at a church in Boalsburg, PA, and in two more weeks, we’ll be presenting our ministry at a church in Pottsville, PA. Then, if all goes as expected we may be in New Hampshire again for a short time in March visiting with some churches there and getting further acquainted with the area that will shortly be our home. So in spite of a winter that has broken records in some parts of the country, life and ministry continues to move forward for our family. It’s been slow going at times, for sure, as I continue each day to call churches, making new contacts and following up with previous ones. But God keeps encouraging me through recent conversations with pastors in New England who have confirmed for me time-and-time again how great of a need there is for gospel-centered, Bible-believing churches to be planted in northern New Hampshire. So I am confident, that as we remain faithful to persevere in our calling, God will provide us with the support we need to begin our ministry in New Hampshire. We’re so very thankful for how the Lord has so graciously provided for us already and for His continued care and protection of us over the course of the last year, and we’re praying for another safe, productive, and God-honoring year. Please pray together with us to that end.
The kids are also enjoying their first real taste of winter and are having lots of fun snow tubing, digging snow forts, walking through snow-covered woods, and searching for the biggest icicles they can find! Mollie and I even had the chance a few days ago to join them and spend a few hours as a family playing in the freshly fallen snow from one of the many recent storms. But while our family and others are enjoying this arctic freeze, some are longing for it to end and are waiting with anxious anticipation for the snow and cold to give way to the warmth and newness of spring. But suppose a place with a cold and snowy climate, where the winter months lingered on longer than any other season, was precisely where God was calling you. Would you go? That is exactly what happened with our family. More than eight years we moved from northeast Pennsylvania to northwest Georgia so I could attend seminary in nearby Chattanooga, Tennessee. One of the reasons we chose that location was in order to get away from the cold, northern climate. And once we left, our intention was to never live in a cold climate again. The phrase “we’re never moving back up north” passed from my lips on more than one occasion. But although we thought we’d never live in the north again God had different plans. Yet, the amazing thing about it is that as soon as we began to discern that God was directing us up north again our hearts and minds were completely changed. God has since given us a new love and appreciation for the north, especially for the people of northern New England, and also a love and enjoyment of the cold and snow, as well as a fresh perspective on how He might use us in such a region. God has also given us a deeper burden for people living in points even further north and has raised our awareness of the desperate need for gospel proclamation in these places.
Much discussion of missionary work focuses attention on the 10/40 window. The 10/40 window refers to the points on the globe between 40 degrees and 10 degrees north latitude. This region holds most of the Earth’s population and the vast majority of the unreached people groups of the world. Given these facts alone, it is obvious that there’s an ongoing need to send missionaries to the countries that lie in the 10/40 window. Thankfully, many Christians continue to heed the call to take the gospel to this area, and many churches who desire to see the gospel proclaimed throughout the world remain faithful to support such missionaries. Our own sending church is one such example. They have sent out several to these areas, and I am very thankful for each of these families and others like them who have been obedient to obey God’s command to proclaim the excellencies of Christ among the nations.
Yet, as important as missions is and will continue to be in the 10/40 window, there is an every growing need for similar missionary endeavors on the other side of the 10/40 window. We could call this the 70/40 window or the 40/70 window. This would be the points on the globe that lie within 30 degrees to the north of the area encompassed within the 30 degrees of the 10/40 window. This is an area that has historically contained the largest Christian population and has been the most influenced by a Judeo-Christian worldview. It is an area that saw the birth of the Protestant Reformation, the establishment of a Puritan society in the New World, the rise of two Great Awakenings, and the founding of the modern missionary movement. Yet in recent decades that scenario has dramatically changed, and the countries that lie in the 40/70 window are becoming, indeed have already become, a mission field in their own right. This change has taken place to a certain degree from the spread of false religions and cults. However, the primary cause for this drastic shift in the spiritual landscape of the 40/70 window is due to the influence of secularism and humanism, which has brought with it an increasing rise in atheism and agnosticism, along with a growing distrust and disdain for organized religious institutions, and a general apathy and disinterest in any system of belief. As a result, many of the countries in the 40/70 window are now some of the most irreligious countries in the world. Consider the following statistics about religious belief in some of the countries of the 40/70 window, which represents just a small snippet of information on this part of the world.
1. Quebec, Canada is the least reached region in North America, with 99.3% of its more than 8 million people lost.
2. The Czech Republic is one of the least religious countries on earth, with the rates of irreligion growing more each year. Over 71% of the population identify themselves as atheistic, agnostic, or non-religious, and the evangelical population is only 0.7%.
3. While Sweden has a larger evangelical population than the Czech Republic, it is considered one of the most secular and irreligious nations on earth, with as much as 85-88% of the population identifying themselves as atheistic, agnostic, or non-religious.
4. Other nations in the region, especially those in Scandinavia, show similar statistics, with each of the five Scandinavian countries, for example, displaying levels of atheism and agnosticism at 60% of the population and higher and evangelical populations as low as 3.5%
5. A few additional examples of countries in the 40/70 window that have large non-religious populations and small evangelical populations are as follows:
Estonia: 78% non-religious and an evangelical population of 4.9%
Norway: 78% non-religious and an evangelical population of 8.4%
France: 74% non-religious and an evangelical population of 1%
Belgium: 68% non-religious and an evangelical population of 1.2%
Russia: 59% non-religious and an evangelical population of 1.2%
Given these facts, it should be clear how necessary it is to send missionaries and church-planters to places within the 40/70 window. Certainly, ministry in these places is not without its difficulties. Not only is the climate much colder than many other places in the world, but so can the response to the gospel. It can be difficult to reach people with the message of Christ’s atoning work in largely non-religious societies where many are suspicious and incredulous toward evangelical Christian beliefs even while being largely unacquainted with them. Where the cold climate dominates there can also exist a heightened level of self-sufficiency and independence, which may add to the general disinterest in religious beliefs and religious conversations. These and other factors can make ministry in the 40/70 window difficult and requires a lifetime of patience and faithful perseverance. But thankfully we serve a God who has been patient with us, and who provides us with an example that we can emulate as we minister in places like the 40/70 window. We can also trust that God will bring salvation to many throughout this region. That’s because we serve a God who can melt through even the iciest of hearts and break down every barrier of unbelief, self-sufficiency, and independence to call people to Himself. He’s done it many times before, and He will certainly do it again until Christ returns. This means that we can engage in missions and evangelism in the 40/70 window without fear, and without undue concern for the challenges that we’ll face. After all, God is in the business of redeeming lost sinners, often from the most unlikely places.
So perhaps the Lord is calling you to one of these places, as He did with our family. Perhaps you recognize the need for the gospel of Jesus Christ to come to the least religious and most secular countries in the world and desire to reach even those who on the surface seem the least reachable. Please consider the need. Consider whether God might be calling you to a life of full time Christian service or partnership with those who are already serving in places like New England, Alaska, Quebec, Russia, Scandinavia, Greenland, France, Germany, Belgium, Scotland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Mongolia, Japan, Estonia, the Czech Republic, or any of the many other countries that lie in the 40/70 window.
As the year comes to an end I wanted to take this time to highlight some of the ways God has blessed and provided for our family in 2013. This has been a year that has seen God answer many of our most pressing prayer needs and provide for us time and time again. So many things could be listed, but below are those things we consider the most significant ways God has acted on our behalf and for His glory in 2013.
1. God continued to be our ever present help in time of need and the One we could trust at all times and in all situations and circumstances.
2. God continued to show us His mercy and grace, His faithfulness, His covenant loyalty, and His steadfast love, though we are so undeserving of His favor and often fail Him.
3. God continued to provide us with every spiritual blessing that is available in Christ Jesus.
4. God provided for all of our physical, mental, and emotional needs.
5. God provided us with great safety and provision as we traveled throughout the country raising support.
6. God allowed us to see many new places, to enjoy His beautiful creation, and to meet many new people.
7. God allowed us the opportunity to present our ministry at various churches, and in the process gave us the privilege of making many new friends in the body of Christ
8. God blessed our family by keeping each of us close to one another and by keeping us healthy throughout the year.
9. God comforted us greatly during times of grief, when loved ones in our extended family passed away.
10. God reassured us and provided us with hope for the future during times of uncertainty, fear, and discouragement.
11. God provided us with new ministry partners to help support the work that we are preparing for in New Hampshire.
12. God provided us with the opportunity to move to Pennsylvania for a time in order to be closer to New Hampshire and to prepare ourselves better for ministry in New England.
13. God allowed me the great honor of being ordained to the gospel ministry.
14. God blessed me with the privilege of baptizing my oldest son, Ethan.
15. God has continued to provide for our spiritual growth and the spiritual growth of our children, and to bless our family greatly through our times of corporate and family worship.
