Announcing the Launch of Our New Website

How-Creating-a-New-Website-Can-Help-You-Grow-RevenueToday, I am pleased to announce the launch of the new and updated website for Joy to the World Ministries. Many thanks to Church OS for their hard work in helping us with the work on this new site. They have really been terrific. May the Lord continue blessing their work. Through this, we hope to share with you what the Lord has been doing among us in the past, what He is doing now as we look forward to what He will do in the future.

In turn, I hope that you will:
  1. Join us in praising the Lord for His love towards us which love was demonstrated in the death and resurrection our Lord Jesus Christ.
  2. Pray for and with us regularly as we continue to labor for the gospel that we may maintain and work towards the vision that the Lord has for us.
  3. Spread the word concerning this work and recruit others to join us in doing #1 and #2 above.
  4. Give financially to support this important work for the advancement of the gospel of Jesus Christ in the various regions where we are working and beyond.
  5. Stay tuned. We will be posting regular updates on this site, so please come back and visit often. We want you to walk with us through the journey ahead as we apply ourselves with the Lord’s help to the task of “Taking the Whole Gospel, to the Whole Man and to the Whole World.”
god-be-the-gloryThank you for being such faithful and encouraging supporters. May the Lord richly bless you. To God be the glory!
“From the rising of the sun to its setting, the name of the LORD is to be praised!” Psalm 113:3

When God is Against You, Who Can Be for You?

“Therefore,” says the LORD, “I am against these prophets who steal messages from each other and claim they are from Me.  I am against these smooth-tongued prophets who say, “This prophecy is from the LORD! I am against these false prophets. Their imaginary dreams are flagrant lies that lead My people into sin. I did not send or appoint them, and they have no message at all for My people. I, the LORD have spoken!” (Jeremiah 23:30-32 – italics mine for emphasis).

fire2_0This was the tough message that Jeremiah had to deliver to the people, princes, priests and prophets of Judah during his time.  Jeremiah, called to be a prophet of God at a young age (probably in his teens or early 20’s), prophesied against Judah under the reign of several kings.  Nobody listened to him.  Not the people, not the princes, not even the priests or the prophets of his day.  Why?  They were far too gone in sin.  They had given up on God and abandoned Him for other gods (who were no gods at all) – see Jeremiah 22:8-9. In turn, God would abandon them as well.

In Jeremiah 23:30-32 (quoted above), the LORD thunders with anger and terror against the prophets in Jeremiah’s day. As highlighted above, three times in these verses the LORD says, “I am against these prophets.” This was a very dreadful thing for the LORD to say against the prophets.  If the LORD is against you, who can be for you?  Who can rescue you from His hands?

We need to hear such warnings today.  Jonathan Edwards’ sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God is helpful on this point:

O sinner! Consider the fearful danger you are in: it is a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit, full of the fire of wrath, that you are held over in the hand of that God, whose wrath is proved and incensed as much against you, as against many of the damned in hell.

You hand by a slender thread, with the flames of divine wrath flashing about it, and ready every moment to singe it, and burn it asunder; and you have no interest in any Mediator, and nothing to lay hold of to save yourself, nothing to keep off the flames of wrath, nothing of your own, nothing that you ever have done, nothing that you can do, to induce God to spare you one moment.

Hebrews 10:30-31: “For we know Him who said, ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay.’ And again, ‘The Lord will judge His people.’ It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

Profitless Prophets:  In God’s sight, these so-called prophets were profitless because He had not sent them – so they had no message for His people.  Here is a very important lesson for preachers today: Before you can speak for God, He must first speak to you.  You must hear from God before you can speak for Him to His people.  These prophets had not heard from God (Jeremiah 23:18).  Rather, they were literally dreaming up their own messages and passing them around to each other – deceiving and misleading the people of God. As a result, God (who is sovereign and who sees everything), saw what they were doing and He was very angry at them – angry enough to kill them. He says concerning these prophets: “Behold, I will feed them with bitter food and give them poisoned water to drink, for from the prophets of Jerusalem ungodliness has gone out into all the land” (Jeremiah 23:15).

These false prophets were not only sinning against the LORD and His people by their lips, but also by their lives.  By their lips, they prophesied lies. In a time when God’s people desperately needed God’s truth, the prophets lied to them. Instead of warning the people to repent of their sins and turn to God or face His judgment, they instead preached peace when there was no peace. They told the people what they wanted to hear and not what they needed to hear – a very common problem even in our day.

By their lives, they lived sinfully.  There was adultery among the prophets, the priest and the princes – and this of course spread to the rest of the population. Corruption was rampant as was compromise and all kinds of vices. The poor, orphans, widows, the homeless and strangers were being marginalized and oppressed. Injustice and unrighteousness flourished in Judah instead of justice and righteousness.

