We're still alive! We're just extremely negligent (to my own fault) at getting updates out there. In addition to conveying our sincerest apologies, I would like to express our honest intention to make a better, more conscious effort at sending them out more punctually. We have a major project in the works right now which includes updating you more frequently, consistently, and practically.
The 4 boys are no longer with us. After being their caretakers and "parents" for 3 and a half years, having lived with us during that time and integrated into our family, the Mexican government pulled a political move and sent them to another house. They are now in an orphanage. We've been to visit them, but it's much different around the house without having these little guys around.
The good news is that two of the brothers (pictured in the middle above) are in the process of being adopted! And not just by anybody, but by a beautiful family from our church! If all goes well, these two will have a permanent home and be raised in the fear, instruction and love of the Lord. Please pray for them. The other two are soon to return to their mother who had previously abandoned them, but has won rights to receive them back. Please pray for their wellbeing in every way (spiritual and physical).
With the boys gone, it's just the 3 of us now. Josiah is 2 and a half and is growing healthy and happy. We've been researching his future in terms of education and will probably be giving him a classical Christian education. Lina is doing well.
Many have asked if we plan to have more children. We would love to have as many as the Lord gives us. But that just means just one for now, I guess...
What does a preacher do when he loses his voice?
These past years on the mission field have consisted of a great many trials. In my case, health-related infirmities have been frequent and persistent. If you care to hear my rant, you can read this section; if not, feel free to skip ahead to the next heading! (I won't be offended!)
In the early part of last year (2014), I was coming down with frequent, severe stomach illnesses about once per month that would lay me out for days at a time, having all vitality leeched from this mortal frame to the point of utter despair. Prayer availed much toward spiritual sustainment but little to support the flesh. Hospital and doctor visits helped to only maintain me hydrated via IV's while the infections would pass their dreadful, natural course. The frequent travels, seeking nourishment from inner-city Mexican street-vending taco carts, ingesting amoebas and vicious bacterias, the jam-packed schedule with studying, preaching, teaching, counseling, organizing, fellowshiping, the daily care of the churches, stress, and a weak immune system all took their toll and laid me out like an old pancake in the hot noon-day sun. I was becoming almost useless, though the grace of God sustained me and kept me pressing on with the drive to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ.
So I cut down on traveling, changed my diet and began a rigorous exercise routine. My stomach health drastically improved. But then, I began having serious complications with my VOCAL CORDS (of all things)! I couldn't preach half a sermon without my voice getting hoarse and inflicting a moderate amount of pain. This continued for many months. After the pain was persistent, I decided to get a laryngoscopy. They diagnosed me with a vocal nodule. The gist of it was that supposedly, preaching was over for me, at least until I underwent surgery. Rather than going under the knife, I went to California for 2 months and underwent a vigorous vocal rehabilitation and training therapy with one of LA's most reputable speech pathologists (who the Lord provided at a 50% discount!). Apparently, it was effective. After several months, I got another laryngoscopy, and by the mercy of God, the nodule has now dissolved! It is g-o-n-e!
But some irritation was still persistent. After a seven month journey of trying to ascertain the root of my vocal problems, we recently discovered that the problem was instigated by recurring "silent reflux" (the craftily, creepily sneaky and asymptomatic sister of heartburn), in which tiny amounts of stomach acid quitely lodge powerful digestive enzymes in the throat and cause the throat itself to be slowly and progressively digested! The saying goes, "What you're eating could be eating you"! Ouch! I felt it! This, in turn, was apparently instigated by chronic digestive problems causing bacterial overgrowth in my stomach (this link is to an article that outlines natural remedies that have helped me). So I'm in the process of dealing with this through lifestyle, nutritional and dietary implementations and have begun to feel significantly better. My vocal strength, projection and endurance is drastically improving as I've been able to preach at normal volume upwards of an hour at a time with no significant hindrance or pain. Praise the Lord!
This has been a trial that is particularly tempting to provoke despair and discouragement. "Woe is me if I preach not the gospel"! I remember telling my wife at one point that I prefer to just die than to never be able to preach again. What a journey this has been.
Recently a brother approached me and, expressing sympathy, inquired of me what I've learned over these past 7 months, especially early on when we all felt like my ministry was on the verge of collapsing. I can't begin to describe all the emails that poured in from all over Latin America when the news went out, the sadness in the churches in Mexico, and my own sense of confusion and lack of answers in terms of when, how, if ever, I would be back at preaching. My answer? I've learned that Christ is sufficient. My identity is not wrapped up in some ministry, however "successful" it may appear to be. My source of hope and joy doesn't come from the exercise of any talent or spiritual gift the Lord has entrusted to me. Christ is my all, and He is sufficient. I may be stripped of my voice, and therefore of my ministry, my support, my income, and everything else, but as long as I have Jesus, I have more than enough. It's been helpful to not only know this, but to feel it as a present reality. God is good. Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift!
I've been back at preaching every Sunday since the beginning of December along with a ministry schedule that normally requires at least several hours of speaking daily. And the Lord has helped me to do so with no significant hindrance. I earnestly desire your prayers for my speedy and total vocal recuperation. I long to take up traveling again to visit all the church plants, lay some important ecclesiastical foundations in place, encourage the brethren, spend extended time with key men who need mentoring, spearhead some important projects, conduct some conferences and teach some theological modules in other places in Latin America.
Great Commission Advancement Through the Establishment and Building of Christ's Church
We continue to remain persuaded that the Great Commission primarily entails the establishment, nurturing and building of biblical churches. Our efforts continue to focus on this sorely needed ministry in Mexico.
Our original church plant in Guadalajara continues to prosper by the grace of our Lord. I am spending most of my time here seeking to teach and pour into the church that it may be a strong ministry base in Mexico. We are seeing encouraging things, as brothers and sisters are growing in maturity, stepping up to serve and helping to meet many needs in the church. Our prayers from the beginning were that the Lord would make this church an Antioch in Mexico--a sending base to initiate and nurture other church plants--and He has begun to answer our prayers, in part. The church continues to expand, to grow in terms of depth of a work of grace and in numbers of those who are being saved. Most of all, the love of Christ is felt in this place and experienced in a rare and invigorating way that is truly refreshing to our hearts.
Lord's Day meeting in Guadalajara:
The other church plants that have flowed from this work are the Mexico City and Queretaro churches. In September, 2014, my fellow co-laborer Aaron Block was ordained as a pastor. Aaron has moved to Queretaro to shepherd the church of God which he bought with his own blood in that place.
Aaron preaching in Queretaro:
The church in Mexico City also continues to grow and advance. After many hellish battles, attacks by false brethren, and threats of division in that place, the church has been strengthened and solidified in grace, love and unity. It is very encouraging to see what the Lord has done in Mexico City!
Below is brother Miguel from Mexico City sharing the Word of God:
In 2014, we initiated two new church plants: one in Monterrey and one in Toluca. We have seen encouraging things in these places as the Spirit of God works to save and to sanctify. In Toluca there is a small congregation gathering that is slowly growing in number. There have been a couple of glorious conversions there recently. They are about to constitute as a local church with the first baptisms, membership integration and practice of the Lord's Supper. Grace Community Church of San Antonio is colaboring with the church in Monterrey, and between them and the churches in Mexico, we are sending preachers every other week to Monterrey.
Congregational photo in Monterrey:
Our Academy of Theology has about 150 students who are persevering in their studies. Many others are on the waiting list to join but we've not yet opened registration for any new students. We hope to open it up for new students soon if the Lord wills, since we have all the classes recorded in high quality video and audio format and integrated into an online learning system. Thanks to a volunteer who is a computer programmer, we are now up to date on the latest and best distance learning platform available in Spanish. Soon we hope to expand the course offering and improve the quality of education offered by producing more resources such as lecture transcripts and events that facilitate community among the students.
New clases have been postponed since the diagnosis of my vocal problem in September, but now that I've been recovering, we are launching classes again next week. We will then be holding classes, Lord willing, on a weekly basis. For the remainder of this year, I plan to plug away at teaching our courses on Biblical Survey, which offer a biblical-theological overview from a historic-redemptive perspective according to each individual Bible book's particular canonical context, key passages and major theological motifs. We plan to view all of this with an eye to comprehending and beholding the beauty and glory of Christ in all of Scripture, that our students may be able to preach Christ and the glories of the gospel from any text of the Bible, all the while being faithful to practice a sound exegetical method according to the proven principles of historic-grammatical hermeneutics.