16. God gave us opportunities to present His gospel to the lost.
17. God blessed us with the fellowship, love, and support of our wonderful church family at Poplar Springs.
18. God has provided us with a great new church in Pennsylvania.
19. God blessed us with the love, care, and concern of many dear friends.
20. God showed us how unique and special a bond we share within the body of Christ.
21. God blessed us with new friends and prayer partners in northern New England.
22. God greatly encouraged us through the faithful remnant who are serving God in northern New England.
23. God provided miraculously for us at times of great need.
24. God increased our burden for the lost and our passion for reaching the people of northern New England with the gospel.
25. God continues to show us that He is completely deserving of all our trust, obedience, devotion, adoration, and worship.
“For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.” – Hebrews 13:14-15 (ESV)
It’s hard to believe Christmas has come and gone already and another year is nearly over. As the year comes to a close we find ourselves settled into our new home in Pennsylvania. We’re attending a new church, making new friends, and getting back to a regular routine that has been pretty disrupted for the last couple of months. The kids are also loving the cold and snow and it has been preparing all of us for the winters we’ll experience in northern New Hampshire.
Our Christmas was wonderful. On Christmas Eve we attended a beautiful candlelight service, and for the first time in recent memory were blessed to have all six children sit quietly through the entire service (I guess it helped that two out of the six were asleep)! Then on Christmas morning we awoke to a fresh dusting of snow and the excitement of the kids. We spoke about Jesus’ birth and the true meaning of Christmas, unwrapped presents, enjoyed a great meal, and later celebrated another birthday, our oldest daughter Laura, who turned 10 years old on Christmas! It was such a blessed day that comes at the end of a very blessed year.
It has been a year of ups and downs, of challenges and successes, of sad good-byes and fond new acquaintances. It has been a year that has tested our faith and stretched our patience and resolve, but it has above all been a year filled with God’s blessing and provision and testimonies to God’s steadfast love and faithfulness. It has been a year that fills us with excitement and anticipation of what God will do through us and among us in the coming year. But most of all I am reminded of not just what God has taken us through and how he has provided for us in 2013, but the provision He made for us nearly 2,000 years ago through a baby born in a manger.
This is such a special time of year as we remember the incarnation of the Son of God and all God accomplished in redemptive history by sending His Son to this earth, to be born of a virgin, to live a sinless life, and to take upon Himself, in His death on the cross, the sins of His people; to suffer the very wrath of God against those sins in order to secure the salvation of all those who would believe in Him, and then to rise again in triumphant victory over death and sin, so that those who believe could partake of His perfect resurrection life. That is the very heart and essence of Christmas; it’s the message of the gospel we proclaim, and it’s a message contained in many of our most loved Christmas songs that we sing at this time of year.
Each year during the Christmas season our family takes time during our family worship to sing some well-known Christmas hymns. Each of us has our favorites. Laura, Rachel, and Ian love “Angels We Have Heard on High,” Ethan enjoys a modern hymn written by Third Day entitled “Born in Bethlehem,” and Mollie’s favorite is “O, Holy Night.” It’s hard for me to settle on my favorite. There are several I really enjoy and I love the rich theology and devotion to our Lord that is present in many of them. But this year in particular, one song that we’ve been singing has captured my attention more than all the others, and that is “Joy to the World,” published in 1719 by the great hymn writer and father of modern hymnody, Isaac Watts. Perhaps alongside “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” or “O, Come All Ye Faithful” there is no other song that defines the Christmas season and the tradition of singing Christmas carols as much as “Joy to the World.”
But did you know that “Joy to the World” wasn’t written as a Christmas song? In fact, it wasn’t until 120 years after the song was published that it became conceived of us a Christmas hymn, and another twenty-years or more after that until the singing of Christmas carols became widespread in the church. Watts had originally intended the song as a description of Christ’s kingdom rule, which was inaugurated, not at His birth, but upon His ascension into heaven and exaltation at the Father’s right hand. In fact, the song was not even called “Joy to the World” in its original publication, but bore the title “The Messiah’s Coming and Kingdom.”
As interesting as it may be, what intrigues me most about this song is not the history behind it and its development into use as a Christmas carol, but the original meaning and intent Watts had in mind when he wrote the song. In his day Watts was considered revolutionary in what he proposed for the worship of the church. Before Watts’ time most songs used in corporate worship were Psalms put to music. Watts was one of the first to propose using our own words to create hymns. His logic for this was simple. If we use our own words to pray to God than why not use them in our songs of worship. Out of this desire Watts developed more than 750 hymns, many which still fill our hymnals to this day. But as a pastor and theologian Watts was not flippant or careless in his choice of words but endeavored to base each of his hymns solidly on the text of Scripture. One such example of this commitment is Watts’ collection “The Psalms of David: Imitated in the Language of the New Testament, and Applied to the Christian State and Worship.” It was in this collection that the hymn “Joy to the World” first appeared. Watts based this song upon the last half of Psalm 98. Here are the words that served as Watts’ inspiration.
4 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth;
break forth into joyous song and sing praises! 5 Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre,
with the lyre and the sound of melody! 6 With trumpets and the sound of the horn
make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord!
7 Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
the world and those who dwell in it! 8 Let the rivers clap their hands;
let the hills sing for joy together 9 before the Lord, for he comes
to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
and the peoples with equity.
What is fascinating about Watts’ hymn, along with the other hymns included in his collection, is how Watts “reimagined” them, as the title of his work explains, “in the language of the New Testament.” This is significant, because it shows us that Watts understood that Christ is present in all Scripture, and that even those Old Testament passages that do not directly mention the coming of the Messiah are nonetheless related in one way or another to the Messiah and God’s overarching redemptive plan in Christ, and should therefore be interpreted in light of the fuller New Testament revelation about Christ we now possess. Yet Watts didn’t simply reinterpret the Psalms in light of the New Testament, but infused his hymns with Scriptural references taken from the New Testament, so that what is sung is not merely Watts’ own words, but something of a New Testament commentary on the Old Testament.
Watts’ interpretation of the Psalms in particular shows us how these songs of Israel’s worship should be understood by believers today, who through Christ are the true spiritual Israel of God. Indeed, the Psalms, as understood by Watts, provide the Christian with tremendous practical benefits when each is properly understood in light of the person and work of Christ. Watts own words are worth quoting at this point, as he describes in the preface to his work on the Psalms the theological rationale behind the words he chose for each song. Watts explains that
Where the Psalmist uses sharp invectives against his personal enemies, I have endeavoured to turn the edge of them against our spiritual adversaries, sin, Satan, and temptation. Where the flights of his faith and love are sublime, I have often sunk the expressions within the reach of an ordinary Christian: where the words imply some peculiar wants or distresses, joys, or blessings, I have used words of greater latitude and comprehension, suited to the general circumstances of men.
Where the original runs in the form of prophecy concerning Christ and his salvation, I have given an historical turn to the sense: there is no necessity that we should always sing in the obscure and doubtful style of prediction, when the things foretold are brought into open light by a full accomplishment. Where the writers of the New Testament have cited or alluded to any part the Psalms, I have often indulged the liberty of paraphrase, according to the words of Christ, or his Apostles. And surely this may be esteemed the word of God still, though borrowed from several parts of the Holy Scripture. Where the Psalmist describes religion by the fear of God, I have often joined faith and love to it. Where he speaks of the pardon of sin, through the mercies of God, I have added the merits of a Saviour. Where he talks of sacrificing goats or bullocks, I rather chose to mention the sacrifice of Christ, the Lamb of God. When he attends the ark with shouting into Zion, I sing the ascension of my Saviour into heaven, or his presence in his church on earth. Where he promises abundance of wealth, honour, and long life, I have changed some of these typical blessings for grace, glory, and life eternal, which are brought to light by the gospel, and promised in the New Testament. And I am fully satisfied, that more honor is done to our blessed Saviour, by speaking his name, his graces, and actions, in his own language, according to the brighter discoveries he hath now made, than by going back again to the Jewish forms of worship, and the language of types and figures.
This is what many today refer to as redemptive-historical hermeneutics or Christ-centered interpretation. And the presence of this understanding of Scripture in the writings of Isaac Watts shows us that while redemptive-historical hermeneutics has been neglected in recent decades among evangelical Christians, its recent resurgence represents a healthy return to an understanding of Scripture that has been the accepted view among the majority within Christendom since the time of the Apostles.
Watts “Joy to the World” also provides us with a great reminder of the joy and hope we possess as Christians, a hope brought about not only because of the birth of Jesus, and not only because of His life, death, and resurrection, but a hope based also upon the fact of Christ’s kingdom rule. This is a rule that will be fully consummated upon Christ’s return, but which, as the lyrics of “Joy to the World” demonstrate, is a rule that is spiritually inaugurated now.