When a Prophet Becomes a Burden to the Lord

The LORD says one more thing concerning these prophets in Jeremiah 23:33ff.  The prophets had become a burden to Him.  He was fed up with them and was going to wipe them away.  This is very interesting and instructive too.  The prophets were using the phrase “the burden of the LORD” as a magical phrase or a kind of spiritual jargon to get people to listen to their lies.  This is very similar to what you hear people saying today – things like: “The LORD spoke to me…,” or “The LORD has laid this on my heart…,” “I have peace about this or that, etc.”  The reason people do that is so that you don’t question the validity of whatever assertions, decisions or choices they are making.  The LORD has spoken to them and they don’t want to be persuaded otherwise.  Sometimes they are right but often they are wrong.  They think they have listened to the LORD, but in actual fact, they have only listened to themselves and are operating based on the imagination of their own minds. Sadly, the results with this sort of thing are always tragic. Well, something similar to that was happening in Jeremiah’s time except it was worse because it not only involved the prophets themselves (that would have been bad enough), but it involved the whole nation of Judah.

“I am Against These Prophets…,” says the LORD!

So, the LORD determined to bring an end to this nonsense and would eliminate the prophets. He would feed them bitter food and give them poisoned water to drink.  He would literally poison them to death. The false prophets and their people would die by sword, famine or disease. Babylon would come and take over Jerusalem and take some of the people into exile. Either way (whether in exile or in Jerusalem), they would face death as God’s judgment upon them. Now, that’s quite a statement to make about the God.  What kind of God would do such a thing?  Poison His own people?  A God of love wouldn’t do that would He?  Many people in our day (including those who profess to be Christians) would protest against this kind of God and indeed they do.

But the God of the Bible has no problem with doing such things. He can form light and He can create darkness.  He can make well-being and He can create calamity.  He can heal and He can hurt.  He can raise up a person or a nation and He can bring them down.  He is the LORD and He does these things (see Isaiah 45:7 for example).

That was the bad news for the prophets of Judah.  But that wasn’t all.  There was also some good news to which I now turn.

The Good News

While Jeremiah had been called to prophesy doom and gloom, the LORD also had wonderful promises for His people.  Verses 1-7 of Jeremiah 23 contain some of these wonderful promises.  The LORD would indeed punish Judah and deal with the false prophets and send the people to exile as He had spoken. But one day, He would bring them back and set good shepherds over them under the Kingship of the Lord Jesus Christ, David’s righteous branch.  He would reign as King and deal wisely with the people.  He would execute justice and righteousness in the land.  In His days, Judah would be saved and the people would dwell securely in their own land.  He would be called, “The LORD is our righteousness.”  The salvation that He would bring would be better than that of the former days (which the Jews had experienced when the LORD saved them from slavery in Egypt). Now, that’s a very wonderful promise.

God would no longer be against the people, the princes, the priests or the prophets.  But having gotten rid of the bad princes, priests and prophets, He would raise up others who would serve the people under the Kingship of Jesus Christ. In Christ, the LORD would now be for them – no longer against them.  Only then would the people say, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31) – Praise the LORD!

What is the Chief End of Preaching?

lloyd-jones-in-studyHere is what Dr. David Martyn Lloyd Jones said about preaching – all of the quotes below are from “the Doctor’s” book entitled, Preaching & Preachers.

“What is the chief end of preaching?”  I like to think it is this.  It is to give men and women a sense of God and His presence (p. 97).

For a period of about four months, “the Doctor” while ill was unable to preach at the Westminster Chapel.  In the providence of God, this afforded him “the opportunity, and the privilege, of listening to others” instead of preaching himself.  This is what he wrote as he reflected on that experience:   Continue reading

Speaking to Pastors Right After They Preach

PFR1165I serve a small congregation in the heart of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  I am so glad that I am not expected to stand at the door after every service to shake people’s hands.

