Dear brethren and friends,
I pray you are all doing well, growing in the grace and knowledge of Christ Jesus, and prospering in all the will of God. Here is an update on what has been happening in our lives and ministry context.
Update on the Church in Mexico City
Before leaving for Grand Rapids, I was able to visit our church in Mexico City, Comunidad Bíblica de la Gracia. The Lord is moving, conversions are happening, the people of God are growing, and they have such a heart for the Lord. I was much encouraged to visit with these brethren again, speak with some of them more intimately, and behold the mighty work of the Spirit in their midst.
Every so often, brother Miguel sends me pictures and updates on the church. Every time, I think of Colossians 2:5, "For though I am absent in the flesh, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the steadfastness of your faith in Christ." What a joy!
Prayer meetings have been growing too! I was recently informed that about 90 persons attended the mid-week prayer gathering. This is significant in a city like Mexico City, where transit and travel times can be very long on weeknights due to traffic. I remember one old preacher complaining about the American church, saying, "The prayer meeting is dead!" May the Lord spare us from mediocrity and lukewarm, carnal complacency; may He stir us up to seek His face and call on the name of the One who is mighty to save!
Even more encouraging is that these prayer meetings are utterly God-centered, as brethren cry out to the Lord of hosts to glorify His holy name, rescue souls from darkness, comfort His people, and exalt the blood-stained banner of Christ. Leaving one of these prayer meetings leaves one with a profound sense that he has just treaded on holy ground.
The evangelism ministries of the church continue to press on and proclaim Christ on the streets! Sometimes there are as many as 50 or up to 70 people have gone out with the team. Some of the brothers, members in good standing, take turns giving open air messages through a microphone while the others engage people with gospel conversations, giving out tracts, literature and sermons. They debate skeptics and atheists, refute cults, expose the errors of non-Christian worldviews, expound the Scriptures, and focus on knowing nothing except Christ and Him crucified as they tell of salvation only through the blood of the Lamb.
And this is happening week after week, almost every Sunday. Maybe instead of the USA sending missionaries to Mexico, we should have some missionaries sent from Mexico to awaken a sleeping US church?
The evangelism team of Iglesia Comunidad Bíblica de la Gracia on a typical, recent Sunday. Every Sunday evening after church, while the officiating minister who preaches in the church travels to another city to preach in another church plant (in Toluca), a team of brethren in Mexico City hit the streets of downtown to publish the Good News.
Some other pics from downtown evangelism:
Seminary Project for Latin America
Plans are in place to continue with our project to train men in Latin America. I’m in the process of praying for, and working toward, setting up a recording studio in Grand Rapids. This will allow me to begin recording some lectures and constructing some courses. I already have some lectures prepared on the Doctrine of Salvation, including several lectures on the Ordo Salutis (the order of salvation) and union with Christ. I'm also making communication with other ministries and gifted teachers who may be able to help us develop materials. More about this in upcoming updates.
Our farewell from Guadalajara
It was bitter-sweet to depart from Guadalajara after eight years of living in the city of tierra mojada (translated literally, wet ground). It was in 2010 that Aaron and I began preaching on the streets of downtown, announcing the Lamb of God who came to take away the sin of the world, and calling upon everyone everywhere to repent, because the Most High has established a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness. The Lord raised up more than one dead Lazarus by the Word of life, and a church was formed and animated by the breath of the Almighty. This church has been my heart since its inception.
Prior to our departure, the brethren decided to bid us a sweet and formal farewell. With the whole church gathered after my last sermon there, a dear brother took the microphone and spoke on behalf of the assembly. They expressed their love and appreciation through many tear-choked words and prayed for the Lord’s hand upon our future endeavors. It was heart-wrenching to break with this saintly company. All the brethren came up, one by one, and gave us a hearty embrace. Our mutual tears spoke louder than words. It reminded us of Paul’s farewell to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20.
It was the most humbling experience. What did we say as we bid each other farewell? For my part, I could hardly talk. Some of the brethren were the same. Others reminded me of specific testimonies in their lives, such as a sermon that was used for their conversion, or a word in season that greatly helped their Christian walk, or fond memories we had together in the Lord’s vineyard. If all were to write of all the testimonies and memories here, I suppose a book of a thousand pages would not be sufficient to contain them all.
The church put together a picture book, which they gave to us on that occasion. It contains photos of the brethren and their families, with personal notes from each of them attached, written in each one’s own handwriting, and signed. A very special gift that was.
Many have wondered about the church’s reaction to our embarking on this new journey. Some have imagined that they must have resisted with all their might. Nothing could be further from the truth. The church has been supportive and encouraging. The brethren know that this is not our Kingdom but the Lord’s, for whose sake we are laboring. They know that we must preach Christ in the regions beyond, for this same missionary spirit burns in them. They agree with the vision and would love to see more men trained in rightly handling the Word of truth. And they are in the good hands of the Lord and under the care of the pastoral team that remains.
I thank God for the church in Guadalajara. Not a Sunday goes by that I don’t think of them and desire to be in the midst. It will be sweet to visit them again soon, if the Lord wills, on my upcoming trips.
Arrival to Grand Rapids!
The trip to Grand Rapids was long and grueling. For me, it started with a four-day road trip from Southern California to Ohio. I had to pick up and transfer an automobile, then fly back to Guadalajara, pack the rest of our stuff, and then drive with the family up to Grand Rapids from Guadalajara. Thankfully, some brethren from the church in Saltillo graciously decided to help us. They drove us the whole way and accompanied us all the way to Grand Rapids, left us there, and then drove back to Mexico. They are truly the friend that sticketh closer than a brother!
With all of us, especially considering that our children were on this journey with us, our road trip took five days. For me, between the two trips, it was over 10 days of pure travel.