“Joy to the world, the Lord is come” and “Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!” are two lines from Watts’ lyrics that point to this belief, and the belief of multitudes of believers like Watts, that Christ is already seated on the throne of David and rules and reigns over the earth now through His church. This is an invisible rule that takes place primarily through the spread of the gospel and the growth of the church, as “Joy to the World” explains with the line “let every heart prepare him room.” This statement points to the offer of the gospel that is given, not after Christ’s return, but to those living now. This is further shown by the concluding lines of the hymn that declare, “He rules the world with truth and grace, and makes the nations prove the glories of His righteousness, and wonders of His love.” It may seem at first glance that these words describe Christ’s Second Coming. But notice again what Watts states here: 1) “He rules the world with truth and grace.” But when Christ returns the offer of grace will be over and He will rule with a rod of iron, (see Rev. 2:27; 12:5; 19:15). 2) “And makes the nations prove the glories of His righteousness, and wonders of His love.” Watts use of prove has the archaic definition of “learn or find out by experience” and refers to the salvation of the nations, to those who experience the glories of Christ’s perfect righteousness and the wonders of His redeeming love as a result of hearing and responding to the gospel proclaimed prior to Christ’s Second Coming.
So not only is Watts “Joy to the World” a great example of Christ-centered interpretation, but it also provides us with a description of Christ’s current spiritual reign on earth, as well as an example of the already/not yet nature of God’s redemptive activity. This is truly a reason to rejoice, this season and always. Just as Christ promised His disciples at the end of Matthew 28 that he would be with them always, we are assured of not just Christ’s presence among us, but also His kingly authority and sovereign rule. And although it’s a rule that for now is not without opposition in this world (see Psalm 110:2), we can be comforted by the fact that Christ will return one day in power and great glory to put an end to all opposition, to decisively crush evil, to judge the earth, and to create a new heaven and new earth, where He will forever reign. And for those of us who know Christ through repentance and faith and have entrusted ourselves now to His kingly rule, all the “sins and sorrows” that we face will be finally, and consummately put to an end, and we will rule and reign with Him for all the eons of time.
May your Christmas season be filled with the hope and joy that comes through Christ alone, and may you be richly blessed and abundantly cared for by God’s grace in Christ now and always. From the Kleber family to all our friends and family, both far and near, we wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
It’s hard to believe all that has taken place in the last two months. So much has happened it’s difficult to even know where to begin describing it all. I guess the best thing to do is just start from the beginning. As most of you know, in late September we began a month-long survey trip to New Hampshire that included a lot of travel and church visits in New England and throughout the northeast. And I know I’ve probably said it before or posted it somewhere, but I think it is worth repeating to say that our trip was amazing! But even the time leading up to our trip was quite remarkable. There were a lot of funds we needed to raise to make our survey trip a reality, and we had some initial concerns that we might not be able to raise it all in time. But suddenly, in the last couple of weeks before our trip God provided in an incredible way as so many people in the body of Christ rallied around us with prayer support, financial support, and words of encouragement. To say that we were overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and greatly blessed by all the love and generosity we were shown would be an understatement. We were simply blown away by it all! Yet this was only the beginning of how we have seen God provide for us over the last couple of months. And through these experiences we have seen highlighted for us, in some very profound ways, the truth of God’s unending faithfulness, the beautiful uniqueness of the body of Christ, and the wonderful blessing it is to know and serve God together with His saints. But more of that later.
Our survey trip, as I’ve said, was amazing! The trip up from Georgia was great, and the kids did so well on the long drive. We were all tired after a whole day on the road, but there was no rest for the weary. The next afternoon, after arriving in Pennsylvania, we were on the road again, headed to a church in upstate New York that we would be at the next morning where I would preach and present our ministry. Being in the northeast again was such a joy for us, and as we traveled that day and in the days following we were filled with a deep love and burden for the northeast, greater than we had ever had before. This served as the first of many confirmations to us of God’s call upon us to this area.
From upstate New York our travels took us back to Pennsylvania for a week, then to a wonderful church in New Jersey, and at long last to northern New Hampshire, where we arrived the evening of October 8th. We weren’t really sure what we were in for as we drove in that night and were greeted by treeless mountain peaks towering above. The sun was beginning to set, the temperature outside was getting cold, and the darks silhouettes of the mountains were looming over us in the glow of the evening. I have to admit that we felt a little intimidated and overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the mountains, and the savage beauty of the land was enough to take your breath away. It made us think of the overwhelming task we face as we prepare to minister in a fairly remote part of the country among people, who generally speaking, don’t want to hear the message we have to proclaim. But at the same we were reminded of the great power of our God to overcome even the greatest obstacles and the most insurmountable odds to achieve His purpose and plan, and of the sovereign might of God’s Word and Spirit to bring forth whatever God wills to accomplish. So no matter how overwhelming the task, we were comforted by the realization that with God on our side the victory is already ours! God will be glorified in northern New Hampshire and beyond, and His Word will go forth with power and effectiveness. Of that we can be guaranteed. And with those thoughts in mind we settled into our cabin in the woods and spent our first night in northern New Hampshire.
The next nine days that we were in New Hampshire went by so fast. We wish we could have stayed longer, and our hearts ached when we left. But what we learned and experienced during our time there and throughout our travels in the northeast was invaluable. There’s so much we could describe, and so many things we learned, but I’ll limit it to the few things that stood out to us the most.
First, it was a joy just traveling throughout our country and seeing the grandeur and beauty of God’s creation. From rolling hills, to treeless mountain peaks, to autumn leaves, to rushing streams, and quiet ponds, we got to see it all. We serve a truly awesome and majestic God, and what we saw during our trip testified to that reality. It was also a reminder to us of the grace of God that He has given us such beauty to enjoy. God could have made the world any way He wanted, but He chose to create it in such a way as to captivate our senses and fill our hearts and minds with wonder. Yet how much more beautiful, more captivating is Christ in all His glories and excellencies than even the most stunning landscape on this earth. And the grace of God on display in the person and work of Christ far surpasses anything we are graced with in the natural world.
It was also a great blessing and encouragement to us to meet believers in many churches throughout the northeast and to make new friends in the body of Christ. No matter where we were on our trip, with each of the body of believers we met, it felt like we were part of the same family, as if we’ve known each other all our lives. We truly are one in the body of Christ and the bond we share as believers through our union with Christ, and the spiritual community that we’re part of in Christ is an incredible thing. It’s something we should never take for granted, because it is something that the world knows nothing about, something that transcends all earthly institutions, and something that is one of the greatest tools we have available to us to make the love of Christ known to the world. And it is something that our trip helped us to see and appreciate all the more.
It was also a huge encouragement to us to realize that even though we’re going to have our work cut out for us planting a church and proclaiming Christ in northern New Hampshire, we’re not going to be alone. We were able to connect with several churches during our survey trip that are all within a few hours of where we’ll be ministering, and each of these churches were really excited about us coming to the area and have expressed a desire to help in whatever ways they can. It was great to realize that while northern New Hampshire is in great need of the gospel, it is not without a remnant of believers that God has sovereignly preserved. I was also blown away by the level of camaraderie, partnership, and like-mindedness that we witnessed among the believers in northern New England. It was such a blessing to see and I’m really excited to be a part of that and to partner together in the spread of the gospel with churches like the ones we’ve connected with already in New England.
God also used this trip to greatly strengthen us in our faith and calling. We’ve seen all the more throughout our trip how much we need to trust God fully, but we’ve also seen at the same time how completely deserving of our trust God is. We’ve encountered some trying times over the course of the last several months as we’ve been raising support. But as we prepared for this trip and while we were on this trip God over and over again provided miraculously and abundantly for us and showed Himself faithful time and time again. In fact, as a result of the churches we visited on this trip we’ve gained two additional supporting churches and have had several other churches express an interest in our ministry and in possibly supporting us in the near future.
God also used this trip to allow us to see more clearly how He has uniquely crafted our lives for the ministry that He is calling us to in New Hampshire. Mollie and I have often wondered why God allowed us to grow up in non-Christian homes, to live lives of rebellion and unbelief before our salvation, and to have families that are still mostly lost to this day. But now we see that this has prepared us for ministry among people who have very similar backgrounds, who are part of families much like our own, and who struggle with some of the same sort of rebellion and unbelief that Mollie and I once knew. This has helped us to see yet again that God is so infinitely wise in all that He does in each of our lives, and God really does work all things together for good, even those things that on the surface make no sense to us. Everything is part of God’s perfect, sovereign, eternal plan!