  1.  I Can’t Handle It

In all honesty, I don’t think that I could handle the hand-shaking at the door week by week after I have just finished preaching.  Not because I am too exhausted.  I am usually (though not always) bubbling with a lot of emotional excitement and thankfulness for the wonderful privilege of being a conduit of God’s Word to God’s people.  There are times when I feel terrible because in my own estimation, I did not preach the Word as faithfully as I could have – either because I was not thoroughly prepared or because I just had a bad day and the sermon didn’t come out as I expected it to.  But that’s beside the point.  There are two reasons why I feel that I cannot handle this practice.  My personality is such that I cannot handle too much praise or too much criticism right after the service.  Thus, I need to guard my heart from inordinate pride and unnecessary despondency.  Too much praise right after I have just preached would make me very proud.  I am concerned about this because more often than not, to be polite, people say nice things to you as they shake your hand at the door whether they mean them or not.  If I heard these nice things like that every Sunday, I would begin to believe them and thus my already restless ego would grow way out of proportion.  So, I must guard myself from that by not providing the occasion for that temptation.  That’s my concern on that front.  On the other hand, I know that too much criticism right after I have just preached, would crush me.  The reason is that for the first few minutes, right after each service, I am emotionally raw and vulnerable.  Metaphorically speaking, my skin is not as tough (it becomes so soft) after I have just delivered a sermon as it is at other times during the week.  Thus, I prefer that any comments (praise or criticism) regarding the sermons on Sunday should be reserved for later when I (and those making the comments) have had time to process everything prayerfully before the Lord. I am and they are more likely to be objective that way.

  1.  It Tends to Put Pressure on the Congregation to Say Something Nice to the Preacher

Man And Woman Shaking HandsWhether we want to admit this or not, this hand-shaking practice after every service, has the potential of putting undue pressure on the congregation to say nice things to the pastor as they try to quickly find their way past the pastor who is standing at the door – sometimes only shaking his hands with one of their fingers.  I have experiences this – not in the congregation where I serve as pastor – but as I have traveled around preaching elsewhere.  It’s uncomfortable and awkward both for the people and pastor!  You often hear people saying “Good Evening” to you after the morning service and “Good Morning” after the evening service or something worse.  On the rare occasionally, you get those honest souls who are simply unrestrained and unafraid to let you know how lousy or how long your sermon was – but that’s rare.  For the most part, people want to be courteous, which is what puts the pressure on them to come up with something nice to say and say it with a smile.  I am not sure we have the right to put that pressure on anyone especially the people we have been called to serve through prayer and the ministry of the Word.

  1.  It Tends to Distract People from the Message that They Have Just Heard

distractionSometimes, a very powerful, soul-stirring message is preached and the Word comes down so heavily upon an individual with its two-edged sharpness, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, dissecting and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the listener’s heart (see Hebrew 4:12).  Because I usually don’t know when that happens, my normal practice is to disappear (at least for a few minutes – sometimes completely) as soon as the service is over so as not to be a distraction to the people as they are trying to process and wrestle with the Word which they have just heard – whether it had to do with conviction of sin or encouraging them in some other aspect of their lives or both.  On occasions, I have found that I can help people process what they heard and perhaps clarify some things that weren’t clear to them in the sermon.  But that is the exception not the rule.  More often than not, I find that it’s very easy for a careless word to slip off my tongue and completely ruin the good Word that was preached by diluting it if not completely washing it off an individual’s conscience.  Sometimes, this can happen not so much through a slip of the tongue, but simply through aimless chatter (or small talk) with members of the congregation right after the service – which often happens because either the people or the pastor want to be nice and polite to the other.  I think that’s dangerous and must be avoided at all costs.

  1.  It Tends to Rob God of His Glory by Putting Undue Focus/Praise on the Pastor or the Sermon Preached

ac10df112180bbb09020fef0fd56e56aAs fallen human beings, we all have a sinful bent towards self (not towards God) – self gratification, self promotion, self service, self x, y and z, (you fill in the blanks).  Therefore, we must take whatever precautionary measures necessary to ensure that we are not (intentionally or unintentionally) feeding that sinful bent towards self.  Many times, I find it hard to respond to comments which “praise” me or the sermon preached.  If I say “Thank you,” I feel that I am taking the credit that does not really belong to me.  If I say “Praise the Lord,” it feels like I am just trying to sound “pious” or “spiritual” and that I am really not acknowledging the words praise or appreciation being directed towards me from a congregant.  It’s a real dilemma for me and I suppose it is for other pastors as well.

But what concern me and even scares me most is that I am too quick to draw attention to myself – that’s very natural for me.  I find that I can enjoy people’s praise so much so that I can become larger and larger in my own eyes and perhaps in the eyes of others even as God becomes smaller and smaller.  I believe every pastor and every church member wants to say with the Apostle John, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).  In principle, we all affirm that.  But in practice, we do the opposite.  In the end, we and our sermons are the ones that end up increasing while God on the other hand is decreasing and being relegated to the side while we, our sermons and pastoral hand-shakes take center stage – effectively obstructing people from squarely focusing on God and giving Him the glory that is due His Name.

Failure-e1369855103499

I need more of this right after preaching!