It was sweet when we finally arrived. We are now getting acclimated to life in Grand Rapids for this season. It has been such a blessing, but at the same time, difficult for me. Culture shock has set in. It feels like there are many things I need to learn all over again about life in the USA.
I'm very thankful for the opportunities to continue to minister the inerrant and mighty Word of the living God:
During the move to Grand Rapids, I was kindly invited to preach the Word at an assembly of Hispanic Reformed Baptist churches in Southern California. I preached on “The Exceeding Sinfulness of Sin” from Romans 7:14. In it, I attempted to unpack something of Scripture’s testimony to the nature of sin, the role of the law in exposing it, and the power of the gospel to deal with it. I was hosted by a beautiful family from Honduras. It was a blessing to meet some fellow pastors, including Dr. Sam Renihan, who has drunk deeply from the wells of Primitive Baptist Covenant Theology and has much knowledge of the subject. It was an edifying time. It was encouraging that a family from Nevada made the drive to come out and visit. This family was previously a part of our church in Mexico City before moving to the States.
The following Sunday I was invited to preach at Providence Reformed Baptist Church of Toledo, Ohio. I’ve come to love this little church and appreciate their heart for building upon the rock of Scripture rather than the shifting sands of contemporary evangelical novelties. Some of the Lord’s best churches are small (after all, did not our Lord say the way was narrow?). I preached from Romans 5:10 on how the risen life of Christ saves us and ensures us of the security of our salvation. I’ve also been invited to preach there on a couple of other occasions recently. It is always a blessing to spend time with older, more seasoned pastors, such as those who serve in Toledo.
It was a joy to visit and be invited to preach in Iglesia Biblica de la Gracia in Grand Rapids. This Hispanic congregation is warm-hearted and lively. Pastors Billy Tavarez and Tim Elzinga gave me a warm welcome, totally worthy of the Latin American hospitality ethic (!). After the worship service and sermon, we enjoyed six hours of fellowship, feasting, theology, and testimony at the home of pastor Tavarez. It was a full and rewarding Lord’s Day.
Recently, I was invited to preach at Heritage Reformed Congregation in Grand Rapids. This is the church in which a man who I consider to be a father in the faith regularly preaches, who has become a mentor to me, and has helped me more in the faith than perhaps any minister alive today. It was a humbling experience and joy to be able to visit this church. I brought a message on “Union and Communion with Christ” from John 15:1-8. You can watch/listen to this message online: https://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=83181217250
I’ve also been invited to preach at Antioch Reformed Baptist Church in Michigan. The three sermons preached here include, “Propitiation: The Heart of the Gospel” from Romans 3:24-28, “The Risen Life of Christ the Life of the Christian” from Romans 5:10, and “Encountering the Holiness of God” from Isaiah 6.
Lord willing, I hope to continue to preach the Word and be useful around Michigan (for the time being). Soon, I hope to make a couple of trips to Mexico to do some itinerant preaching. Your prayers are appreciated.
Digging a Deep Well?
“Dig a deep well so that you’ll have resources to pull from throughout the rest of a lifetime of ministry.” This was the counsel of a dear pastor friend with whom I recently had a cup of coffee. As we sipped away, we spoke of life, the church, equipping men for the ministry, and missions in Mexico. He was encouraging me to spend a season studying as deeply as possible so as to be as useful as possible in the near future (God permitting)—especially for missions in Mexico.
Wise advice, I think. Though, if I don’t preach regularly during this present time, and don’t engage in mission work regularly, I think I’d just rather shrivel up and die. So, to buffer his counsel with some of the personally-applicable implications of Paul’s missions-minded exclamation, “Woe is me if I preach not the gospel!”, I intend to spend this brief season of life both studying andlaboring in the Lord’s vineyard (if God permits). My prayer is that my studies do not detract too much from my present usefulness, and that my present activity does not detract too much from my studies. A delicate balance, to be sure, must be maintained. May the Lord help!
My classes at seminary start this Monday. This semester, I’ll be studying Research and Investigation (including how to do graduate-level research using Reformation and Puritan sources), The Christian Minister and his Ministry, Foundations and Process of Biblical Counseling, The Theology of Augustine, Modern Church History, English Grammar and Syntax, Greek I (which I already have studied but plan to re-take it so as to solidify it all the more in preparation to teach it in Latin America), and Soteriology. A full plate, to be sure. In the meantime, I’ve been investigating some subjects on my own. This summer I was able to spend a good deal of time in the doctrine of the Trinity, studying mainly Patristic sources and their exegesis of Scripture. This has been tremendously helpful as I prepare to give teachings on the Trinity in some upcoming conferences in Jalisco, Mexico.
Our projects continue underway. As our plans unfold, we are gearing up for this next season of life and ministry. We greatly covet and appreciate your prayers on our behalf.
If you desire to help support our projects, you can do so here. May the Lord richly bless all those who help us press on for the sake of the Name.
Some important transitions are under way in our ministry in the Hispanic world. I'd love to update you on my recent activities in Mexico, which include much preaching, trips to different cities, conferences, evangelism, and so forth. And I would love to share some testimonies with you about some encouraging conversions recently, and about how the work in Mexico is flourishing by the grace of God. I would also love to talk about the fruit we are seeing in other regions, the advance of the gospel, and the awakening that is happening all over Mexico and greater Latin America.
But first, I have an important announcement to make.
We are leaving Guadalajara. But we are not breaking with the work in Mexico. Rather, our vision is to expand it with a long-term project that could be of historic importance.