But most of all, through this trip we’ve seen firsthand how great the need is in the New England region and throughout the towns and villages of northern New Hampshire for the saving message of the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and how great the need is for gospel-centered, gospel-proclaiming churches to make that message known. Driving through the towns that we have been praying for and talking about for so many months brought this reality front and center. We saw many beautiful, white-steepled churches and stately, stone cathedrals, yet knew that inside these buildings were being taught a variety of messages, but not the most important message of all. We were also confronted by the presence of numerous cults and saw dotting the landscape buildings belonging to Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Christian Scientists. Yet we saw very few places of worship that we knew to be Bible-believing, gospel-centered churches.
We were also made aware of the fact that while many people in New England have much of this world’s possessions, they don’t possess true happiness and joy. There is a void in the hearts of many in New England, a void that many of them don’t even recognize is there, but a void nonetheless that can only be filled with the indwelling presence of God, brought about by saving faith in Jesus Christ. But that faith is being granted to many throughout New England, and in spite of the spiritual darkness of the region God is moving in New England. And from the testimonies I’ve heard there can be no doubt that God is doing something in New England that He hasn’t done in many years, and we are so excited to be coming to the region on the front end of it all. So much more could be said that time and space just doesn’t allow me to describe, and I’ve already gone on long enough as it is. We also tried to chronicle in pictures as much of our time on survey trip as we could, and if you haven’t yet checked out our photo album of the trip you can do so on our ministry Facebook page at the following link: New Hampshire Survey Trip.
Before our time in New Hampshire was over I also had the opportunity to travel to Boston to attend the Plant New England conference. I have to say that while Boston is a beautiful city, driving through it can be a nerve racking experience and it isn’t something I hope to ever do again. But the time spent at the conference was wonderful and I was able to meet and fellowship with many other church planters and pastors from all over New England. It was so exciting to meet with a group of nearly 200 men who each have a passion for reaching New England with the gospel.
The highlight for me, however, was listening to Mark Dever speak on the topic of “creating a healthy church,” in which he emphasized the importance of preaching, prayer, discipleship, and waiting on the Lord as the four essential ingredients for establishing a healthy, biblical church. It was such a great encouragement to me to hear these priorities emphasized. In a culture where a lot of church-planting methods are driven more by secular marketing strategies than by the Word of God it was so refreshing to be presented with a strategy actually derived from the pages of Scripture. It was also a real blessing to hear Dever place the highest level of importance on preaching. In other words, as many things as a church-planter needs to do in establishing a church, none of them is as crucial as preaching. As Dever explained, if sacrifices have to be made in one’s ministry, everything should be sacrificed before preaching, for if a church planter does everything else right, but doesn’t clearly and accurately teach the whole counsel of God, then he’s done everything wrong.
I was also able to attend on a couple of very informative breakout sessions at the conference, one led by Colin Hansen from the Gospel Coalition, in which he discussed revival in church history and made a very important distinction between revivalism and true, Spirit wrought revival. The other breakout session was led by Owen Strachan of Boyce College, and was focused on Jonathan Edwards’ doctrine of conversion. Edwards is, by the way, for those who don’t already know, my favorite theologian and the greatest influence on my life outside of Christ and the Scriptures.
After our time in New Hampshire was concluded we traveled back down to Pennsylvania where we stayed for most of the remainder of our trip. We visited two additional churches, one in Delaware and another in Pennsylvania, and were greatly blessed by our times at each. Then we made our way back down to Georgia. Our time in Georgia was limited, though. Having decided while on our survey trip to take advantage of an opportunity to live in a missionary house in northeastern Pennsylvania we had only one month to pack up our house and move. It was a busy and emotional month. It was hard to believe that our time down south was coming to an end. We spent many wonderful years in Georgia and learned and grew so much during that time, and made many close friends along the way. But as sad as we were to leave all that behind we were excited to take the next big step in our journey to New Hampshire.
So many people helped out so much during our final weeks in Georgia. From watching the kids for a day while Mollie and I packed, to bringing over boxes, to lending a hand loading the moving truck. It seemed like everyone did something to help us with our move and send us off with so much love and encouragement. Our last Sunday in Georgia and our last Sunday at our sending church was one of the most special days our family has ever experienced. It was a day that included great teaching, beautiful songs of praise, powerful preaching, and a bitter-sweet farewell as we set out on the next stage of our ministry. I also had the awesome privilege of watching as new elders were ordained to the ministry who in turn took part in ordaining me to the ministry and appointing me as an elder in the church. Words really can’t describe how blessed we felt and continue to feel as we think back on that day. We are so very thankful for our loving family at Poplar Springs and how God continues to work in their midst to accomplish His will of sending the gospel to the nations. Everyone at Poplar Springs means so much to us. We will miss them all greatly, but we know that we will continue to be in their thoughts and prayers, as they will be in ours.
New Hampshire has also remained in our thoughts. From the moment we left over a month ago our desire has been to be back there as soon as we can. We can’t wait to begin ministering to the people of New Hampshire and to see what God might do through us as we are faithful to proclaim His Word to a part of our country that needs so desperately to hear that there is a God in heaven who sent His Son to save sinners. Thankfully, now that we are living in northeastern Pennsylvania, we are much closer to New Hampshire, and we’re excited about the possibility of taking some additional trips to northern New England even before our final move there.
It’s been amazing for us to see how God has orchestrated our move back to Pennsylvania. We arrived in PA on December 1st. It was a long, tiring trip for all. Normally we can make the whole drive to PA in one day if we’re just in our mini-van, like we did on our survey trip, but it took much longer in the moving truck. Thankfully, though, we were blessed with a very safe, and relatively uneventful trip. We were also able to enjoy a much needed stopover in Virginia where we stayed with some good friends of ours (who are themselves church-planters). It has been such a blessing to get together with them recently and to talk with a couple who have gone through much of what we are currently experiencing.
When we arrived at our new home there was a nice blanket of snow on the ground to welcome us, which the kids were thrilled about! And the next day as we were unloading the moving truck the kids had fun playing in the snow and throwing snowballs. We were also happy to see that the staff here had the house all ready and waiting for us. The doors were unlocked, the lights and heat were on, and on the kitchen counter they had left us with the fixings for our own belated Thanksgiving dinner. They even placed a frozen turkey in our freezer and left us a nice note welcoming us to the community. It was such a wonderful thing to walk in to after a long drive and it made us feel so welcome in our new home. Now that we’ve been here for over a week the unpacking is done. We were even able to set up our Christmas tree the other night and everything is starting to feel like home.
Thank you so much to everyone who has prayed for us throughout our survey trip and during our move to Pennsylvania, and a thank you to all those who have been such a great help and encouragement to us over the course of the last two months. We couldn’t have done any of this without you all! Please continue to be in prayer for us as we finish settling in to our new home and as we continue working toward raising our remaining support. And as always, please continue to be in prayer for the people of northern New Hampshire and the whole New England region that God would begin softening their hearts and minds and that He would make them open and receptive to receive His Word so that the kingdom of God might expand and the glory of God be made known in New England.
We’re excited to announce that at the end of the month we’ll be moving to a missionary house in northeastern Pennsylvania! Lord willing we’ll be staying there until the end of our support raising process. For those of you who follow our Facebook page you’re probably aware of this already. But we wanted to make sure everyone who follows our ministry here is aware as well. If you would like to see a few pictures of our new home and the surrounding area click on the following link: Missionary
House in PA. You can also give us a “like” on our page while you’re at it, if you haven’t done so already.
This is an exciting time for our family. We’ve been back from our survey trip to New Hampshire for less than a week and are now getting our house in Georgia packed up for our move to PA! We had such an incredible time on our trip. We learned and experienced so much, and God confirmed His calling on us in so many ways. I’ll be posting more details about our trip soon, but in the meantime I wanted to ask for everyone’s prayers as we prepare for our upcoming move. We have a lot to do in the next few weeks, but we’re so thankful God has provided us with this opportunity to take this next step in our preparation for the ministry He’s called us to in NH! This move will place us two-thirds closer to NH than we are now, enable us to cut down on monthly expenses, allow us to continue building relationships with churches in the northeast, and help us to reacclimate ourselves and our children to the northern climate and culture. It will also provide us with the ability to take additional trips to NH prior to our final relocation there, which is something we hope to begin doing at the start of the new year.
Our plan is to load up the moving truck on November 29 (the day after Thanksgiving), head out for PA on November 30 (stopping overnight in VA), and unload in PA on December 2. It’s going to be a busy time, but one that will help us in many ways to make additional progress toward our final goal of relocating to and ministering in northern NH. And if anyone would like to assist in our moving expenses, or become one of our regular giving partners, you can do so by making an online donation at the following link: http://clo.do/un77/ or by sending a check to our sending church/sending agency at the address below.