In April, we will be hosting a module on Historic Theology taught by pastor Robert Elliot (M.Div.) of the Reformed Baptist Church of Riverside, CA. Pastor Elliot has done somewhat extensive studies in this area and will be teaching our students a series of 20 one-hour lectures on the subject of Early Church History. I had the privilege of congregating in the church he pastors while in California and was encouraged by his sound preaching ministry. Here is a picture of this Scottish brother:
Numerous evangelism teams, organized as ministries of each respective local church, continue to preach the gospel on the streets. They have hundreds, even thousands of conversations on a regular basis. They also preach in places such as drug rehab centers and hospitals. We are working with a brother who is gifted at evangelism to launch a major ministry project geared toward providing training for churches and groups we are in contact with. Lord willing, we will send another update soon with more info on this.
Gospel Projects in Cuba
We are working somewhat closely with a Cuban pastor and church (who holds to the 1689 London Baptist Confession) to spearhead what seems promising to be a significant movement of the mass dissemination of Reformed theology in that closed-but-opening country. This includes the mass distribution of literature, CD's and DVD's with gospel-centered and theologically-substantial material (everything from Puritans and Spurgeon to Paul Washer). We hope to share more details about this soon in another update… stay tuned. We're very exited about this opportunity to reach such a desperately needy place as Cuba with the biblical gospel.
Cristianismo Bíblico Conferences
We are now conducting an annual conference in Guadalajara. Our turnout for our first annual conference in 2014 was about 700 persons from 6 different countries and was a glorious time of blessed fellowship and mutual edification with brothers and sisters from a number of different churches. This year, we are expecting more. Our special guests last year were Charles Leiter (author of Justification and Regeneration) and Timothy Conway (pastor of Grace Community Church of San Antonio, TX).
This year, our special guest is the ministry of Answers in Genesis. We will be teaching on biblical creationism, presuppositional apologetics, the importance of the sufficiency and authority of Scripture, and the implications all this bears on the gospel of Jesus Christ. We hope to equip believers in Latin America with a solid understanding of a biblical worldview grounded in a biblical view of God the sovereign Creator, that they may engage their culture, defend the faith and evangelize the lost biblically and effectively with the unchanging truth of God's inerrant Word.
Other Projects in the Works
The greatest need of the church in Latin America is the gospel: pure, undiluted, undefiled and unadulterated. The second greatest need is theological training.
We recently began a conscious and focused endeavor to provide theological training for men in Latin America. Pictured above is our first group of in-house students. Our Academia de Estudios Bíblicos y Teológicos is a local church-based academy and is a ministry of our church plant in Guadalajara. Yet we’ve also made use of all the media at our disposal to make all classes available through distance education via online videos, audios, reading assignments, homework and exams. This allows us to offer all of the substance of the classes to Spanish-speaking students all over the world.
The Christianity which exists in Latin America exists largely because American missionaries have taken it there. This means that the Christianity of Latin America is largely an export of American Christianity. In many cases, this is the equivalent of saying that it’s not really Christianity at all but a superficial and cheap imitation that bears more resemblance to man-made religious ideas than to the faith which was once and for all delivered to the saints. The crying need of the hour is sound, systematic, careful and thorough instruction from God’s Word so as to train men to rightly handle Scripture so that they may rise up and preach the unsearchable riches of Christ faithfully and impact this and the next generation with the biblical gospel, win souls, disciple believers, plant churches, and unleash fire on the earth. This is the only thing that is able to change the deplorable spiritual condition which is so evident in this land --if God would be blessed to prosper such training and infuse life, light and power from above by the gracious operation of His Spirit. This is our hope and our earnest prayer.
The Academy was launched in May with its first course. It initiated with over 200 students; about 36 in-house and 200 online/distance learners. Students come from many different countries, including Mexico, Peru, Ecuador, Argentina, Nicaragua, Chile, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Bolivia, Spain, Sweden, and the USA. About 2/3 of these are from Mexico. Some are pastors, others are leaders of groups that are springing up as new church plants, others are members of local churches, and others are isolated due to difficulty in finding a local church with which to identify.
Each student is required to complete each lesson systematically as they progress through the course work. This includes watching or listening to the classroom lecture, taking notes, completing assignments, and doing exams. This is our way of tracking their progress and ensuring that each one is learning the material.
The curriculum is designed to span the course of 5 years. It consists of 4-5 core courses in each of the branches of the traditional encyclopedia of theology (Exegetical Theology, Systematic Theology, Historic Theology and Practical Theology). Each course consists of about 20 lessons (that is, about 20 hours of classroom lectures, plus other assignments such as reading articles and textbooks).
We have initiated the Academy with Exegetical Theology. We began with Old Testament Survey (OT Introduction and Theology) with a special focus on Biblical Theology (think names like Geerhardus Vos, Graeme Goldsworthy, G.K. Beale, T. Desmond Alexander, etc.). After four courses in the OT, we’re planning on doing New Testament Survey, then Hermeneutics. The programmed schedule for these courses is 2 years. After this, we plan on moving on to Systematics.
We’ve already given a brief introduction to topics such as Biblical Theology (in the technical sense of the word), the nature of progressive revelation, the promise-fulfillment dynamic of prophetic revelation in Scripture, typology, the problem of continuity vs. discontinuity, biblical-theological systems such as Dispensationalism, New Covenant Theology and Covenant Theology, and are now in the midst of a concise survey of the major divine-human covenants in Scripture in order to understand the contours of special revelation, its structure, and the relationship of parts of the Bible to the whole. After this, we’ll progress to a study of the OT proper, beginning with Genesis and working our way through the books of the Bible in canonical order, focusing on the major themes of each book and their contribution to the unfolding of God’s redemptive plan in Christ.
I’ve been teaching all the classes, which is obviously demanding a large portion of my time. It is our hope to invite guest lecturers in the future who will teach modules on topics in which they have considerable knowledge.
This Academy will be made available in the future to students in any place and at any time. Since all classroom lectures are recorded in high quality video and audio format, it will serve as a perpetual training program which can continue to teach and equip long after the actual live classes are over. We also hope to initiate other projects in the future that will enable us to take these materials into poverty-stricken or hard to reach places through live modules and on USB’s, hard drives, laptop computers, through printed literature and other means in order to help equip under-privileged pastors and leaders in Latin America who would otherwise have no access to theological education.
There are relatively few programs such as this offered to the Hispanic world. Those seminaries and Bible institutes which are consistent with historic Reformed theology are scarce. Those which are readily accessible are even scarcer. We did not commence this Academy because we think we're the best qualified to do so. Rather, compelled by utter necessity, we’ve initiated it due to the urgent need to see men trained to rightly handle the Word of truth so that a new generation of Bible expositors can rise up and bring about much-needed reformation in the church of Mexico and beyond through the sound teaching and Spirit-filled proclamation of God’s Word.
We ask for prayer that our sovereign Lord would be pleased to use these feeble efforts to raise up a sorely needed band of soldiers of the cross to storm the gates of Hell and build Christ's church in Latin America.
The gospel is the power of God to salvation (Rom. 1:16). Its power resides in the fact of its being the revelation of the righteousness of God which is applied to the guilty record of the believing transgressor, thereby acquitting his legal guilt and causing him to be accepted as righteous by means of the imputation of Christ’s perfect righteousness (Rom. 1:17). Thus God, by means of the gospel of Christ, accomplishes by divine fiat what is utterly impossible for the sinful sons and daughters of Adam. In this way He magnifies the power of His grace, being mighty to save those who were without strength, helpless to save themselves (Rom. 5:6).
Yet the same gospel that is the power of God to liberate the criminal from the legal condemnation incurred due to his violation of the divine law is also the power of God to purify the wicked from the pollution of his own depraved heart. Thus the guilty wretch is made “the righteousness of God” with regard to his legal standing in the eyes of the law, and the profane lover of sin is made a “saint” who delights in the very law of which he once lived in utter and total defiance, being made a lover of righteousness. This is the biblical teaching of the doctrines of justification and sanctification.
What this means in practical terms for the believer is that although he is perfectly righteous in a legal sense before the judgment bar of a just Judge in Heaven, being clothed with the impeccable robes of the righteousness of Christ, at the same time, he is not perfectly righteous in his experience on this earth. While our forensic righteousness is perfect, our actual righteousness in terms of our personal freedom from the contamination of sin is never perfected in this life. While justification is an instantaneous, divine legal declaration that perfectly and forever frees the sinner from condemnation, sanctification in the life of the believer who has already been justified is an ongoing process which continually effectuates an experiential purification from sin and an ever-increasing growth in likeness to Christ, and is not perfected until the believer enters glory.