For the past 10 years, we have labored as full-time missionaries in Mexico. Evangelism and church planting has been our primary focus. I have preached up and down this dark nation over and over again. The Lord has been pleased to raise up a network of churches through this effort, in addition to evangelism teams that continue to go strong. This includes biblical, confessional, Reformed churches in Guadalajara, Mexico City, Querétaro, Toluca, San Martín, and Saltillo, in addition to some other works. I thank God for these churches and for the Godly men the Lord has raised up in them to serve. These churches continue to function and prosper in their mission to this day. Up until now, my role has been to plant, oversee, shepherd, and mature these churches, while establishing a preliminary base of leadership in them. By God's grace, as I look out over this movement in Mexico, my heart is filled with joy and gratefulness to God, and I'm thrilled when I think about the future of this work.
Now that these churches are stable, there is a great need that has arisen. It is no exaggeration to call this work in Mexico a "movement," and as such, the future of it depends on its leadership. We desperately need more qualified leadership--pastors, evangelists, and teachers--who are well-trained in "rightly handling the Word of truth." But solid theological training with a sufficient level of profundity is scarce. Resources are very limited. Seminaries in the Hispanic world that provide in-depth training in Scriptural exegesis and theology are few and far between, and are largely inaccessible to many.
The Lord has been moving all over Latin America, but as the church grows wide, she is not growing much in depth (at least in some extremely important areas). One of the most desperate needs of the hour is for theological training. The future of the churches depends on its leadership, and the leadership depends on its knowledge of the Word of God. It is urgent that we help equip leadership with a more thorough knowledge of the Word and how to handle it appropriately, in the fear of God, to the conversion and edification of those who hear it. We do not take this lightly. Ministering the Word of God is not only the highest privilege for those who are called, but is also the most solemn thing that any man could do.
In light of this, I have a burden that has been pressing upon me for years. The church needs help. The Spanish-speaking world is in dire need. They need teachings that go beyond the level of depth provided by Sunday sermons and periodic Bible studies. Generally speaking, they don't need more missionaries to serve as leaders; what they need is greater training so that the budding leaders in their midst may serve more effectively and realize the full potential of their high and holy vocation.
So, here is the plan:
My plan is to transition out of the pastoral role in which I've been serving in the churches in Mexico to one of providing biblical and theological training for those who desire to study the Word more deeply. I want to see laborers trained and raised up and sent out to shake the gates of hell and advance the Kingdom of God--something like what happened during the Reformation through Calvin's Academy of Geneva. That Academy was a biblical fortress, a refuge for those who had been awakened to the biblical gospel. Many fled there and studied for a time, and they took the gospel back to their lands. It was a veritable school of Christ and God used it to shake the earth with the gospel of grace. Rather than directly pastoring churches on the mission field, I sense the Lord calling me to focus my efforts on providing resources that equip serious students of the Word with greater depth and precision.
Therefore, I'm working with a team to establish a seminary--but not just any seminary. Rather, a seminary that is intensely missions-minded, focused on equipping teachers, pastors and church planters to go forth bearing the precious seed as they sow it with tears and engage in frontline evangelistic assault. The next step in seeing this movement of church plants solidify and expand is to see (ideally) an army of preachers raised up and sent out. Rather than continuing to involve myself directly in this ministry of church planting, I can better focus my efforts, for greater impact I think, by training and equipping others to do it. Natives are usually better long-term pastors than foreigners anyway!
The idea is to provide training in Spanish in the whole rubric of theology as outlined in a traditional Master of Divinity curriculum. And it will work closely with the local church to provide pastoral mentorship and hands on training. We want to provide a solid biblical education, with training in the biblical languages, exegetical theology, biblical theology, systematic theology, historical theology, and practical/pastoral theology.
I'll be heading up this project and overseeing the development of the curriculum. I plan to be personally teaching many of the courses. I'll also be networking with like-minded men, qualified teachers, pastors and theologians, to produce lectures and recordings that will be used to this end. The first phase of this project is to get all the materials online, so that anyone can study from anywhere in the world. More on that below.
I also hope to be traveling to various cities in Mexico and greater Latin America on a regular basis to teach and preach. This includes doing conferences on pertinent biblical texts and theological subjects, with a focus on the gospel and its implications in all of life. This may also include doing theological modules, which consist of week-long intensives that delve into a specific topic in-depth. The first module I'll be preparing is on soteriology (the doctrine of salvation). More should follow, especially courses on the doctrine of God (theology proper and the Trinity).
In addition, I hope to expand my writing ministry. I've been able to publish a number of articles and two books thus far. I hope to continue to write on subjects that can help the church and serve important needs. The printed page has a way of preaching when all other voices are silent. The printed materials I can develop and publish can also serve as useful, complementary aids to our courses in Bible, theology and church history.
What will be your involvement with all the mission projects currently under way?
I will continue to oversee the projects of our Spanish ministry, Cristianismo Bíblico, and all current ministry activities will continue to function just as they have until now. We hope they will not be negatively affected, but will continue to advance and grow.
Projects are able to continue because faithful brethren who are a part of our ministry are serving in all these capacities. Evangelism ministries and many other activities will continue to persevere, because these ministries are headed by the local churches that the Lord has been pleased to raise up.
Where will you be relocating to?
My family and I will be moving to Grand Rapids, Michigan for a season (about two years). This is so I can pursue further studies with Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary (henceforth, PRTS). But I hope to make frequent trips to Mexico during this time, and to focus on the advance of missions in Latin America. Residing in Michigan will not have to prevent a frequent presence in Mexico (thanks to the airplane!).
Will you still be a missionary to Mexico?
I hope to continue to travel to Mexico with frequency during this time. Finances permitting, I can make trips as often as once per month, in order to do intensive teaching conferences and preaching in churches. I can also spend summers in Mexico.