Poplar Springs Baptist Church
422 Poplar Springs Road
Ringgold, GA 30736
* In the memo line of your check please indicate: Plant New Hampshire
Thank you all so much for your ongoing prayers and support! Each of you who has partnered with us shares an important role in our ministry and we’re so grateful to God for each one of you.
Over the course of the last several months we’ve done a lot of traveling as we visit churches around the country to raise support for our ministry. Since January we’ve traveled to churches in seven states and have logged countless hours on the road. But in just two weeks we’re about to embark on our longest and most exciting trip yet. At the end of the month we’ll be leaving for New Hampshire on a much-anticipated survey trip. We’ve been planning this trip for several months and are very excited that it is so close at hand. We’ll be leaving on September 27 and returning on October 30. For part of this trip we’ll be staying in northern New Hampshire, just a short distance from where we intend to plant a church. This will be a great opportunity for us to get better acquainted with the area and possibly even begin meeting some of the people we’ll be ministering to in the coming months and years. We’ll also be staying in Pennsylvania for a portion of our trip, which will give us a chance to visit with our extended family, many of whom we haven’t seen in some time. And as an added bonus we’ll get to enjoy the beautiful fall foliage of the northeast that we haven’t seen since we moved from Pennsylvania to north Georgia nearly eight years ago.
When we began planning this trip we’d also hoped to schedule a meeting with at least two or three pastors or church planters already serving in northern New England and maybe even arrange to speak at a church or two somewhere in the northeast. Well, as I called churches throughout the northeast over the last couple of months the Lord really blessed. There was an incredibly positive response from the churches I called and a lot of interest in our ministry. As a result, rather than one or two churches, we now have five churches throughout the northeast who have invited us to present our ministry at some point throughout the month of October and the end of September. This means that nearly every week from the end of September to the end of October I will be speaking at a different church throughout the northeast. We would greatly appreciate your prayers for us during this time as we travel and visit churches. We’ll be driving over 5,000 miles during this trip, and through some of the largest cities in the U.S. at one of the busiest times of year. Pray for us, too, on the dates that I will be preaching and/or presenting our ministry that God would be glorified, and that if it is His will, some churches and individuals would decide to partner with us as a result of our visits. Here are the dates, names, and locations for many of the churches we’ll be visiting:
Sunday, September 29: Medway Congregational Church, Climax, NY Sunday, October 6: Bread of Life Fellowship, Wayne, NJ Wednesday, October 9: Reformed Bible Church, Rutland, VT Sunday, October 20: Harrington Baptist Church, Harrington, DE Sunday, October 27: Grace Fellowship Church, State College, PA
Also, pastors from more than a dozen additional churches in the northeast have expressed an interest in meeting with me one on one at some point throughout the month of October to learn more about our ministry. Now, rather than trying to arrange a meeting with one or two pastors or church planters my dilemma is trying to squeeze in as many meetings as I can in one month, with the realization that I’ll probably still not have enough time to meet with everyone.
Late September and October is certainly going to be a busy and eventful time for us, made even more so by the many celebrations we have in our family during a normal September and October. Our youngest daughter Julia will celebrate her third birthday shortly after our trip begins. Our oldest son Ethan will turn eight just over a week after that. I will turn 34 on October 22, and just two days before that, on October 20, Mollie and I will celebrate our fifteenth wedding anniversary. And just after our return to Georgia, on October 31, we’ll have our annual family Reformation Day celebration that has become a regular part of our fall schedule in recent years.
I’m also registered to attend the Plant New England Conference being held at Redeemer Fellowship Church in Boston, and I’ll travel there for two days during our time in New Hampshire. The theme of this year’s conference is “True Conversion: Church Planters as Soul Physicians.” I’m really looking forward to hearing from the conference speakers, connecting with pastors and church planters from all over New England, and learning some valuable insights into pastoral ministry and church planting in the process. And who knows, perhaps this conference will result in some additional opportunities to present our ministry and some additional ministry partners.
But in order to attend the Plant New England Conference and take our survey trip we need to raise $2,500 before we leave on September 27. While some have already contributed to this fund, we could still use additional help to reach the amount we need for this trip. If you would like to contribute to this fund and be a part of an important step in our preparation for proclaiming Christ in New Hampshire, or if you would like to become one of our regular giving partners, please click on the following link to make an online donation: http://clo.do/un77/. Or if you would prefer you can send a check payable to our sending church/sending agency:
Poplar Springs Baptist Church
422 Poplar Springs Road
Ringgold, GA 30736
* In the memo line of your check please indicate: Plant New Hampshire
Lastly, I want to thank all those who have contributed or will contribute to our survey trip fund. It’s because of the Lord working through you in this way to contribute to this fund that a trip like this is possible. And thank you to those who have been praying for us, for our ministry, and for the people of New Hampshire, and for those who will be praying for us throughout the month of October. This trip brings us that much closer to the day, very soon, when we will be able to relocate to New Hampshire for good and begin the work of preaching the gospel and establishing a church in our American mission field.
Missions is not the ultimate goal of the Church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever.
I’ve long enjoyed the above quote from John Piper. It’s not only filled with biblical truth, but it puts into perspective in few words all the ministry we partake in as believers in Jesus Christ. These words of Piper’s have taken on even greater significance for me in recent months as I have sought to apply them in my own life as our family continues to raise support to proclaim the gospel and plant a church in northern New Hampshire.
But why is it that as a church planter my goal is to do just that, plant a church? After all, aren’t we commanded by our Lord in Matthew 28:19 to simply “go” and “make disciples of all nations”? If a local church happens to be birthed out of that then great. But if not, we’ve at least been faithful to proclaim the gospel and see souls saved, right? Well, yes and no. It’s certainly true that if we are faithful to proclaim God’s Word, regardless of the outcome, God is glorified, and we can know we have done what God has called us to do. Yet, if we are really concerned about what God has called us to do, we won’t be content to stop at merely proclaiming the gospel. We’ll also endeavor to see local, visible expressions of God’s universal, invisible church established as a result of our gospel proclamation. After all, Christ’s command is to “make disciples,” not just converts. Therefore, our missions and evangelism must not end once someone makes a profession of faith in Jesus Christ. We must instruct such individuals, as the Lord commanded in Matthew 28:20 “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you,” and the primary setting in which God has designed this instruction to take place is the local church. Michael Horton explains this concept when he states that
We find no dichotomy between the official ministry of the church as a historical institution and the Spirit-filled mission of reaching the lost. The mission expanded the church; it did not subvert it. Through the ministry “the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). So when evangelists today qualify their invitation to receive Christ by saying, “I’m not talking about joining a church,” they are stepping outside of the mission established by Jesus Christ and evidenced in the remarkable spread of the gospel under the ministry of the apostles.
Thus it can safely be said that missions and evangelism share an inseparable bond with the ministry of the local church. The call to follow Christ carries with it a call to submit to the commands of Christ, which is evidenced in part as we submit ourselves to the oversight and our pastors and elders to be discipled by them. The primary means within the local church God has designed for achieving this discipleship is the ‘ordinary means of grace’: the reading and preaching of the Word, the administration of the sacraments/ordinances of the church, and prayer. And these ‘ordinary means’ are designed by God to function together in their fullest expression through the corporate worship of God’s covenant community.
So if we are serious about missions and evangelism we must also be serious about worship. We must not be content to simply gain converts to our cause, but we must seek worshippers for our great God. Just as Piper said, “Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man.” What we are ultimately after then, is the glory of our God and King, which comes in the greatest measure as lost sinners in rebellion against their Maker are transformed by the power of the Word and Spirit into loyal subjects who desire to bow before their Creator and King in humble adoration, awe, and love. This makes church planting a crucial element of the great commission that can’t be separated from the command to proclaim the gospel to all nations. That is why our ministry is focused upon both and why our desire is not only to reach the people of New Hampshire with the gospel of Jesus Christ but to establish a gospel-centered, gospel proclaiming church. This also explains why our ministry vision is focused so strongly on the biblical-theological distinctives of our church-plant and the nuts-and-bolts of how those distinctives will come together in ministry practice.