Historically, within the ranks of the church, there have been two major groups which have vehemently denied the biblical teaching of the progressive nature of sanctification: Pelagianism and Wesleyanism.
Pelagianism derives its name from the monk Pelagius (390-418 A.D.). Pelagius is famous (or infamous) due to his debates with Augustine over the doctrine of man’s depravity in the 4th Century. By denying the concept of original sin, Pelagius taught that perfect sinlessness was possible by redefining sin as “a volitional action to disobey a known command of God”. According to him, sin is a choice, and the ability to make the choice to sin or not to sin lies in the inherent natural ability of man. Thus he taught that the empowerment of divine grace is not necessary to stop sinning and obey the law of God.
Applying these grave doctrinal errors to the doctrine of sanctification, Pelagius taught that perfect freedom from sin can be obtained, and must be obtained, at the moment of conversion. For him, repentance means to simply cease from all sin. And since repentance and faith go hand in hand in conversion, and since justification is dependent upon the exercise of faith, then, according to Pelagius, abiding in a state of justification is conditional upon abiding in a state of repentance which is defined as perfectly ceasing from sin. Thus justification is made to be dependent upon the believer’s sinlessness. Justification and sanctification are confused and justification is thought to depend on sanctification. This is nothing more than the malicious heresy of justification by works! By denying original sin, Pelagius denied the truth of progressive sanctification, and all of this as logically harmonized in his humanistic system of doctrine ultimately constituted a practical denial of the biblical gospel. Pelagianism is, therefore, not to be considered as within the bounds of Christian orthodoxy. Unfortunately, its influence is still alive and well today, and is most often exercised through the ongoing influence of Charles G. Finney (1792-1875), the American revivalist who revived the ancient theology of Pelagius and popularized the evangelistic practice of decisionism which has plagued the modern church with multitudes of false converts.
The other propagator of perfectionist doctrine is known as Wesleyanism, which takes its name from none other than John Wesley (1703-1791), the famous evangelist of the Great Awakening. Yet it is important to make some necessary distinctions at this point so as not to confuse Wesleyanism with Pelagianism. While Pelagianism is certainly heretical due to its denial of foundational truths which are central to the gospel message, Wesleyanism should not be understood as being in the same category since it undeniably affirms historic Christian orthodoxy. Wesley, contrary to Pelagius, not only believed in the doctrine of original sin, he preached it ruthlessly in the face of much persecution together with the doctrines of supernatural regeneration and justification by grace through faith.
However, one of Wesley’s most lamentable doctrinal errors existed with regard to how he understood sanctification. He taught that although man is born in sin and needs the empowerment of divine grace to overcome his sin, it is possible to attain to a state of perfect freedom from sin.
Although Wesley affirmed the progressive nature of sanctification on the one hand, on the other hand he denied it to be necessary by teaching that a believer can be entirely sanctified in this life. This perfection in holiness, according to Wesley, is received by faith through experiencing “the baptism of the Holy Ghost”, which he defined as a second work of grace subsequent to justification which “purges all inbred sin” and results in experiencing “a total death to sin, and an entire renewal in the love and image of God” [A Plain Account of Christian Perfection]. Though he was careful to qualify his statements in order to clarify that the Christian is not without faults of which he is unconscious, and cannot attain to a pre-lapsarian Adamic or Christ-like perfection in holiness (which statements were logically inconsistent with his doctrine in my opinion), Wesley taught that it is possible to attain to such a degree of personal holiness that the believer has no more need for ongoing sanctification in this life. His teachings have greatly influenced church history and have many followers to this day, especially among denominations that trace their roots to his influence, such as the Methodist, Wesleyan, Nazarene, and Holiness churches.
These theological aberrations have done a great deal of harm in church history. Both groups, for different reasons, are guilty of serious error with regard to the nature of sanctification.
The Scriptures emphatically refute all forms of perfectionism. 1 John 1:8 says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” In this text, John includes himself by saying, “if we say”, using the first person plural form to signify that he himself is not excluded from this statement. As a holy apostle of the Lamb, writing toward the end of his life, John knew his sanctification was not yet so complete so as to consist of perfect freedom from all sin. Furthermore, he indicates that he is speaking of the believer’s present experience by speaking of “having sin” in the present tense, and all this in the context of explaining how the continual confession of sin is an evidence of walking in the light in fellowship with God (see 1 John 1:4-9). According to John, not only is it not possible to attain to sinless perfection, it is deception to claim to have attained it! (See also 1 Kngs. 8:46; Psa. 130:3; Pro. 20:9; Ecc. 7:20; 1 Cor. 4:4; Jam. 3:2.)
Confessing sin continually is both a biblical pattern and imperative. It is a pattern that is evident in the lives of the most godly of men, such eminent saints as Job (Job 42:6) David (Psa. 32, 51), Isaiah (Isa. 6:5), Daniel (Dan. 9), and Paul (Acts 23:3-5). That it is an imperative can be seen in no less a prominent passage than the Lord’s Prayer, by which he teaches his apostles and disciples to pray “forgive us our sins” (Lk. 11:4). This is immediately following the petition, “Give us each day our daily bread”, implying the necessity of daily making requests such as those exemplified in this prayer, which certainly includes the daily need to confess our sins and place our hope in the grace of God (not in our own performance) for our righteousness.
Though every true believer longs for holiness, and strives to walk in obedience to the commands of His God, he is conscious of an intense inward struggle as sinful impulses manifest through his yet unredeemed flesh and wage war against his soul (1 Pet. 2:11). The sanctifying grace of the Holy Spirit and the desires the flesh are at odds with one another (Gal. 5:17), and this battle never ceases until he enters through the gates of eternal glory.
The Biblical Framework
This acknowledgment of lack of perfect holiness must be understood within the framework of Scripture’s teaching on sanctification. It is only by understanding the different aspects of sanctification that we can be spared from falling into the errors of perfectionism on the one hand, and the errors of lawlessness on the other hand.
There are three distinct aspects of sanctification defined in Scripture. Each of these aspects corresponds to a particular period of time with respect to the believer’s experience of the saving grace of God.
First of all, there is what we call definitive sanctification. This is an instantaneous, powerful act of God’s transforming grace, intimately related to regeneration, which frees the believer from the dominion and slavery of sin and works in him the power to do what is well-pleasing in God’s sight. This is what Paul refers to in Romans 6:6, “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.” By virtue of Christ’s redemptive work and the believer’s union with Christ, he experiences a definitive break with the practice of sin that had characterized his past life. Jesus also spoke of this when He said, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (Jn. 8:36). But although this results in freedom from sin’s control, it doesn’t result in total freedom from sin’s presence and contamination, and doesn’t perfect the believer in holiness. This aspect of sanctification marks the beginning of the Christian life, and transitions into the process of sanctification. (See also Rom. 6; Col. 2:11-12; 1 Pet. 2:24; 1 Jn. 3:5-9)
Second, there is progressive sanctification. This is an ongoing, continual work of God’s transforming grace which results in being increasingly cleansed from the internal defilement of sin and being renewed in the image of God in all true righteousness and holiness. It empowers the believer to increasingly kill sin and practice righteousness. Thus it consists of both the mortification of sinful impulses (Col. 3:5) and the renovation of the inner man (Col. 3:10) to be conformed to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29). It is graciously guided by God’s moral law (Rom. 7:7, 8:4) and takes place by the power of the Holy Spirit as we fix our gaze upon Christ (2 Cor. 3:18; Heb. 12:2). Paul emphasizes this aspect of sanctification when he exhorts the Corinthians, “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1). Though the Corinthians had already been sanctified definitively at their conversion (1 Cor. 1:2), their sanctification was not yet complete. They were to be diligent to occupy themselves in their sanctification with fear and trembling and by faith in the promises of God, work on continually perfecting their holiness. This aspect of sanctification begins at the beginning of the Christian life, but is not completed until the believer enters glory.