Moving to Grand Rapids will allow me to study at PRTS, obtain a fully accredited degree, position myself for doctoral studies, and hopefully grow exponentially in the Bible and theology through the massive libraries of literature they have available to students. There are resources there that will help me be better equipped that I cannot obtain in our current context of residing full-time in Mexico. The libraries in Grand Rapids are a huge part of this. I need to delve deeper into the great Reformed theologians of the past. And I need access to large amounts of literature and sources that would be too expensive to purchase, not to mention some important out-of-print literature.
Also, I need access to all the best literature on any given topic, as I prepare my lectures for the courses, modules and conferences I'll be teaching.
I also need to advance my knowledge of biblical Greek and learn Hebrew. It is very difficult to attain to an intermediate level of these languages through self study (I say that as one who knows basic Greek). PRTS has some very qualified and gifted men who teach the biblical languages. I need to learn them sufficiently to be able to teach them to men in the Hispanic world (at least to equip them with a basic sufficiency). In addition, I hope to dominate Koine Greek at an intermediate/advanced level, and for this, I need in-person training.
During this brief season while pursuing my studies, I hope to devote myself to preparing teachings and lectures that I can teach in Mexico. My weekly labors will consist of preparing lectures and course materials for our Hispanic seminary in addition to networking with others who can also teach. Hence, my "job" will be on laying the educational groundwork for this seminary; I'll be working constantly at advancing this project. Making use of the libraries and helps available at the seminaries in Grand Rapids, I can prepare much material, then travel to Mexico and teach it, get it recorded, and we can integrate it into our online learning platform. I may also be recording courses using equipment set up in Grand Rapids.
In short, I hope to expand the long-term impact of this ministry, not only in Mexico, but in all of Latin America.
What will happen to the churches in Mexico?
The churches will continue to function just as they have been. There are pastors in place who are overseeing the work. Nothing will change in that respect. I think they are sufficiently established and strong so as to continue without needing foreign missionary pastorship. These churches incarnate the gospel effectively in their culture and they are growing in number and maturity. Finances permitting, I plan to visit these churches on a regular basis and to preach in them. I will maintain a close contact and ongoing relationship with them and with the leaders.
What degree(s) will you be working on and,
why work on obtaining more academic degrees in theology?
Soon, Lord willing, I'll be graduating from Reformed Baptist Seminary with a Master of Theological Studies (M.T.S.) with an emphasis in exegetical theology. I'll be transferring some credits over to PRTS to finish out an M.Div. with them. From there, I hope to pursue Ph.D. studies in an area that will help the church, and further equip me to teach at the most rigorous academic level. Thankfully, the Ph.D. does not need to be completed residentially (while living in Grand Rapids). Once I finish my M.Div., I can study for a doctorate through making periodic trips to the school where I would pursue it. If the Lord led us in that direction, I could live full-time on the mission field while making periodic study trips to the USA. I see my life's labor as teaching both at the local church level and in the academy (I do not have the desire to be an academic scholar but rather a pastor-scholar), and always seeking to engage in mission work in Latin America.
Several reasons for this academic pursuit: (1) I long to know the Bible better, and to be better equipped to serve the Lord in the preaching ministry He has called me to; (2) an exciting door has opened up making it possible to study at PRTS under the mentorship of one of the most gifted theologians of our generation, Dr. Joel Beeke; (3) in order to establish a seminary for the Hispanic world, it is wisest to ensure that I am not formally under-qualified to do it, which makes academic degrees almost necessary for me to fulfill this vision with the due excellence and reputable quality it deserves--this is important for the long-term reputation and reach of this project; (4) obtaining these degrees in theology will undoubtedly help to open more doors for the gospel and opportunities to minister.
Life is short, and I long to serve the Lord Christ as effectively as possible.
Why study at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary?
Several reasons: (1) it is one of the best seminaries in the world in my opinion, with the focus and emphases that I'm looking to grow in my knowledge of, such as biblical exegesis, Puritan theology and experiential preaching; (2) the professors are men of integrity, who love the Lord, hold uncompromisingly to a conservative, Biblical, Reformed worldview, and are experts in their field; (3) the extensive library of primary and secondary sources of the best literature from the history of the church is a gold mine that will help me grow in a way that I otherwise could not; (4) Grand Rapids also has other extensive theological libraries that will allow me to investigate my subjects of expertise with great facility.
What is the vision for the new seminary for Latin America?
The vision is to serve the local church by streamlining a quality, robust theological education to those who desire to study and be trained in the theological sciences and history of Christian and Reformed theology, that faithful men may be raised up to advance the Great Commission and shepherd Christ's church in the Hispanic world.
The plan is for it to offer a traditional divinity curriculum. It will be a Reformed and credo-baptist seminary, constituted on the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith. All teachers must be experienced and qualified in the topics their course entails. It will be academically rigorous (according to the level that our student body can reasonably handle) and practical, with a view to usefulness in the local church and in the real world. This includes being historically-grounded in the great thinkers of the past in addition to having a distinctive experiential emphasis. The gospel must be kept front and center, and "I determined to know nothing among you except Christ and him crucified" must be our continual refrain.
We plan to offer courses in the biblical languages, with a focus on Greek and New Testament exegesis. There is very, very little training offered in Latin America to equip men in the exegetical sciences.
It will be a missions-minded seminary; always looking to equip men in international contexts that otherwise would not have access to such teaching. We want to pioneer solid and thorough theological training to the third world. The global church is languishing due to a lack of knowledge. Internet blog posts are often the primary source of theological knowledge that many are obtaining, apart from their Bible. We want to serve the cause of missions, that God's Name would be made famous among the nations, and that Christ's church would be solidly established in places where it is currently struggling over its very identity and relationship to theological truth. Heresies sweep over the church in these places and sometimes prospers, nearly unchecked, because church leaders are not prepared to soundly refute them with Scripture. It is vital that the future cause of missions focus its efforts on the global church--the church outside of the "first world" of North America and Europe. We have an exciting opportunity before us to pioneer theological training into areas where it is not available, and where it is most needed in our generation.