If worship is ultimate, and if worship is forever, then we must also conclude that all we do now in worship is in a sense preparation for the worship we will offer to God throughout eternity. It is not an overstatement then to say that our times of corporate worship represent the most important aspects of our Christian lives, and any ministry we partake in outside of corporate worship must be subordinate to it and serve to prepare our hearts and minds for it. Horton addresses this issue and the current tendencies toward the opposite idea that are prevalent in the church today when he states that
If church is primarily about what individuals do (even if they happen to do it in the same building), then it stands to reason that our services will focus on motivating us for action rather than ministering to us God’s action here and now in the Spirit, through Word and sacrament, that which He has already accomplished for us objectively in Jesus Christ. The liturgy will be replaced with various announcements of church programs; the songs will simply be opportunities for self-expression; the preaching will largely consist of tips for transformation; baptism and the Supper will afford opportunities merely for us to commit and recommit ourselves rather than serve as means of grace. Before long, it will be easy for churches to imagine that what happens on the Lord’s Day is less important than what happens in small groups or in the private lives of individual Christians. In fact, this is explicitly advocated today.
Horton’s admonition demonstrates the need for a high view of worship that demands careful attention to the biblical guidelines for worship. That is why our ministry vision focuses attention on specific principles of corporate worship, principles we believe are derived directly from Scripture. These principles involve many things, but chief among them is the belief that we must allow the gospel to shape how we worship. Worship is, after all, intrinsically theological, and all we do in worship says something either directly or indirectly, verbally or symbolically, about what we believe, whether we necessarily intend it to or not. Consequently, careful attention must be given to develop worship patterns that follow a gospel-centered structure. As Kevin DeYoung explains, this means adhering to “a carefully constructed, though flexible, liturgy which progresses with a distinct gospel logic: adoration, confession, assurance, thanksgiving, petition, instruction, charge, and blessing.” This is a liturgy that “has an Isaiah 6 movement to it where the gospel is not just preached in the sermon or even sung in the songs, but embodied in the entire order of the service.” Much has been written on this topic especially in recent years for which I am greatly indebted, and for those who would like to know more about the importance of and the biblical-theological basis for gospel-centered worship, see the sources below.
One of the exciting and encouraging things we’ve experienced while raising support is being able to visit many churches around the country and observe this same commitment to gospel-centered worship worked out in local congregations, and to see the distinctives we’ve laid out in our ministry vision put on display in many of the churches we’ve been able to worship together with. Gospel-centered worship involves a commitment to reordering our thinking about how worship is done, which can be a challenge for many churches, and it takes much courage and perseverance for a church to develop a gospel-centered worship strategy. Within American evangelicalism especially we love to proclaim our freedom to worship in any way we feel the Spirit may be moving us. We often recoil at the thought of a carefully planned order of service that involves the same central elements week after week. But has it occurred to us that in our desire to do things our own way and ‘change it up’ week after week we have inadvertently created our own rigid liturgy, and one based not on the Word of God but more on personal preferences and feelings? Has it also occurred to us that perhaps true freedom in worship comes from following the Scriptural guidelines for worship? But what a blessing it has been to see churches who are allowing their beliefs about the gospel to shape how they worship, even if that may seem out of touch with current church fads or out of the ordinary from what we’ve grown accustomed to within much of our American evangelical church culture.
It has also been a joy to see a strong commitment to sound doctrine among many of the churches we’ve visited and to see how that doctrine fuels not just their worship practices, but every aspect of life and ministry. I recently saw this type of commitment evidenced among the speakers and missionary presenters I heard while attending the Encouraged to Endure Conference. It was a joy to hear preaching from men like Derek Thomas, David Miller, Randall Easter, and Joseph Mahlaolo, as well as missionary reports from believers preaching the gospel and planting churches all over the United States and throughout the world. Each had different emphases in what they said, and each expressed the differing needs and barriers to the gospel present among the people in their various ministry contexts. But what tied them all together was a commitment to sound doctrine and sound ministry practices governed by that doctrine. And most of all they emphasized the all sufficient gospel, the all sufficient Savior, and the utmost importance of true, gospel-centered worship.
This commitment to gospel-centered theology and gospel-centered ministry is taking root in various churches around the country, some of which I’ve had the privilege to witness first hand in recent months. I hear the same is true in many parts of New England from the pastors and church planters in the region I’ve had the opportunity to speak with recently, and I look forward to witnessing it myself as I travel to the region on a survey trip in just one month. So while our country continues on a downward spiral of moral and social decay, it is encouraging to know there are many churches that have remained faithful to the Lord and faithful to the Scriptures. They’re not succumbing to the pressures of the culture, but neither are they retreating from them. Instead, they are seeking to lovingly confront the culture with the truth of God’s Word and order their lives and the life of their churches around the Word.
This tells me that while our culture is in decline there is still hope that God will do a great work in our midst and bring the light of the glorious gospel to bear upon the darkness of our land. And I am confident this will include New England. Then a day will dawn when, to paraphrase Piper, all the work of missions and evangelism will be over, all the elect of God will be gathered in, and we will worship the Lord in the glories of the eternal state. Then what the psalmist envisioned in Psalm 96:1-9 will be fully and finally realized:
Oh sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth!
Sing to the Lord, bless his name;
tell of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous works among all the peoples!
For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;
he is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols,
but the Lord made the heavens.
Splendor and majesty are before him;
strength and beauty are in his sanctuary. Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength!
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
bring an offering, and come into his courts!
Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness;
tremble before him, all the earth!
 Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Worship: Letting the Gospel Shape Our Practice, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009); Kevin DeYoung, “The Freedom of the Regulative Principle,” The Gospel Coalition (February 14, 2012), http://thegospel coalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2012/02/14/the-freedom-of-the-regulative-principle; D. G. Hart and John R. Muether, With Reverence and Awe: Returning to the Basics of Reformed Worship, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2002); Michael Horton, A Better Way: Rediscovering the Drama of Christ-Centered Worship, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2003); Jon D. Payne, In the Splendor of Holiness: Rediscovering the Beauty of Reformed Worship for the 21st Century, (Whitehall, WV: Tolle Lege Press, 2008).
We’ve had some exciting times the last several weeks. We’ve had the opportunity to visit churches in Florida, Georgia, and Kentucky, and have been encouraged and refreshed by the believers there. The kids have really been enjoying these trips, too, making new friends at every church we go to, and having fun visiting new states. With our most recent trip, our oldest children have now been to 18 states! In the coming weeks we will be visiting churches in Louisiana and back in Kentucky again, and Lord willing will be adding several addition churches to our calendar on top of that. Meanwhile, I’ve had the continuing privilege of talking and e-mailing with pastors and church planters in various states throughout the country. Through it all God continues to build our network and support base and to bring us that much closer to the day when we can depart for New Hampshire.
However, we still have a long way to go until we reach our support goal, and these last several weeks have not been without difficulties. As encouraging as things have been, there have also been some trying, exhausting, and at times discouraging moments, and the entire support raising process has proven to be a regular test of our faith and resolve. Such is the weekly, indeed the daily struggle of raising support as a church planter. We want so much to already be there in New Hampshire doing the work that God has called us to. But we also realize that this is all part of our preparation. So we continue to press toward the goal that is ahead of us.
We ask that you would continue to pray for God’s Word to be made known in New Hampshire. Please pray that we would be able to fill our calendar with church visits in the coming weeks and that more churches would decide to partner with us in support of our ministry if that would be God’s will. Lord willing we’ll also be taking a survey trip to New Hampshire in October. So please be in prayer for us about that as well, especially that in the months leading up this trip that we’d be able to raise the funds needed for it and that it would be a productive and beneficial time that would allow us to get better acquainted with the area we’ll be ministering in. As part of this trip I’ll be attending the Plant New England Conference near Boston. This will be a great opportunity to meet pastors and church planters from throughout New England and to learn some valuable skills for church planting and pastoring from men like Mark Dever, Jim Hamilton, Stephen Um, and Wes Pastor. If you’re interested in finding out more about the conference or possibly attending yourself check out the following link. Plant New England
Most of all, please pray for us that God would continue to cultivate within us a desire for His glory. That through all the ups-and-downs of raising support and planting a church that God would receive all the honor. Ultimately, the reason we’re raising support, the reason I call churches each week and arrange meetings, the reason we proclaim the good news of redemption through Jesus Christ, and the reason we will endeavor to see a church established in New Hampshire is that God might receive all praise, glory, and honor. That must motivate us in all we do. My prayer is that believers everywhere would be so gripped by the grace of God that we would strive together to bring glory to God by making known to others the mercies of God in Jesus Christ, so that others everywhere might render worship to Him.