Third, there is consummate sanctification. This is an instantaneous act of God’s power and grace which frees the believer from the presence of inbred sin forever. It perfects the Christian in holiness and results in being perfectly conformed to Christ’s moral image in terms of freedom from sin’s defilement for all of eternity. For most believers throughout history, this takes place in two installments: first at death when the spirit/soul is perfected in righteousness (Heb. 12:23) and then at the resurrection from the dead with regard to the body, which will take place at Christ’s coming. The apostle John spoke of this when he said, “Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is (1 Jn. 3:2). As we behold what theologians have called, “the beatific vision” of seeing the consummate glory of God in face of Jesus Christ, we will be transformed and our sanctification will be perfected with regard to the entirety of our human nature (1 Th. 5:23) as we glorify God and worship Him in the beauty of perfect holiness forever! Hallelujah!
Extremes are to be Avoided
Typically, the antinomian (one who lives with no regard to God’s commands) denies the first aspect of sanctification and relegates it to a merely positional status. That is, he defines the initial sanctification that a believer experiences in positional terms which only affect the believer’s status before God but leave his experience untouched. Thus, according to him, it is possible to really experience God’s saving grace without being transformed and set free from the practice of sin. This is a grave error.
However, on the other hand, the perfectionist typically denies the distinctions which exist in the different aspects of sanctification and either blurs the lines between these distinctions, or confuses their chronology in terms of the believer’s experience. Avoiding the error of antinomianism, they fall into the fatal trap of legalism, and thrust themselves into many sorrows as they seek to attain to that which is impossible. By setting a false standard which is unattainable, they set themselves up for repeated frustration, and often fall into a conscious sense of feeling as if they’re under condemnation for not being as holy as they ought. This leads to disappointment and discouragement for those believers who have embraced perfectionist doctrine which, ironically, rather than producing a more perfect holiness in them, is actually counter-productive to their sanctification. If they would understand the biblical framework of sanctification and how to interpret their own experience in the light of it, they would be spared from many unnecessary sorrows.
In summary, the power of the gospel secures both the forgiveness of sin and the cleansing from sin for all who believe. However, the perfect purification from sin’s defilement doesn’t occur at any given point in the Christian’s pilgrimage on this earth. We must deny ourselves and take up our cross daily in the fight against sin! Though the battle against sin is fierce, our God has committed to fighting this war with us! With God the Father’s tender care and discipline, with the Son of God interceding for us, and with the Spirit of God empowering us, though the battle be a fight to the death, we can be confident that with the omnipotent power of the Triune God on our side, we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us!
Though we can and must rest in the fact of our justification, we must also strive in the progress of our sanctification. And God will never leave us or forsake us, not even on our toughest days or most bitter falls (1 Jn. 2:1). Thank God that even though our holiness is incomplete and flawed, His righteousness is pure and perfect, and the eternal Son has covenanted to be our Advocate and representative righteousness before the throne forever, as flawed as we may be!
In This update...
Is the Gospel Making a Historic Impact?
Mexico has traditionally been known as a gospel-resistant country, steeped in tradition, and skeptical of Christianity -and it still is. Paradoxically, it is also known for its false Christianity, for hyper-charismania, and for being a seedbed for all kinds of cults. Not to mention being notorious for the mafia, drug-trafficking, mass-massacres and kidnapping rings. But in the midst of such obstacles, the Spirit of God is crashing down walls and calling out His people, causing them to unite in the biblical gospel. We are thrilled to see the beginnings of what appears to be a movement of biblical churches such as has never before occurred in the history of Mexico as Christ, the head of the church, is strategically saving and positioning His dispersed people all over the nation. Indeed, these are the best of times and these are the worst of times!
It is interesting how the Lord is using the internet to accomplish this. The internet has been likened to "the printing press of the 21st century". Just as the printing press revolutionized the world, and became the medium by which the truth of God's word exploded in the 16th century Reformation, the Lord is using the internet in Latin America and around the world for the spread of the gospel. We are certainly seeing this in Mexico, as there are believers scattered abroad who are listening to solid biblical preaching online by some of our favorite Bible teachers (like John Piper, Paul Washer, John MacArthur, Steve Lawson, R.C. Sproul, etc.). This is producing an awakening which is unprecedented in Mexico, and souls are getting saved, and believers are getting jolted with the power of truth as their eyes are being opened to see the glory of the gospel of grace. However, in many cities, there are no churches which believe in the glorious truths that these believers are hearing online. So this leaves many Christians in difficult situations, without a church in their locality with which they can identify, and without fellowship with other like-minded believers. Many of them write to us through Cristianismo Bíblico, our online ministry, seeking a biblical church, and requesting that we go to their cities to plant a church and help them. We have received many such requests from cities all over Mexico, where there are groups of believers meeting together to fellowship and exhort one another but are lacking pastoral oversight and are in need of much instruction.
Paul told the Colossians to pray "that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ" (Col. 4:3). He also requested prayer from the Thessalonians "that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored" (2 Th. 3:1). We are requesting the same prayer for our ministry in Mexico and by God's grace, are seeing something of its fulfillment come to fruition, at least in a small measure. Yet our hearts long to see what we've not yet seen -a real awakening, genuine revival and historic outpourings of the Holy Spirit move across this dark land and sweep multitudes into the Kingdom of God! Please keep praying for this. Our God is a faithful God, a mighty God, a living God, who hears the cries of His people! Our prayers are not falling on deaf ears. We are entering into a time of harvest in Mexico that has never happened in its history.
Conference with Emilio Ramos in Mexico City
We were recently able to host two conferences back to back in January. The first was a conference with our beloved church Comunidad Bíblica de la Gracia in Mexico City. We were blessed to receive Emilio Ramos, pastor of Heritage Grace Community Church of Frisco Texas, who did a 3-day conference on the theme, "Christ in All of Scripture". The focus was specifically geared toward equipping us with the theology of a Christ-centered view of Scripture and with the practicality of how to study the Bible in such a way so as to faithfully apply a historic-redemptive hermeneutic to the texts of the Old Testament so as to see their ultimate fulfillment in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. Emilio gave us 5 messages on this theme, together with a few question and answer sessions. We were greatly edified and encouraged. Below you can see a video they made of their trip:
We are grateful for Emilio and Trisha Ramos and their friend Felix who came down to serve in Mexico. I have learned much from Emilio and his preaching ministry, and highly recommend his sermons which can be downloaded on their church website. Hopefully we can get them back down in the future!
Conference with Tim Conway in Guadalajara
The weekend after Emilio's conference, we hosted another conference in Guadalajara with Tim Conway, pastor of Grace Community Church of San Antonio, Texas.
Seeing that our church building was too small to accommodate all the people, the Lord provided a beautiful property for us to have the conference on:
Brethren came from different places all over Mexico to attend the conference. About 300 showed up for the conference. The times of fellowship were wonderful.
The conference theme was on "Combating the Errors of Hyper-Calvinism". Why this theme? Tim had a burden to guard the purity of the gospel against the tendencies of many young believers to hold to the doctrines of grace with a lopsided view of divine sovereignty which undermines the importance of human responsibility. This tendency can be very subtle and tends to first eat away at a church's prayer meetings, evangelistic zeal and missionary vision, and this can be fatal to true revival.
As Phil Johnson notes in his excellent article on the subject:
It is almost inevitable that many believers, upon being awakened to the doctrines of grace, struggle to maintain a proper balance to keep the flames of zeal for Christ burning with white-hot passion. As Tim taught, the errors of hyper-Calvinism can so subtly influence our thinking, even without us being hyper-Calvinists per se, that it is necessary to teach on the subject and expose the nature of these errors. Tim's burden was for the extension of a pure gospel in Mexico, and for a missions-movement to be raised up among our churches. He preached 5 messages over the 3-day conference, and was able to spend time teaching, fellowshipping with, and counseling believers outside of the teaching sessions.
Tim Conway's report of his trip to Mexico is as follows:
It was such a blessing to have brother Tim with us. The Lord is igniting fires in Mexico and we look on with eagerness and expectation to see what He will do next. We have many plans on the horizon if the Lord wills, and hope to begin hosting an annual fellowship conference for all the brethren in Mexico, with the first one starting this Fall. We are expecting a greater turnout for the next conference, and hope to invite several seasoned preachers to come down and preach. Your prayers for this are greatly appreciated.
See more photos below (click on picture to enlarge and see description):
From time to time there are brethren who inquire about our financial situation and ask if we need support. For those who have asked, the truth is that at this time, we are struggling to cover all our expenses. The Lord has been so faithful, and we're confident in His faithfulness to continually provide, but if you would like to help support us, information about that can be found on the "Support" page of this website. We are thankful for so many faithful brethren who pray for Mexico and hope to rejoice together with you in glory as we will one day be able to see the fruit of our labors, to the praise and glory of God. Please receive our affectionate "thanks" from the bottom of our hearts.