Rather than focusing on sending American missionaries to Hispanic countries, we want to equip men right where they are and strengthen the national leadership that already exists in these places. We want to travel to diverse places and establish relationships, and give intensive theological courses during short-term mission trips, on a regular basis. In other words, our in-depth theological courses can be mobilized for greater reach and impact. I've already done some ministry along these lines, and it has much potential for good in the third world. Some viable models have already been implemented by ourselves and others; we can take these models and build upon them. And we can network with gifted teachers and preachers to organize events in Latin America in which they travel and deliver their materials in order to equip the church on the mission field without doing violence to its already-existing leadership structures.
A tremendously important aspect of this seminary project is that it must be accessible on the internet. The first phase of this project includes getting the whole core curriculum online. This includes (1) preparing course lectures in transcript form; (2) recording lectures in high quality video and audio; (3) organizing course materials into coherent and systematic structural units; (4) making it all available online for students who desire to study, anywhere in the world. We want the whole program to be available online. This is important because many Latin Americans do not have the means or resources to travel internationally. This will make a thorough Reformed theological education available to everybody.
For the long-term, we would like to see a physical seminary established in Mexico. Such a training institution would work in conjunction with the network of churches the Lord has permitted us to plant; it would also serve as a base for a major missions enterprise to plant churches in diverse places.
How will you be supported?
We are hoping to be financially supported by churches and individuals who desire to see the gospel advance in the Hispanic world. Without their help, we could not accomplish this project. It will take a massive amount of time investment, effort, lecture preparation, traveling, and mission trips. We also need equipment to record lectures and teachings with high quality, such as cameras, online resources, and recording equipment. I'm planning on dedicating a minimum number of hours each week to this project, just as I would if I were working any other job with its commensurate time commitment. If we did not receive regular financial support, it would simply be physically impossible to see this project through to success.
Reasons we are seeking support for this include:
Once the online phase of our training program is up and running, the goal would be to have about 1,000 students enrolled within the first 5 years of its existence. This is not a far stretch, seeing that we have some experience in this with our previous online academy project, in which we had over 200 men enrolled from the very first day of its launch (we had only permitted men to enroll in that one; if we had permitted female students this number would have been greater). And that project was not done with the kind of planning, care, quality and thoroughness that we hope to employ in this project. Just imagine! 1,000 students trained in a thoroughly biblical worldview, preaching the old time gospel, exegeting the Greek New Testament, interacting with the best insights of Calvin, Edwards, Spurgeon and the Puritans on a meaningful level, and marching forward with the blood-stained banner of Christ and him crucified to reach Latin America! This can have a historic impact in Latin America. There is no project we could do whose potential impact for the future good of the church would be greater, if it pleased the Lord to prosper this plan.
The potential impact of this project is enormous. But there is a massive amount of work ahead, in terms of personal training and of the investment of hard labor into seeing it come to fruition. We are hoping our brethren will stand behind us in this, as we seek to spend and be spent for the sake of souls, for the glory of the precious Lamb who is worthy of the reward of His suffering.
For the sake of the Name in Mexico and beyond,
Pastor, Iglesia del Centro
Founder, Cristianismo Bíblico
To read our update for this month, please click here.
We are grateful for your prayers and support!
Author: Josef Urban
It's been a busy 6 months since we've been back in Mexico since our 3-month furlough to the USA. Much travel, much preaching, much evangelism has taken place.
Recently I've had the privilege of teaching the Word of God in Guadalajara, Mexico City, Toluca, Tepic, Tulancingo, Saltillo and Xalapa. These are cities in the central region of Mexico that are spanned from the West to the East coast, and Saltillo is in the North of the nation. In this update and in the weeks that follow, I'll be highlighting what is transpiring in these places and outlining some prayer requests.
Photo above: Descending upon the city of Veracruz. The geography is beautiful in this port city on the East Coast of Mexico, as you can see from the mountains in the background. From here, we traveled another hour and a half to Xalapa, where I did a conference over the weekend and helped support a beloved and struggling pastor in the process of "reforming" (pun intended) his congregation.
This is our home church and missions base; it's what I like to call the Antioch of our mission. From here we launch out to places far and near.
The church appears to be solidifying in all areas by the grace of God, as we plug away at the areas of greatest need. Hector Bustamante (who was ordained to the pastoral ministry last November) and I are serving side-by-side as we oversee the church and labor in the ministry of the Word and prayer. We've been taking turns preaching and Hector has been covering the pulpit during my absence as I travel to preach in other places and consolidate and strengthen other churches. Hector and I have been involved in much personal work with members and those who attend, engaging in counseling, disciplinary measures, pre-marital counseling, membership interviews, etc. With Hector's involvement, the burden of this labor has been greatly mitigated for me. What a blessing it is to now have a plurality of pastors here.
We've been amazed by some recent conversions! Some really encouraging, sudden conversions have taken place among us and seem to be bearing fruit. We've also baptized some new members. Praise God.
Our attendance has also seen a little bit of increase, making it necessary to purchase more chairs and tables to accommodate everyone. Over 100 people stay after the sermon each Sunday for our "agape" (fellowship meal), where they engage in biblical conversation for mutual edification for several hours each Sunday.
I've been teaching a 10-part sermon series on church discipline based on Matthew 18. (For those who are wondering, "Yes!" the church has grown a little even in the midst of a series on that most hated of all subjects: church discipline!)