“For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” – Romans 11:36 (ESV)
These words of Robert Frost have always been among my favorite. I read them for the first time as a young boy, and they always evoked in me a feeling of both familiarity and curiosity. Growing up in rural northeastern Pennsylvania, only a few hours from New England, I spent much of my childhood walking through wooded paths not much different than the one envisioned by Frost. So I could easily relate to his words on that level. Yet another part of me has always viewed these words with mysterious wonder. What was down these roads? Why was one less traveled? What surprises awaited the intrepid explorer who ventured to the end? As a kid I always wanted to be there with Frost, traveling the same road to see what he discovered at the end. Little did I know at the time that my own journey would lead me down another road less traveled that would find me preparing for ministry in the same small, rural New Hampshire town that Robert Frost once called home.
That’s right, rural New Hampshire. This may come as a surprise to some, but we are not endeavoring to plant a church in a large metropolitan area, or even in a smaller suburban area. Instead, we are focusing our efforts upon a relatively sparsely populated county in northern New Hampshire whose land area is greater than that of the state of Rhode Island, but with a population of only 89,000. In fact, this revelation has come as a surprise to a few people I’ve talked to about our ministry. The impression among some seems to be that there are no people in rural America, or least not enough people for it to be worthwhile ministering there.
And don’t get me wrong. There is certainly a great need for church planting and gospel proclamation throughout the cities and suburbs, and I am grateful to God for those who are endeavoring to reach the lost in those areas, and I pray that God would bless their ministries and allow them to produce much fruit for His glory. Yet there seems to be a tendency among some, especially within the last several years, to elevate the importance of urban ministry while in the process devaluing the importance of ministry in other contexts. For example, there is often talk among missiologists and church planters of how the urban areas of our country continue to grow. As a result, we’re often told that if we are to be serious about ministry we must focus our attention on the urban centers of America.
Yet this call to urban-centric ministry doesn’t take into account all the facts. While it is true that the population of America’s cities are on the rise, what is often not reported is that this increase in population is primarily among those age 25-34, with the peak age being 25-27. But by the time these same 25-34 year olds reach the age of 41 many of them have left the city as they marry, have children, and begin seeking more stable, safer, and less expensive lives away from the action and excitement that drew them to the city to begin with during their younger and more carefree days. I can attest to this reality myself, as I witnessed firsthand the departure of many young, growing families from New York City when I worked there as a professional mover almost ten years ago. Even as I’ve talked recently with those ministering in urban settings this reality has been expressed to me, as well as the challenges this can pose for urban congregations, who see many young, often dedicated believers join in membership with them, only to leave within a few years after they finish college, marry, or begin having kids.This has obvious implications for ministry that is beyond the scope of this article to discuss. But at the very least this trend shows us that if a church planter wants to establish a church that has the potential for long-term stability and spiritual growth among the membership the city may not always be the best place to go.
An urban-centric ministry approach also fails to take into consideration that there are still more than 62 million people or 18% of the population living in rural America, spread out over at least 74% of the U.S. land area. Throughout these wide swaths of the American landscape are thousands of unchurched and unreached communities that are in desperate need of the saving message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. So while there is certainly a need for the gospel in urban areas, we can’t focus all of our attention on the cities and in the process leave the people of rural America to die in their sins without an opportunity to hear God’s message of salvation. If we are truly concerned about reaching our nation with the gospel, we must be intentional about planting churches and proclaiming Christ in even the most remote parts of our nation.
Demographics aside, other factors can also feed into a fascination with urban ministry. As Darryl Hart points out in a recent article on rural ministry, there is a tendency among Christians to love the dramatic and the extraordinary. As a result, we often love to hear riveting stories about great transformations of people whose lives were wrecked by sin before finding salvation in Jesus Christ. This can in turn lead to a strong appeal to urban ministry, because stories like these are easier to come by in the big city, where lives of decadence, disillusionment, and disenfranchisement are more prevalent than in many other places.
But ministry in rural settings is often less spectacular than this and forces us to take greater satisfaction in the routine aspects of life and to see God’s grace at work among ordinary people through the ‘ordinary means of grace.’ By ‘ordinary means of grace’ I’m referring to the designation often made in the Reformed tradition for what the Bible describes as the primary means by which God dispenses His saving and sanctifying grace to His elect. These means are the reading and preaching of the Word, the administration of the sacraments/ordinances of the church, and prayer. As Ligon Duncan explains, “These are the main ways God’s people grow. We are saved by grace (alone), through faith (alone), in Christ (alone). But the instruments, the tools of God’s grace to bring us to faith and grow us in grace are the Word, prayer, and sacraments. Nothing else we do in the church’s program of ministry should detract from these central instruments of grace, and indeed everything else we do should promote and coalesce with them.”
Yet the grace that comes from these ordinary means doesn’t often produce instant results, whether in bringing salvation to the lost or in providing sanctification for believers. Rather, God’s means of grace often work upon people over long periods of time, in ways that aren’t immediately perceptible to the casual observer, and through a process of spiritual transformation that seldom produces immediate, visible signs of change. This is at least one reason why ministry in a rural context can be so helpful. When you’ve grown accustomed to living where life moves at a slower pace and where everyone takes more time to do just about everything, you can learn more easily to grow content with God when He too chooses to sometimes slowly and patiently work through His people by His means of grace to accomplish His will in their lives.
This isn’t meant to imply that those in urban ministry contexts don’t rely upon God’s ordinary means of grace for accomplishing their ministries. In fact, some of the greatest examples of a faithfulness to the ‘ordinary means’ can be found in churches located in cities like New York, Philadelphia, or Washington D.C. But as Hart points out, there is a tendency that can arise in urban ministry contexts to seek out the extraordinary examples of God’s redemption to the point of disregard and even dissatisfaction with examples of ordinary conversions. This in turn can cause believers to lose sight of the contentment and joy that can so often be found through the average and ordinary things of life, as we wait patiently for God to act in His own good time.
Sure, it takes more time to plant a church in a rural area, more time to do just about everything. And a rural church planter like myself will probably never have a church that is very large. And there are bound to be many other unique challenges that I will face as a rural minister that ministers in other contexts may never encounter. But the benefits of planting a church, and doing life and ministry along the road less traveled, out in the rural parts of America, I think, far outweigh the struggles and obstacles to be faced. Because it is often in these rural areas, amidst the grandeur of God’s creation, in the midst of the daily routines of life, and among ordinary people, living ordinary lives, that God through His ‘ordinary means of grace’ accomplishes some of the most extraordinary things as He miraculously saves sinners and transforms them into the image of His Son “from one degree of glory to another,” (2 Cor. 3:18, ESV).
“For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” – 1 Corinthians 2:2 (ESV)
It has now been a little over a month since my last post, and two months since the launch of our ministry. During this time God has continued to bless our ministry and has allowed us numerous opportunities to connect with churches around the country. We have already had the privilege of presenting our ministry at three churches, and have four additional churches scheduled to speak at from now until the end of March! I have also had the opportunity to meet with pastors from several additional churches on top of that. In the process we have made many new friends and have been able to visit several new places. On one of our recent trips we were even able to spend a few hours at the beach! The water was cold, but we all had a great time. And being there on the beach, viewing the vast expanse of the ocean reminded me of the infinitely greater vastness of our God, who created that ocean and allows us to play in it. But just as the ocean is so vast, yet so accessible, God is so immense and high above us in every way, yet is ever near and close to us through the person and work of His Son.
The kids are also starting to get use to the travel that we have to do and are enjoying visiting different churches. So thank you to all who have been praying for us about that. As I mentioned in my previous post, it can be difficult to travel with six kids. But God has blessed us with some very good trips so far. And He has also blessed me with a wonderful wife who has become increasingly adept at handling our energetic little bunch in a variety of settings and situations.
As for my daily routine of contacting churches, that too has continued to go well. I have now called nearly 550 churches in the last two months and am regularly encouraged by the conversations I’ve been able to have with pastors and other church staff. It is still a wearisome undertaking at times, but God continues to give me perseverance and motivation as I get in touch with additional churches. And many of the conversations I’ve been able to have recently have served to provide additional confirmation of the need for church-planting and gospel proclamation in New Hampshire and of God’s call upon our family to that area.
As I discuss our ministry with others and continue to think and pray about the vision that God has given for New Hampshire and New England I am increasingly aware of the importance of gospel-centered ministry and how necessary it is to be gospel-centered, not just for a church-plant in Grafton County, New Hampshire, but for anywhere one may minister. In fact, this is the focus of our entire ministry, to proclaim the gospel to northern New Hampshire and establish a gospel-centered church plant. So as indicated in my previous post, I plan to work my way through our ministry vision in more detail by focusing on what it means to be a gospel-centered church. This post will begin that process by providing a very brief introduction of gospel-centeredness.
Admittedly, the term gospel-centered is of modern parlance. The phrase isn’t found in Scripture, and even among Christian authors of more than two or three decades ago the term is almost entirely absent. Yet I believe the ideas encapsulated in this phrase are thoroughly biblical and help to provide us with some clear Scriptural guidelines for ministry.