Sola Gratia, Soli Deo Gloria,
In Christ -Josef Urban
MAY THE LAMB WHO WAS SLAIN RECEIVE THE REWARD OF HIS SUFFERING!
“In my judgment, abortion is like the doctrine of Hell. Hell is real. The Bible teaches it. And it ought to alter the way we live our lives, the way we make decisions. But I understand that it is such a real horror that the human mind can’t really enter into and think on it directly for very long before the very horror just drives you crazy. Abortion is like that. We can’t think about it too long, because it is just too ghastly. And yet, our calling is to enter into, to push that boundary, to go into it, and yet, Christians don’t. We don’t because it makes us uncomfortable. It makes us squeamish. It makes us embarrassed. And the honest truth is, it exposes our sin.” So says R.C. Sproul, Jr. in today’s debut of the documentary, “Babies Are Murdered Here”.
Such words are aggressive. They are confrontational. They are offensive to many Christians. After all, do we really need to speak so strongly about “social sins” and “political issues” such as abortion? Doesn’t Sproul realize that such strong language isolates him from mainstream Christianity, as it offends and alienates others from accepting his message? –Yes, I think he does. Just like John the Baptist’s message isolated him from mainstream Israel, evoked the wrath and King Herod, and eventually cost him his head. Yet as the Baptist was a voice in the wilderness, so is Sproul on this issue. And so is my friend, Jon Speed, pastor of Christ is King Baptist Church in Syracuse, New York. Yet their words powerfully resonate with the truth of God. And the church has been largely passive regarding the issue of abortion for far too long.
As Sproul explains, abortion is not just a social injustice or political malady. It is the wicked, monstrous, appalling, horrendous, and gruesome assassination of the defenseless. The multiplication of endless synonymous adjectives to describe it is utterly insufficient to communicate the atrocity of this issue. Abortion is the murder of babies.
Today I watched this documentary. It is stirring. It is grievous. Yet it is enlightening. And I recommend for every Christian to watch it, and wake up!
“We need to stop being middle class, American sissies. And we need to be willing to fight faithfully with the gospel to save souls and unborn babies”, says Sproul. The symbolic significance of the picture of Martin Luther behind Sproul is telling, and complements the aggressive words of the documentary to imply the call for a new reformation in Christianity that stands up to confront and reform the great evils of our day. After all, it was Luther himself who said, “If you preach the gospel in all aspects with the exception of the issues which deal specifically with your time, you are not preaching the gospel at all.” The gospel doesn’t merely call for theologizing abstract truths; it calls for the vigorous application of God’s truth to the totality of the issues of life. If we fail to make application in our gospel preaching, we fail to preach the gospel, according to Luther.
This is not to say that preaching against abortion is gospel preaching. It is not. But gospel preaching sets forth the Christ who was crucified and crushed to save us and cleanse us from sin, and abortion is sin. Christ came to redeem abortion practitioners and recipients from their wickedness and transform baby killers into baby lovers. The gospel presents the only real remedy to the malady of the practice of abortion. This is why I rejoice in the release of this new documentary, because Sproul Jr., Tony Miano, and Jon Speed know this, and this conviction burns through their veins with blood-red, red-hot conviction. And I rejoice that Christ is preached while precious babies are saved from the jaws of death.
This call to action is moving. “Go there and preach the gospel! Preach the gospel! Don’t let the Catholics take this thing and run with it. Stand up!” So says Speed in a moving exhortation.
Yet this gospel emphasis in the film also poses what I perceive to be its greatest weakness. While I rejoice that Christ’s name is honored, I regret that it is not as magnified as it could be. The film really doesn’t seem to present a clear explanation of the gospel other than a few passing statements. I would have liked to see more of the gospel set forth with clarity and explained. I would have liked to hear more about how the gospel itself affects the ethical issues of abortion and how it motivates and empowers a correct practice of anti-abortion activism. I would have liked to hear more about how the gospel itself is the central issue at stake, and how moral and ethical activism without the gospel is insufficient. While some of these things were alluded to, and that is to be commended, the documentary ended leaving me desiring more Christ-centered, grace-magnifying, hope-inspiring gospel talk. (On a more positive note, their website does contain a much clearer presentation of the gospel here.)
The morality produced by activism is subordinate to the righteousness produced by the gospel. It is only in the gospel that the righteousness of God is revealed, for only the gospel is the power of God to salvation (Rom. 1:16-17). While morality is good, righteousness before God is better. Such activism can stop baby murderers, but it can't stop human sin. But the gospel stops human sin, and in doing so, stops baby murderers. Therefore, the gospel is the only remedy, not only to the evil of abortion but to every other evil of our day. And the gospel is not subordinate to anti-abortion activism; such activism is subordinate to the gospel.
The Great Commission is supreme, because it is the preaching of the gospel, and to be fair, the activism promoted in the film can be an impactful way of seeking to contribute to the fleshing out of the Great Commission, as long as Christ is preached. Yet we must be careful to maintain things in proper biblical perspective, and to lift up the blood-stained banner of Jesus Christ higher than the trumpet call against baby murderers. I feel like the film could have done a better job explaining this. The thrust of the film seems more geared toward, "You must protest abortion clinics" than "You must preach the gospel and reach the people in the abortion clinics with the saving power of Jesus Christ".
While I say this about the documentary, I know the men featured in the documentary would give their wholehearted "Amen" to my sentiments with regard to gospel supremacy and proclamation. I just wish it was more clear in the film itself.
Also, for the sake of clarification, my remarks here are by no means intended to be a cop-out for cowardliness or passivity regarding the modern day holocaust of abortion. I'm not implying we should be less engaged in anti-abortion activism. In fact, I fully agree that we need to be much more aggressive in our efforts. However, we should be most aggressive in our efforts to preach the gospel, not only in front of abortion mills, but all over the whole wide world.
On another note, it was refreshing to hear the documentary explain that anti-abortion activism is subordinate to the authority of Christ's church. This was a wise move, which distances this movement from other anti-abortion activists whose priorities are out of whack and are infamous in evangelicalism for their rebellion against God-ordained pastoral leadership in the local church.
Nevertheless, in spite of some mild criticism, the potential good that could result from this film far outweighs some of its deficiencies. And the efforts of those involved are to be applauded, congratulated, and supported. May God raise up more voices to boldly speak what few preachers have spoken before! May we see a new generation of John the Baptists raised up in our day, not only to call our Herod's to stop committing adultery, but also to glory in nothing but the cross, and to cry out, "Behold the Lamb of God who came to take away the sin of baby-murderers around the world!"
(Edit: This post was expanded after publishing)
Romans 1:1 - Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God...
The book of Romans begins by implying the most amazing of all truths. Its first word stands out like a venerated historic monument to the truth that is the heart and soul of this epistle. The principal theme of Romans is the gospel of God, and the glory of the gospel is that God’s grace is radically lavished on those who least deserve it. Romans will go on to explain in detail how that, “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more”, but before doing so, it strikes us with a flesh and blood example of God’s grace abounding to the chief of sinners, and it accomplishes this by simply naming its author: “Paul”.
This is amazing, because Paul was no ordinary man. Though his religious zeal far exceeded that of his peers, so did his sin. The Paul who penned Romans was formerly the Saul who stoned Stephen. He was once a wicked man –a murderer, a blasphemer, a God-hating persecutor of the Lord and His church. In his rebellion against Christ, he knew no equal. So great was his sin that he didn’t hesitate to declare himself to be the chief of sinners, and this not by the exaggeration of a false humility but by the sober assessment of an aged, reflecting mind (1 Tim. 1:15). If anyone were unfit for Christ’s service due to having sinned away the possibility of grace, it would have been him. Yet far from disposing of this raging Pharisee on a rampage to exterminate Christianity, God saw in him an opportunity to display the abundance of His mercy by magnifying the immensity of His grace in the conversion and calling of Saul of Tarsus.
So God takes the saint’s foremost persecutor and turns him into their foremost servant; He takes Christianity’s greatest enemy and turns him into its greatest promoter; He takes the church’s greatest liability and turns him into its greatest asset, as Paul relentlessly preaches the faith he once tried to destroy (Gal. 1:23-24). But this is not all –He also takes the greatest of sinners and causes grace to so super-abound so as to utterly transform him and use him as an instrument of divine revelation to inscripturate the greatest treatise on the theology of the gospel ever written, thus illustrating with vivid clarity the glorious truth that divine grace triumphs over human sin by the gospel of Jesus Christ. The first word of Romans is a monument to God’s mercy, a trophy of the triumph of God’s grace!