So far I've taught messages titled:
(1) The Need for Discipline in the Church
(2) The Mandate of Church Discipline
(3) Obstacles that Hinder Church Discipline
(4) The Purposes of Church Discipline
(5) The Evangelical Nature of Church Discipline
(6) The Redemptive Purpose of Church Discipline
(7) The Spiritual Predispositions of the Confronter
Yet to come are messages expounding Matthew 18:15-17 and offering practical counsel on:
(8) The Nature of the Sin Worthy of Confrontation
(9) The Act of Confrontational Peacemaking
(10) The Process of Discipline and Restoration
(Those who understand Spanish can access the recordings of this series here)
This is definitely not an exhaustive treatment, but it covers the bases sufficiently to serve as a helpful introduction to the subject and to provide some counsel on its sound implementation. In addition to Scripture, I've been studying resources from Mark Dever, Jonathan Leeman (9 Marks), John MacArthur, D.A. Carson, Al Martin, R.C. Sproul, John Calvin, John Owen, Richard Baxter, Ken Sande ("The Peacemaker") Willhemus Brakel (my favorite treatment), Turretin, and various commentaries on Matthew 18, 1 Corinthians 5, Galatians 6 and so forth.
(Parenthetical comment: if you are not familiar with Brakel's Systematic Theology, you are truly missing out on what is becoming my favorite series of volumes on the subject. It is theology on fire and represents a beauty balance between deep theological instruction wedded with experiential piety and practical application. It's Puritanical to the core and represents some of the best teachings of the Reformed movement. It'll instruct your mind AND rivet your soul. Brakel is a forgotten hero of the past, a truly buried gem. Don't waste too much of your time in the new stuff; go back and read the old. It's better. And it's reading level is not too technical; it's very easy to follow. It'll be the best 100 bucks you've ever spent. I don't agree with every detail but overall it's sound and trustworthy. You can acquire it from Reformation Heritage Books here.)
Teaching on church discipline is a great need in Latin America, so all the messages are being published online. Over the last couple of years, I've received literally hundreds of questions about this subject from Spanish-speaking Christians all over the world. Previously our greatest enemy within evangelicalism was "cheap grace;" now, in addition to that, we're battling the dangerous concepts of "cheap church." Ecclesiology is anemic and the local church is generally despised, as post-modern, relativistic individualism permeates society in Mexico's largest cities. Historically, discipline has been one of the three marks of a true church, together with the sound preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the ordinances. If discipline is a necessary mark of a true church, then almost all of the churches in Mexico would not be considered true churches! Notwithstanding, we know there are many true believers in these places, and even many pastors in the process of reformation who were never properly instructed or adequately equipped for the ministry.
We are truly living in a crisis moment in modern evangelicalism and urgently need to produce more resources that train men on how to labor to have healthy churches. If we are to see biblical Christianity flourish in Latin America, it is vital that we help the church to be established on a solid foundation. If the church is to arise and advance the Gospel, she must first be firmly grounded in sound doctrine.
In the midst of this series, we've had a few cases of discipline arise in our churches. I foresaw this and thought it wise to instruct the church on the subject so as to ensure biblical grounding and unity as we proceeded with these cases. There has been an encouraging response from the members, demonstrating a true sense of love and concern for the church and for those who have gone astray.
I'll probably turn these messages into a little booklet to distribute abroad.
In the afternoons in the church in Guadalajara, we teach another Bible study and have had a good turnout. Hector continued to expound on our Confession of faith in the afternoon study and I've been teaching miscellaneous messages as needs become apparent. After this, a group usually goes to a Cafe and enjoys some coffee together as they all fellowship and talk of testimonies, theology, etc.
We're initiating some new mercy ministries. We've located some extremely poor areas of the city and have gathered together many items to give out as we preach the Gospel. We'll probably focus on giving out food and clothing to the poor as we share the Gospel and invite them to Bible studies. We've looking forward to these new areas of mercy ministry. It looks promising!
Our evangelism ministries continue to persevere. Our church evangelizes several days per week, in a drug rehabilitation center, in a hospital, and on the streets of downtown. We hand out thousands of gospel tracts, engage skeptics with the truth claims of Jesus, share with the sick and dying of the sweet consolation that is to be found only in Christ, share the gospel of the grace of God with countless Roman Catholics, and teach the Way to those who are far from it.
Much of our activities are well-nigh impossible to detail here, because ministry in the church is not glamorous. The Gospel never advances much in the world apart from adversity and affliction. But I'll spare you those details. Suffice to say that we need your prayers! We stand only by grace.
In the above picture, you can see a brother named Cesar and me standing in front of the ocean in Veracruz.
This brother was called to pastor a Baptist church in Xalapa about a year ago. This is a struggling church that has not embraced the Doctrines of Grace prior to his arrival. He's been expounding on Romans but the congregation still appears to possess quite a shallow understanding of biblical Christianity. He's in a difficult situation.
Cesar is currently laboring to revive and reform this church. The congregation, however, doesn't seem to be all on board. There are many practical obstacles and difficulties he is facing (which I don't have the liberty to share). He invited me to help him out and walk him through this process of rescuing the work. We spent a lot of time talking about this and I trust he has a good, prudent and practical plan for taking steps in the right direction. But being the only pastor, he feels isolated and without much support.
Moved out of a burden for the cause of the Gospel in Xalapa, Cesar organized a series of meetings for my visit. I was able to do a question and answer session with a small group of pastors as we talked about healthy theology and discussed matters of practical importance for the local church. We spoke a bit about the Reformed resurgence in Mexico and interacted with its strengths and weaknesses from a biblical, theological and historical perspective.
Then I taught a conference on "True and False Faith" from John 2:23-25 and 3:36 to a group of about 160 os so persons. They were gathered from several different congregations. I preached about the distinguishing marks of saving faith (it's three elements as consisting in knowledge, assent and trust; it's object; it's fruit), I also contrasted saving faith with "superficial faith" (professions, persuasions and superficial commitments that lack wholehearted trust in Christ), "temporary faith" (failure to persevere, thereby demonstrating lack of true faith), and "historical faith" (believing in Jesus as a past historical reality that fails to practically impact and revolutionize one's current living).