So what does it mean to be gospel-centered or to have a gospel-centered church? In the introduction to our ministry vision we ask this question, and in answering it we state that a gospel-centered church is “simply a church that strives to exalt Jesus Christ and the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ above all else.” Now that may seem like a rather obvious and even simple definition of what it means to be a gospel-centered church. After all, what evangelical church would argue that they don’t strive to exalt the person and work of Jesus Christ and the proclamation of those truths above all else? But what I believe separates truly gospel-centered churches from churches that only claim to be gospel-centered is how a church’s commitment to gospel-centrality integrates itself into the life and ministry of the church. In other words, how does the gospel shape the way we do church and the way we live our lives as believers?
In 1 Corinthians 2:2 the apostle Paul begins to an answer this question. “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified,” (ESV). Here Paul provides a glimpse into his own life and ministry, a life and ministry that had Jesus Christ and the gospel of Jesus Christ at its center. Paul was determined to “know nothing except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” This doesn’t mean that Paul taught only evangelistically or that he spoke exclusively on the message of the cross. It’s obvious from Paul’s other writings that this wasn’t the case and that Paul strived to proclaim “the whole counsel of God,” (Acts 20:27). Yet it is clear from 1 Corinthians 2 and elsewhere in the New Testament that in all that Paul taught “the theme of his preaching ministry was only and always Christ.” In the person and work of Christ Paul recognized “a depth and complexity…that encompassed the whole of his message, with all of its variety of topics and implications, and thereby addressed the whole spectrum of human need.” This type of gospel-centeredness is in turn true not only of preaching and teaching, but of all aspects of Christian ministry. The message of Christ and Him crucified should work its way into each component of church life to such an extent that it can be truly said of a church that they are gospel-centered. In our ministry vision, we identify four primary means by which we can strive to achieve such gospel-integration in our church-plant. We state that we will place emphasis in our church on:
“A God-centered message of God’s grace through Jesus Christ that points people to the greatness and sovereignty of God over all things and the completeness of Christ’s sacrifice for both salvation and sanctification.
Gospel-centered worship structured around the elements of the gospel and focused on Christ-centered preaching, teaching, and reading of the Word.
A simplified but meaningful ministry structure that highlights the simplicity and depth of the gospel.
Allowing our belief in the gospel to permeate everything we do in life and aid in the development of a gospel-centered worldview that helps us to proclaim in word and deed that the kingdom of God is at hand.”
Each of the four areas listed above goes to the heart of what we believe it means to be a gospel-centered church. Each of these areas touches upon some of our theological convictions. Some address our church polity. Others focus attention on our mode of worship and general ministry philosophy. Still others touch upon such issues of how to engage the surrounding culture with the gospel and how we should live in the midst of that culture as believers. Yet in all of these areas we seek to reflect our commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ and to display our desire for the gospel to pervade everything we do. In several future posts I hope to work my way through these four areas, one-by-one, in order to provide greater clarity and analysis of the ways in which we will seek to implement gospel-centeredness through our ministry in northern New Hampshire. So stay tuned!
 Dennis E. Johnson, Him We Proclaim: Preaching Christ From All the Scriptures, (Phillipsburg, NJ: Protestant & Reformed Publishing, 2007), 75.
“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” – Matthew 16:18 (ESV)
It’s now been about a month and half since the launch of our ministry and I thought it would be a good time to provide an update on our progress so far in raising support to relocate to New Hampshire. I also plan to make additional posts on a fairly regularly basis on other topics pertinent to our ministry and ministry in general, and may even attempt to blog my way through our ministry vision in a more detailed manner. So stay tuned!
Well, as for our progress in raising support, I am happy to report that our calendar is filling up with churches to visit. We have three potential supporting churches that I will be presenting our ministry to in the next few weeks, a few more churches that have invited me to meet with their pastoral staff in view of potential support, and several other churches that I’m in conversation with about arranging meetings. Next week in particular will be especially busy as I have two meetings scheduled and one church at which to speak. Please be in prayer for us as we prepare for these meetings, that they would be productive times, and that God’s will would be accomplished. We’d love it if all of the churches we’ll be visiting would decide to partner with us in our ministry. But more than anything, our desire is that God’s will would be clearly discerned in each of these situations and that His desires would be fulfilled. We are also happy to report that we have an additional church that has committed to support our ministry at a later date. We still have a long way to go in this process, but things are gradually moving ahead toward the goal that we have set for our departure to New Hampshire. Please also be in prayer for us that the kids would do well as we travel and that they would have an enjoyable time in the process. It can be difficult to travel with six kids, and some of the churches we will be visiting are several hours away. Pray also for Mollie that she would have an easy time with the kids while I’m occupied speaking or away meeting with pastors. Most of all, be in continued prayer for the people of northern New Hampshire that God would soften their hearts and make them open and receptive to receiving His Word.
It has certainly been an exciting and busy time as I have contacted churches to present our ministry. Since December 3rd I’ve called nearly 350 churches and have had the opportunity to speak with countless pastors, church-planters, and other ministry leaders. Some days have been greatly encouraging. Many of the pastors I speak with are very excited about the work we’re doing and grateful for our desire to plant a church in an area of the United States that is so desperately in need of a true gospel presence. It has also been a great encouragement to speak with many pastors who are committed to Reformed doctrine and practice, as we are, and to see how the rich biblical teachings encapsulated in Reformed theology continue to grow in influence throughout the American church, and especially among church-planters. It has also been encouraging to come in contact with many churches that are themselves recent church plants and to hear how many of these churches are growing and flourishing for the glory of God. God is doing a great work in our nation through church-planting, but with some regions of our country still unreached with the gospel of Jesus Christ many new churches are still needed.
Calling churches for several hours each day can be exhausting work as well, both spiritually and physically, and some days have stretched both my faith and my stamina. Yet through it all, I have been reminded repeatedly of Jesus’ statement in Matthew 16:18 that He would build His church, and “the gates of hell” (or more accurately “the realm of death”) shall not prevail against it. That is to say, the resurrected and exalted Christ is at work in the world establishing his church, and those who confess Christ, as Peter did in the preceding verses of Matthew 16, have passed from death to life. And nothing, not even death, can prevail against those who are in Christ, or keep Christ’s kingdom from advancing through the earth by the spread of the gospel, in accordance with God’s will. This realization has helped me to continue to pursue the vision that God has given us for a church in northern New Hampshire. I know that God will build His church and gather His sheep to Himself (John 10:16), and I am confident that this includes New Hampshire.
I am also greatly encouraged by other Scriptural truths that help me to see more clearly the big picture of God’s eternal plan for not only New Hampshire, but the whole world. Truths such as that conveyed in Isaiah 55:11, where God declares, “so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.’” Truths like that found in Hebrews 4:12, which tells us that “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Truths like those expressed in John 6; Romans 9; Ephesians 1 and 5; and Revelation 13:8 and 17:8, among other places, which show that God has chosen a great multitude for Himself from among humanity, and has purposed from eternity to give them to His Son.
Because of these truths, I know that regardless of what role God allows me to play in proclaiming His message of redemption and serving Him in His church, the gospel will go forth with power and effectiveness, God’s kingdom will advance on this earth, and the Word of God will come to those whom God has purposed to save. The Lord has His elect in New Hampshire, God’s Word will come to them, and they will respond in repentance and faith. This is our confidence. Not a confidence in our abilities. Not a confidence in my skill at raising support or planting a church. Not a confidence in persuasive presentations or convincing arguments. But a confidence in our gracious and sovereign Lord, who by the power of His Spirit, and through the merits of His Son, will redeem a people for Himself “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages,” (Rev. 7:9) to the praise of His glory and grace.
This is what motivates us as we proclaim the saving message of Jesus Christ and prepare to do so full time in New Hampshire. This is what motivates me as I call and visit churches. And this is what ought to motivate and encourage each one of us as we faithfully share the gospel with others and live out the ramifications of the gospel in our daily lives. These Scriptural truths show us that while we have a responsibility to proclaim the gospel and live in light of the gospel in all we do, it is Christ who saves and God’s Spirit who convinces and convicts sinners. What wonderful truths these are, which allow us to proclaim Christ in boldness and freedom, knowing that it is not up to us to save anyone. We are merely tools in our master’s hands. After all, “neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth,” (1 Cor. 3:7). Rather than that leave us in pessimistic doubt about the success or effectiveness of our witness, these truths provide us with the confident assurance that all of God’s purposes will come to pass! Christ will build His church: in Grafton County, New Hampshire, in your neighborhood, wherever that may be, and throughout the world, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.