This is why Paul could say, “I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 1:12-14). He speaks of grace “overflowing” toward him, giving the picture of the pouring forth of a provision of divine favor that not only corresponds to the spiritual need incurred due to sin but also goes beyond it to provide such a generous fullness so as to constitute an abundance that supplies more than what is necessitated to meet the need. Thus Paul spoke of “the immeasurable riches of his grace” (Eph. 2:7), because God’s saving grace is unfathomably abundant as it is lavished on the sinner, and he knew this by personal experience.
It is out of such an experience of grace that Paul unleashes the theology of the gospel in Romans from the very depths of his soul, with the burning conviction that every sentence, every phrase, every word must contribute to the extolling of the glory of this grace as God the Holy Spirit breathes through His inspired apostle to lay bare the mind of God in the salvation of sinners. No doubt, Paul’s reception of such a mighty deluge of grace uniquely positioned him to be a choice instrument to minister such grace so effectively to others. It provided him with a supernatural depth of understanding into its mysteries out of which he later draws from with such brilliant detail as He masterfully expounds the nature of salvation throughout the book of Romans.
Church history is replete with similar examples of God’s grace saving and transforming men who later put pen to paper and write out of the abundance of grace they received. In the 17th century, a tinker from Bedford, England, being a vile blasphemer, was infamous in his town for being the most ungodly of wretches. Yet the same sovereign grace that had saved Saul of Tarsus was also poured out on John Bunyan, who later penned “The Pilgrim’s Progress”. Bunyan, who himself knew the depths of hellish depravity, had also soared the heights of heavenly grace, and penned his famous account of the Christian’s pilgrimage from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City out of the depths of his own experience of grace. The man who was considered the greatest of sinners came to know such grace that he was able to pen the greatest of the church’s fictional narratives, which so remarkably portrays the life of faith, and has been a blessing to countless multitudes!
John Newton of the 18th century has a similar testimony. He was a blatant God-rejecter, a scoffer of the Christian faith, a hater of men, and even occupied himself in human trafficking for a time. His sin brought him so low that he even despaired of life and precipitated murder, contemplated suicide, and arrived at such depths that his testimony literally parallels that of the prodigal son of Luke 15. Though he far out-sinned his peers in all sorts of evil, the Lord broke his stubborn will and caused him to fall in surrender at the feet of Christ where he received forgiveness. Newton would later write the church’s all-time favorite hymn, “Amazing Grace”, as an outburst of praise from the depths of his own heart after having experienced such amazing grace himself. This is yet another case of God using the chief of sinners to magnify the abundance of the grace of the gospel by penning powerful words which exalt mighty, triumphant grace!
The fact that Paul wrote Romans should cause us to pause, be still, and wonder at the magnitude, power, and depth of God’s grace in the gospel. Though Paul was simply following the ancient custom of placing the author’s name at the beginning of a letter as opposed to our modern practice of placing it at the end, it is not without significance that he, and not any other, was the actual human instrument used by the Spirit of God to pen such a wonderful masterpiece of divinely inspired literature. Just as God used Bunyan and Newton –men who were formerly considered to be among the most wicked of the sons of men, to pen some of the most God-glorifying exultations of grace in church history, God used Paul to pen the book of Romans. Not only does the content of the literature magnify God’s grace, but also the instruments He chose to use to write it, as they stand forth as a testimony to the very grace they write about. And Romans stands head and shoulders above the rest, not only because of the majesty of its style, the genius of its presentation, the depth of its content, the glory of its truth, and a host of other reasons intrinsic to the nature of Holy Scripture, but because it is Holy Scripture itself, uniquely inspired by the Holy Spirit and consisting of the very Words of God.
When any sinner despairs of finding mercy, he has only to meditate on the facts which made the first word of Romans a reality. If Paul’s sin was so great so as to be greater than all the rest, but still wasn’t greater than God’s grace as it abounds in the gospel of which Paul was later made a herald, then no amount of human sinfulness should cause the repentant sinner to despair of finding mercy in the cross of Jesus Christ. Paul’s reception of saving mercy in spite of sin is an example to all who desire to experience salvation. As he testified, “But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life” (1 Tim. 1:16).
The book of Romans begins by giving us a real-life example of the reality of its grand theme before proceeding to expound it in detail, as if to imply that what is explained therein is not the mere theory of ivory-tower theologizing, but the real, authentic down-to-earth experience of redeeming, transforming grace as it is brought to bear on real, live, sinful sons and daughters of Adam. That the first word of Romans is “Paul” is nothing short of a mighty miracle to the praise of the glory of God’s sovereign grace. Let us never underestimate it!
A Review of 2013
This is a brief update of the progress of our missionary activities during 2013.
6 Years in Mexico!
As of October, it is six years since we arrived to Mexico as missionaries. We praise God for His faithfulness these past 2,190+ days! By God's grace, we've been privileged to see the Gospel of Jesus Christ preached in many places all around the country, accompanied by not a few conversions and brethren being awakened to a more complete understanding of the scope of the whole counsel of God as revealed in Scripture. It is impossible to convey in words the awe of seeing God the Holy Spirit move and transform lives by the power of the Gospel, and we are debtors to God's mercy to the praise of His glorious grace. We can't help but to exclaim with the apostle Paul, "Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and inscrutable His ways! For from Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever." Amen!
It has now been two and half years since our 4 boys, Ceasar, Angel, Gustavo and Alex came to live with us! Here's a picture of them earlier in the year when we took a trip to the woods:
It is our firm conviction that church planting it THE work of biblical missions. The local church is central to God's saving purpose for the world and is the base from which the Gospel is to be proclaimed, taught, defended, and spread to the far corners of the earth. Our principal focus in ministry is that of planting biblical churches in Mexico. Many have asked where these places are where are are working, so below you can see a map showing our existing church plants.
Strengthening Existing Church Plants
In 2013, we have been plugging away with all our might at the church plants in Guadalajara and Mexico City. Aaron Block and I have been alternating between the churches, preaching on a rotating basis. This has worked out well, and we are seeing the churches grow in grace, number and maturity. There are currently between 350-400 people who are congregating between the 3 church plants, a portion of which have joined themselves to the membership.
We've been privileged to see many baptisms this year. Between the two church plants in Guadalajara and Mexico City, we have baptized about 70 believers in 2013! More importantly, many of them are new converts in whom God has done a glorious work of grace. We praise God for such sweet demonstrations of His stedfast love in our midst!
New Church Plant Started
Around June-July, we also started a new church plant in the city of Queretaro. We are currently preaching in Queretaro on Saturday evenings, and then traveling to Mexico City Sunday mornings to preach the Lord's Day meeting there, until the Lord raises up more men to be helping with the preaching rotation. It is encouraging to see the Lord move in Queretaro and unite a group of believers who are committed to the Lord and each other as a biblical local expression of Christ's church. We hope to switch the Queretaro meetings to Sunday if the Lord wills, and to baptize the believers there who are in need of being baptized early in 2014. In the meantime, they are meeting on Sundays for group Bible study, and during the week for prayer meetings and open air evangelism.
Another Church Plant on the Horizon?
We are currently in contact with a group of believers in Monterrey (another mega-city in Mexico toward the north), and are planning to visit them and preach on a regular basis if the Lord wills. I hope to make my first visit in February 2014 if the Lord permits, and hold a conference to help launch an effort at another church plant. We are praying for the Lord's provision and leading with regard to Monterrey.
In 2013, I was able to do a couple of evangelism training conferences with Aguas Vivientes in the cities of Chihuahua and Morelia. Since I've been far too busy between our church plants to be doing evangelism conferences, I'm working with some brothers who will begin a new evangelistic thrust in 2014, to equip them to conduct evangelism conferences in my place. This is an exciting new ministry opportunity which will enable us to receive many more invitations to train churches and groups in street evangelism, since these brothers will be able to use our curriculum to teach brethren all over the country.