Spurgeon said that one of the greatest duties of a preacher is to make clear the nature of saving faith. After 10 brief years in the ministry, and countless conversations with lost souls in the midst of the church, I can confirm the pertinence of Spurgeon's remark. The whole world "believes" in Christ, the problem is, their belief falls short of genuine justifying faith. Without regeneration and heart transformation, faith is dead. What's more is that true faith is affectional in that it esteems Christ as the priceless treasure that's more precious even than our life in this world. Multitudes abide in a state of delusion, blind to the condition of their souls, because their consciences are pacified by a false faith.
We must thunder forth the truth, that it's not the profession of faith that saves, but the possession of faith. And this faith itself is not the basis of anybody's salvation, but is rather the exclusive instrument through which the grace of salvation is appropriated, because faith lays hold on the righteousness of Christ so as to confide solely in Him. True faith beholds Christ, acquiesces to Christ, unites us to Christ, rests in Christ, refuges in Christ, treasures Christ, follows Christ, denies self for Christ, and refuses to part with Christ though it need to depart with the whole world for the sake of Christ. It is radically Christocentic and fundamentally God-oriented and God-glorifying. Many trust in a "faith" that is turned inwardly, in a faith that beholds and trusts more in itself than in the objective content of the Gospel and the Person of Christ who is revealed in it. It is our greatest and perhaps most difficult labor to turn men outside of themselves that they may trust wholly in another, to renounce themselves, to put no confidence in the flesh and to glory solely in Christ Jesus. So to preach on the nature of saving faith, it's necessary to exult in the Person and work of Christ in the fulness of His Person, His offices, and His sufficiency; for it is to Him to whom the eye of all true faith is directed and on whom it is fixed. This is a preview of what I attempted to demonstrate from the Scriptures in the conference in Xalapa.
I had to labor through this message with a very painful case of what seemed to be a strep throat virus, but my weakness helped make me conscious of my utter dependence on divine grace. The Lord seemed to help, and there was a holy hush of solemnity over the congregation as we closed, as the weight of eternity and judgment day seemed to permeate the atmosphere and strike us with all with reverent reflection on the state of our souls--me included.
May the Lord give fruit in Veracruz for His glory. I will likely make at least one other visit to do a conference on the marks of a biblical church just prior to Cesar's plans to begin implementing some necessary ecclesiastical measures to purify and establish the church on healthy foundations (or die trying!). He holds to the 1689 but the congregation does not. You can imagine his predicament.
In the next update, Lord willing, I'll highlight some of the recent happenings in Tepic, Tulancingo and Saltillo.
We are grateful for your prayers and financial support. May the Lamb who was slain receive the reward of His suffering!
Greetings from Guadalajara, Mexico!
We have had an extremely busy year with lots of things happening. We are currently in Guadalajara and continue to plug away at the works the Lord has been pleased to raise up in Mexico. In the interest of brevity, I'll summarize some of the highlights of what has transpired recently...
Our family has experienced several crisis type situations. Earlier this year, we were implicated in a nasty ring of violence that put our lives in potential mortal danger, possibly making us a target for "professional" murderers. This situation, among others, made it necessary for us to take a brief furlough into the United States for several months. We had to move out of our home, go into hiding, and trust the Lord for financial provision that was well beyond their means as we made these movements. He is always been so faithful to provide. Thankfully, the situation has cleared up and I feel that the family is a bit safer. We’re grateful for those who were faithfully praying for our safety and our future as a family during this time.
Ordination of a Pastor
Hector Bustamamante, the brother who has been laboring alongside me these last couple of years, and who I’ve had the privilege to mentor during this time, has recently been ordained to the pastoral ministry. Many were in tears of solemn joy, rejoicing with trembling, as Aaron Block and I laid hands on him and prayed for the grace, blessing and power of the Holy Spirit to endow him for the work of the ministry, having been set aside by the church to give himself to the ministry of the Word and prayer.
Hector and his wife, Karime, and their little daughter, Idelette. Can you guess who their daugther is named after? (Hint: one of the 16th Century Reformer's wives.)
Aaron Block gives Hector some words of exhortation in the presence of witnesses prior to the laying on of hands:
We call on the Lord to earnestly beg of His grace and mercy, that He would use this man mightily for the spread of the Gospel and sound doctrine in the church and in greater Latin America:
Hector preaches the Word of the living God immediately following his ordination to all who listen on with earnest expectation:
This event is an answer to many prayers as it enables us to multiply our labors. Please remember brother Hector in your prayers, that the Lord will bless and keep him, keep his affections inflamed with the zealous love for Christ, continue to bless him with a healthy and happy marriage, and for the Lord to have mercy on the soul of his daughter and on the baby to come, to grant them the gift of the new birth.
Our 3rd Annual Conference in Guadalajara: Reformation and Revival!
In November, we had our annual conference in Guadalajara. Every year, we have this conference in a large campground. We devote four days to preaching, fellowship, prayer meetings, eating together, and doing family activities together at this facility. It’s always such a blessed time that encourages us and revives our hearts. This year, we had about 600 persons come out for the conference.
The theme this year was “Returning to the Old Paths: Truths that Reform and Revive the Church”. The expositors were Aaron Block, Miguel Fattel, Hector Bustamante and I. All of the subject matter revolved around the subject of practical, experiential Reformed theology. We talked about how theology should impact all of life, resulting in subjection from the heart to the Lordship, supremacy, sovereignty of God, in order to glorify Him in every sphere of life.
We also spoke about historic revival and prevailing prayer, Trinitarian devotion and spirituality, engaging in our vocations and earthly labors for the glory of God, Biblical meditation as a spiritual discipline, and about the place of self-examination and confession of sin in the prayer life of the Christian.