Gospel Tract Design & Distribution
We have been able to distribute thousands of Gospel tracts in 2013. Currently, we have two different tracts that we designed and distribute, selling them to brethren so they can use them in their personal evangelism. We sell them in packets of 100 tracts each at near-cost in order to recuperate our printing costs and do continual print-runs. These are extremely useful for mobilizing brethren in evangelism, as Gospel tracts greatly facilitate conversation-starting on the streets. It is in our plans to produce two more tract designs in early 2014 in order to double our current selection of tracts. You can our current two tracts in the links below:
--El Padre Nuestro
We currently have 3 evangelism teams that are evangelizing on a weekly basis, each associated with its corresponding local church. These teams each consist of a local group of believers who meet together to conduct organized outreaches in their city. They are currently involved in hospital visitation-evangelism, drug rehab center preaching, open air preaching, tract distribution and personal evangelism on the streets. We praise the Lord for their faithful and consistent efforts to preach Christ to the lost! Over the course of 2013, we can only guess how many hundreds, or thousands, of people heard the Gospel through their efforts.
Hurricane Disaster Relief
In September, a destructive hurricane hit Mexico's West Coast, mainly affecting the state of Guerrero. Many people lost their lives, and countless homes, cars, and properties were destroyed. The city and villages where we spend 4 months in 2008 were also affected, and some believers we know lost their homes. So a group of brethren from our church in Guadalajara united to engage in some disaster relief while using such an opportunity to preach the Gospel.
Through our contacts, we were able to get some of the brothers some preaching engagements in churches, in the local jail, and in the villages. They also conducted some open air campaigns to preach the Gospel to the villagers. In addition to giving away a cargo-van and trailer full of food and supplies, they were also able to give away 50 pastor's packets which contained Charles Leiter's Justification and Regeneration, a MacArthur Study Bible, Grudem's Systematic Theology, and other books such as John Murray's Redemption: Accomplished and Applied (one of my all-time favorites!), Spurgeon's sermons, etc. We were also able to purchase thousands of dollars worth of books which were given away to receptive believers and Bibles which were given to receptive unbelievers. The books are of titles which are not available at their local "Christian" bookstores. Much could be said, but to summarize, brethren were helped, the poor had the Gospel preached to them, and many resources promoting sound doctrine were strategically given away to needy believers. We thank God for all the support we received for this. See pictures below (click to enlarge):
The J & R Project
We have succeeded in printing Charles Leiter's Justification and Regeneration, and were able to print 15,000 copies! We are giving them away to pastors and church leaders and selling them to others at cost so they can use them to give away and in their evangelism. We have already distributed about 3,000 copies! People are loving it and we're hearing testimonies of how it is impacting lives! Praise the Lord!
Chapel Library Literature
With their permission, we have printed thousands of copies of the nice little booklets distributed by Chapel Library in Spanish which we give out in our church plants and to brethren in other churches. We currently print many different titles with a printing machine we purchased.
In 2014, we are beginning a bookstore which will mainly be operated online. We will be sending books to believers all over Mexico. Our initial selection will contain about 70 titles which we will then grow from there. These titles are all hand-picked and sound in doctrine. We already have all the books and have only to make them available by uploading their information to our website. Among these are every single Puritan book translated into Spanish that I can get my hands on. In addition to selling books, we will also give them away to pastors and believers in need. Any profit made from selling these books will be put toward expanding the book ministry, including increasing the number of titles and purchasing books to give away to pastors, church leaders, and brethren who are serving the Lord.
Institute of Theological Studies
We are working hard to launch an in-house and online training institute to teach theology in 2014 that will function as a part of our church in Guadalajara. We are planning to do this by working on one course at a time and teaching a group of men to rightly handle the word of truth. We also plan on adding them to an online database which will serve as a distance education system for teaching men the whole scope of traditional theological studies. The classes will be recorded and made available through online video and audio format. Much of the groundwork has already been done to launch this, and we hope to launch it in the first half of 2014 with our first group of students.
Expanding Media Resources
We're continuing to work on online media such as sermon recording in video and audio, sermon transcripts, and other resources through our ministry Cristianismo Bíblico. We hope to expand our online resources a great deal in 2014 if the Lord wills.
In Christ -Josef & Lina Urban (& Josiah!)
We are grateful for the financial support of our dear brethren. We want to express our heartfelt gratitude for those who have been so gracious to help us. If you would like to consider supporting us, after fulfilling your God-given responsibilities in your local church, you can find information on the "Support" page of this website.
May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward of His suffering!
Greetings from Mexico!
Oh, that God would rend the Heavens and come down in a mighty outpouring of His blessed Spirit from on high! Biblical missions don't just consist of methods, strategies, plans, and human effort at spreading the Gospel, but of Christ as Lord of all extending His scepter and establishing His Kingdom through the sovereign working of His Holy Spirit by means of the proclamation of the Gospel through human instrumentality. Yet this human element in missions is powerless and ineffective unless it is owned of God and enabled by His grace and power. God's work must be done God's way. His Gospel must advance not merely through plans and programs, but through prayer and preaching in the Holy Spirit. God is pleased to grant success to the cause of missions and grant this power from on high when His people humble themselves, utterly stripped of all confidence in the flesh, and as empty, destitute, poor beggars confess their desperate need for Him so that when He responds and grants success to His work, they recognize that God alone is the sole cause of their success and therefore attribute to Him the glory He rightfully deserves.
A few Brethren have wondered and inquired as to the cause of the small amount of success we have seen in Mexico, as to the conversion of souls and the planting of churches. All I can say is it that is has pleased the Lord to work in this way. We have no secrets. My only real and ultimate method is preaching the foolishness of the cross --and this in a somewhat cumbersome and awkward Spanish that makes me feel insecure as I speak it. We just unleash the Word and it does all the rest. We teach systematically through the Scriptures, explaining words and phrases, analyzing its grammar, explicating its context, expounding on its grand theological concepts, and seeking to apply it with impetu to each individual soul. But God is the One who saves souls. Christ is the One who builds His church. The Spirit is the One who breaths on dead sinner's hearts with the breath of God and infuses life and power into His saints to sanctify them and mold them into the Imago Dei. And since this is all not because of us, but rather in spite of us, it is obvious to me that this is the Lord's work, and therefore it is to His glory alone.
Therefore, dear Brethren, I earnestly plead with you to please pray for us. I believe we may yet see a genuine outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our day, here in Mexico. We have seen small signs and little tokens of soul-stirring happening among us, but have yet to see the fullness. We must press on and not grieve the Spirit but rather pray with importunity that the Sovereign Giver from Whom the Spirit proceeds would be pleased to pour forth much mercy upon us and prosper His work in Mexico, that we may yet see the glory of the Lord in the land of the living! May God have mercy on our unbelief for limiting the strong arm of the Almighty in our puny thoughts of what we think is possible and stir up in us with a lively faith and a spirit of prayer to press on and seek for "greater works" (Jn. 14:12) until our eyes behold the Majesty of the Lord manifested in multitudes being saved from eternal woe and His missionary cause accelerated so as to fill Mexico with the knowledge of the Lord!
Here is a summarized update of what has been happening lately:
We send our hearty greetings and heartfelt thanks for all our dear Brethren who pray for us and support us! Soli Deo Gloria! If you have any questions or concerns, or would like to talk with us, please reply to this email. We value your input.
In Christ -Josef Urban
By Lina Urban
Greetings to all! I write to give a quick update and encouraging report about one of our boys. As many of you know last summer I got news that Angel our youngest would not be allowed to finish kindergarten at home. The DIF (equivalent to CPS) said that kindergartners were not allowed to be homeschooled and told me I had to send him to school. With sadness I sent our little boy to a public school in the middle of one of the worst neighborhoods in Guadalajara. I debated within me to enroll him there or put him in a private school. I kept having much peace about leaving him in the public school. Many people in our church would tell me how that would affect Angel that he would pick up bad things from the kids in that school. Still the Lord gave me much peace. His first day of school he got bullied. One of his classmates stole something from the teacher and wanted Angel to cover up for him. Angel refused and told on him. The boy got furious and grabbed Angel and slammed him into a wall and shouted at him. I only found this out because at lunch time Angel asked that we please pray for his school mate's salvation. He then proceeded to tell me what had happened. I counseled him to love his enemies and to bring his enemies some cookies the next day, which he did with gladness. A few days later he shared with me excited about how he had preached to some of the teachers of his school. I said, "really, what did you preach to them?" He said, "I asked them if they knew what propitiation was, they didn't know so I taught them what it was and how Christ is our propitiation."