We also spoke about the pious family, and how to walk godly in the home. This was a big theme of the conference since this is such a great need in the church of Latin America. We emphasized the need for applying sound theology to our everyday family life. We talked about family devotions, exhorted men to lead their families as the prophets, priests, and kings of the home, and gave practical advice on how to conduct family worship in the home. We also exhorted parents to diligently teach their children the whole counsel of God, and to strive to give them a thoroughly biblical education from the days of their youth.
On the third day of the conference, a lady approached me with an encouraging testimony. She was attending the conference with her husband (who is also a believer) along with their children. This family was not from any of our sister churches, but had heard about the conference and decided to attend. After the exhortations and teachings about family worship and discipleship, this family returned to their home that night. The husband called a meeting with the family, asked for their forgiveness for not leading them in the worship of God, and solemnly committed to teach them the Bible and lead them in family worship every day. According to the wife’s testimony, he then began to lead them in prayer. And his prayers broke her heart. She said she had never heard him pray like that before as he wept and cried out loud, begging God to have mercy on his family and save his children. She said that the earnestness and solemnity of his prayers even caused her to fear, as the presence of God was so tangible in the room. Oh, may the Lord revive the excellent practice of true worship in the homes of believers all over Latin America. May we see a genuine move of the Spirit of God that shakes the status quo and revives genuine piety in the midst of a Christianity that is so superficial and shallow in our day!
Many other testimonies have been trickling in. It seems like dozens of men who had previously been slothful in teaching the word of God to their families and in the worship of God have made a more conscious commitment to doing so. Please pray that these resolutions wouldn’t be the result of a momentary excitement but of a true and lasting work of grace that bears much fruit for years to come (should our Lord tarry).
Here are some pictures of the conference:
Aaron Block preaches on the phenomena of genuine revival and its practical implications for the Christian life. He was able to teach much along of the lines of what is found in Ian Murray's excellent book, "Pentecost Today":
The promotional flyer that was designed for the event:
The beautiful map our team designed for the campground:
Hector teaches on the doctrine of vocation, how to understand work in this world and how to engage in it for God's glory. This shot was taken on a Monday, the last day of the conference, and as you can see, many precious people were still in attendance:
Miguel Fattel teaches on "Walking Godly in the Home". He gleaned much from classic Puritan works such as William Gouge's Domestic Duties, from Thomas Manton and Matthew Henry:
The four expositors teaching during the question and answer session. Many good questions came in such as, "How do I lead family worship if my husband is not a Christian?", "What is praying in the Holy Spirit?", "How do we properly implement the doctrine of the Trinity, and Trinitarian devotion, into our prayer life?", "How do we avoid falling into legalism if we esteem the Lord's Day as a special day of worship?", and many others:
All of the teaching sessions were recorded by our faithful media team and are being uploaded to our website www.cristianismobiblico.com in order to be available for free to the larger Spanish speaking world. Your gifts to our ministry allows us to financially compensate workers who put in much time and effort to media ministries so as to spread the Word of God to the whole world through the internet:
The fellowship was amazing! All the meals were to be had at the campground and many of the brethren stayed in dorms and bunks--over 200 people slept at the campground!
After all the activities and with bellies satisfied from a nice camp dinner, the brethren would enjoy some sweet fellowship around the fire during the chilly November night:
Here's a picture of a couple of brothers at our book sales table. The brother on the left was very involved in organizing the whole event. The one on the right is leading a new literature project we've initiated. At the conference, with Publicaciones Cristianismo Bíblico (our own printing and distribution ministry; website forthcoming), we were able to offer over 400 different titles of solid Reformed literature at a highly discounted price. In all, we sold about 1,200 books at the event! How exciting to see the hunger the brethren have for digging deeper into the Word, especially considering that Latin American culture is traditionally not given to much reading! We thank God for the hard--completely volunteer--work of these dear brothers!
At the conference, I released my newly published Catechism for families and children. It's called, "The Great Doctrines of the Faith: A New Catechism for Children and Families". It has over 200 questions and answers that guide the cathechumen through the whole rubric of basic systematic theology, with key biblical verses appended to each answer for memorization. I based it off of several other historic catechisms, made sure it alligned with our Confession of Faith (the 1689) in everything, and significantely expanded several sections, such as the doctrine of the atonement (Christ and Him crucified!) and the attributes of God. We sold almost 500 copies of this catechism at the conference. All of this is a nonprofit labor. Your support has also helped us to be able to complete this project and equip families with this powerful tool for family discipleship:
Since we sold out of all the copies we had, we're now working at printing the catechism in an attractive and practical hardcover format. Sorry, but it's only available in Spanish for the time being!
Many hearts were encouraged. Several pastors approached me from diverse places, expressing a desire to bring their congregations to the reality of experiential Reformed theology and practical piety and lead their churches to a practical ecclesiological reformation.
Thanks so much for your prayers and support! There's so much more to tell you about, dear friends, but the contraints of time and space press us with the necessity of submitting to the limitations of brevity. I'll try to send another update soon.
Interested in helping to support our mission financially? You can do so through the Support page of this website.
Greetings in the name of our glorious God and Savior Jesus Christ! We are thankful for the continued prayers and support of our brothers and sisters as we continue to labor in Mexico for the sake of the Name. Here is a brief update on some of our recent activities.
An Addition to the Family!
We were blessed on November 18 of this year of our Lord, 2015, with the birth of our daughter, Ariella Christiana Urban. Though there were some complications with the birth giving rise to the need of a cesarean, the Lord gave much grace and Lina is recuperating. I've been able to spend a lot of time with Josiah recently as I've had to care for him while Lina recovers from the surgery and gets back to her routine. We are praising God for granting us another child!