As the months passed I more and more saw how being in school didn't change him a bit in a bad way. I actually saw how it helped form more character in him and make him stand on his convictions. There were a few times we got called in by his teacher because Angel would refuse to do some activity that would go against his convictions. He stood very firm till the end. The end of his school year came to an end last week.
On Monday I took him to school only to be told by the teacher he wasn't allowed to come to school all week because he had pink eye. She told me to just bring him to his graduation. We said our goodbyes to her and thanked her for teaching Angel. We then proceeded to say our goodbyes to the principal. We thanked her and she solemnly told me, ''Angel is an apostle". I couldn't help but laugh at what she said, I know he's not an apostle and that just sounded so silly to me. She then very solemnly held my hand and said, '' Truly, he is an apostle." She told me that I had no idea how much Angel had taught her. She said, ''he came in here and he taught us''. She told me how she knows he's of a different religion but he taught her so much. She started weeping uncontrollably and hugged and kissed him and thanked him for teaching her. She said she had lived life taking God for granted and many of His truths, but that Angel helped her understand so many things. She also told me how he was so noble, that through the school year if there was ever a teacher that didn't come to school that he would go into the principals office asking, ''where is so and so teacher, is she OK?'' She admired his care and love for others. We all wept and hugged each other and said our goodbyes. On the way to to car Angel told me, "Mommy I taught them everything daddy taught me, everything". What a faithful little imitator of Josef this little one has been! May the Lord use him mightily to bring many souls to the feet of Christ. A few days passed and I took him to his graduation. He was so happy but sad to leave the school and those he loved behind. As we walked away he ran to hug the principal and when we left she waved from afar and said, " Goodbye preacher, goodbye preacher."
Brethren, I write this not to advocate that we send our children to public schools. I know without a doubt that this was a special call for Angel. I wrote this to encourage you to pour into your children. Fill them with the Word of God, with love, with godly example. Cover them with much prayer and fasting.
I remember when I first got these kids I got so sad, I would cry so much because I couldn't go out into the streets and evangelize like I used to. The Lord later showed me I was to mainly evangelize these four boys and now our own little Josiah. I still pass out tracts and talk to people in my daily life when I'm at the store or at a restaurant or even when the Lord brings people to my door, I'm not advocating only evangelizing your children either. THere's a lost world out there in need of Christ may we with our families reach them with the Gospel.
I love you all and thank you so much for your prayers. Please pray for our five boys, for the principal, and for me and Josef to continue to pour into the lives of these little ones.
Dear Brethren and Friends,
We praise God for all that has been happening lately down here. Several weeks ago, we started a new church plant in Querétaro, which is a major city a couple of hours Northwest from Mexico City, and strategically located between Guadalajara and Mexico City. Now that we are having Lord's Day meetings with the congregations in Guadalajara and Mexico City every Sunday, this opened up our Saturday's to begin preaching in Querétaro. The response has been surprising. The Lord is quickly raising up a church in Querétaro! They are now congregating on Saturday's for the live exposition of Scripture, on Sunday's to watch a sermon video, exhort one another and eat together, and on Thursdays for a prayer meeting, crying out for the Lord to save souls and build His church! May Christ be glorified in yet another city!
Recently, a friend and Brother in the Lord came down to visit us for a month. He decided to write a report of his trip, and since he expresses himself so well, and seems to capture something of what is happening here, we decided to send out his report as our newsletter. The author of the report below, Austin Dooley, is from Redeeming Grace Church in Colombia, MO (http://www.rgcolumbia.org/). It was a blessing to have him visit.
In Christ -Josef Urban
Here's Brother Austin's report:
The Lord has blessed me with the opportunity to spend the last month with missionary and pastor Josef Urban. I have lived in his home along with his wife, Lina, four children they are fostering, and a10-month old baby of their own, Josiah. I purposed to spend as much time near Josef as I could, be it in ministry or mundanity, and the Lord has impressed upon me the great joy and burden of whole-hearted service in spirit exhibited in his life. Looking back, the body of my time here consisted of moving boxes, exhausting trips, and sweet communion with brethren, but the recurring theme, like an uplifting refrain was that of honest, hopeful expectation of revival.
Josef’s primary labor for the last three years has been pastoring the church he planted in Guadalajara. Meetings began with a few people gathered in the house where his family, along with his recently married co-laborer, Aaron, lives. Since then, the church has grown substantially, but the house has not. The Lord providentially allowed them out of their contract with an unreasonable landlord, by means of eviction. Although this added a burden of moving the families and church into separate locations during an exceptionally busy time, the church has found a place that will comfortably fit the Sunday congregation, which has grown to as many as 140 people. It may not be as free from distraction as the solitary office in the Himalayas Josef sometimes dreams of, but the Urban's will certainly enjoy more peace and privacy in a home of their own as well.
Since planting the church, Josef has had the privilege to see the Lord work many miracles of salvation and grow the church substantially. However this puts him in a somewhat unique and difficult situation of pastoring a church that consists primarily of young converts. Although the church is spiritually young, the Lord has knit together a group of committed members, which, by His grace, will grow to around 50 people in the coming weeks.
The Lord has plainly glorified himself both in the sanctification and maturing of His saints, and by convicting the lost who meet with the church. Recently, He accomplished these two works in a conference hosted by the church, taught by the dear brother Paul Walker, a pastor in Colorado. He has been making trips to preach in Latin America for forty years, and was brought to tears while trying to compare the hunger he now sees for Truth, to the dead, hard-hearted souls he used to preach to at the beginning of his ministry. After five teachings on the Gospel, it was evident the Lord had stirred the hearts of many, especially from wrong views of God’s sovereignty, falsely blaming Him for their inability to be saved. After the conference, Brother Walker expressed he was truly convinced he had been preaching in a land on the verge of revival.
The Lord’s provision of eager hearts and Biblical teaching in Mexico has not been restricted to Guadalajara. Josef and Aaron have been preaching to a group in Mexico City for a time as well. From that work, a church has been raised that faithfully evangelizes, fellowships, and ministers to the more than 100 people who now regularly attend the Sunday morning meetings. I was blessed to attend their first member’s meeting, then celebrate the Lord’s Supper, unified, with brothers I hardly knew, in the Spirit, because of Christ’s death.
Several months ago, the church in Guadalajara also felt led to begin praying about whether to begin preaching in Queretaro, a city between Guadalajara and Mexico City. For the next three consecutive weeks, unrelated families from Queretaro with no knowledge of each other came to the Sunday meetings in Guadalajara, asking when someone could come and preach in their city. The first and second meetings, in which Josef preached, were held this month, each attended by over 100 people. After hearing the true gospel of God’s grace for the first time, many decided to leave their churches, abandoning false gospels and doctrines of perfectionism. The Lord has made it clear to Josef that he should consistently preach there as well.
By the end of this month, Josef will be the only elder ministering to three bodies, in different cities. In all three places, Josef regularly spends hours after each sermon answering questions, giving spiritual counsel, and listening to testimonies of salvation. He makes it clear that the biblical model is a plurality of pastors per church, not a plurality of churches per pastor, and is expectantly waiting on the Lord to raise up and/or send more laborers. He looks forward to the arrival of Josue Contreras, a brother who has been pastoring a church in Texas but feels called to labor alongside Josef, in early July.
The ministry of the gospel through literature and online sermons has also shown fruitful. The website where church information and Josef’s sermons are posted, cristianismobiblico.com, now gets several thousand unique visitors daily. This month, the plans were also finalized to print 15,000 copies of Charles Leiter’s book, Justification and Regeneration, which, Lord-willing, will soon be put in the hands of pastors and ministry leaders across Mexico.
Nonetheless, this evening, like nearly every other evening, Josef looked up wearily and confessed how little he accomplished, how another day was gone. Along with a seemingly endless list of things that need to be done in the churches he does pastor, he has received requests to preach from many cities all all over Mexico, requests he now doesn’t even have time to consider. There are many true Christians driving for hours to attend Biblical church meetings, and seemingly promising opportunities to try to start laboring in surrounding cities where they come from. In the five and a half years since the Lord saved me and called me to share the Gospel in the United States, one of the most confusing scriptures to me has been Matthew 9:37; “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” I never understood where this plentiful harvest was, why salvation felt like such a precious rarity. I can’t say I have always evangelized with enough faith, that I have sufficiently prayed for the lost of my country, or that I know the mind of God and his perfect plan for salvation, but I can say that these words of Christ are clearly being fulfilled, right now, in Mexico. “Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”