For these reasons, I have made it my practice to go into “seclusion” right after the service (even for a few minutes in cases where I can’t afford to do this for longer periods).  I usually go somewhere quite where I can hide and be alone with God.  Sometimes, it means that I have to lock myself in a toilet for a few minutes to check in with the Lord and report back to Him.  He sends me into the pulpit each week.  I ask for His help and blessing before I step into the pulpit each week.  So, the first thing that I want to do as soon as the service is over, is to go back and report to Him that I have done what He had sent me to do; to thank Him for giving me His grace and strength which saw me through the service; to ask Him for forgiveness for any sins that I may have committed while preaching or while leading the service.  And to ask for His blessing upon His Word and the people who heard it that they would be given the grace to lay it up on their hearts and practice it in their lives.

So What Are We to Do?

I have already shared what I believe to be the biblical alternative to the “pastoral ministry of shaking hands.” I have called it, the pastoral ministry of shaking hearts.  Let me share an example of how other churches and their pastors conduct their business on Sundays in this regard.  It’s Sunday morning.  Let’s say the church service starts at 10:00 am.  The pastor, church elders and deacons make their way to the church at 9:30 am or thereabouts.  They gather in the vestry as people are coming into the sanctuary for worship.  While they are in the vestry, one or two deacons on “greeting duty” for that particular Sunday are standing at the main doors into the sanctuary – greeting people and directing them to their seats until the church fills up.  Back in the vestry, the other men update one another on congregational life.  Praise items and prayer concerns are shared.  Together, they pray (usually led by one person – the pastor, an elder or one of the deacons).  They pray for the service as well, everything, the singing, the reading of the Word, the preaching, the offering, visitors, everything.  After prayer (it’s not 10:00 am), the all file into the main sanctuary for the service.  The pastor is the last person to enter the sanctuary.  Upon entering the sanctuary, he goes directly to the pulpit and leads the entire service.  After the service, the deacons on “greeting duty” that Sunday are busy guiding the people out of the sanctuary – and greeting them as before.  The pastor is the first one to exist the sanctuary followed by the elders straight back to the vestry where they all take their seats (sometimes they stand if they do not have enough seats for everybody).  The pastor asks one of the men to pray – sometimes he prays himself.  Together, led by this one man, they pray and dedicate everything that has just happened to the Lord – have a few discussions – sometimes not – and off they go each to his home.

You may wonder, “When does the pastor make contact with the people?” Well, during the week, the pastor and the elders are usually busy visiting the members of their congregation – and also during their mid-week services.  I will admit that it’s easier to do this in a small congregation, but perhaps that it only an argument for smaller not bigger churches.

In any case, I pray that this article will be of some spiritual benefit to one or two pastors out there and their congregations.  Ultimately, I pray that the Lord may use it to raise up more pastors who will devote themselves to the pastoral ministry of shaking hearts on their knees in prayer and on their feet in preaching.  To Him be all the praise, glory and honor – now and forevermore!  Amen!

Beware of the Sugar-Coated “Gospel”

sugar coating the gospelA sugar-coated “gospel” is no gospel at all.  The great calling of every gospel preacher is to be a herald of God’s (not his own) message.  This gives us a benchmark against which to measure and test every preacher, i.e. faithfulness to the Bible.  Sadly, many Christians are so gullible and they are gobbling up spiritual junk food Sunday after Sunday.  Even sadder than that is that they don’t seem to know it and those who do know, don’t seem to care.

In most cases, the problem with the preachers of this sugar-coated “gospel” is not so much in what they say.  The problem is in what they don’t say.  Here are some of the major things they don’t talk about:

  1.  Repentance toward God – “I testified to both Jews and Greeks about repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus” (Acts 20:21).
  1.  Faith in Christ – “I testified to both Jews and Greeks about repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus” (Acts 20:21).
  1.  Obedience to Christ – “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

Continue reading

To Preach, to Really Preach…

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Preaching is the most public of ministries and therefore, the most conspicuous in its failure and the most subjective to the temptation of hypocrisy. It is imperative only that those who undertake it are appropriately gifted by the Holy Spirit. Such ‘gifting’ includes prophecy, evangelism, the consciousness of an unavoidable call, providential endowments, and outward confirmation as evidenced by the Holy Spirit’s making the preaching effort into a new Bethlehem.

There is no special honor in being so gifted–there is only special pain. The pulpit calls them to it as the sea calls its sailors, and, like the sea, it batters and bruises and does not rest, but always there is the lure of its ‘better and incomparable’ society.

To preach, to really preach, is to die naked a little at a time, and to know each time you do it that you must do it again. Only one certainty sustains the preacher:  That God never denies a man peace except to give him glory.

Bruce Thielemann

THE PASTORAL MINISTRY OF SHAKING HEARTS

I am writing to respond to a blog post entitled, The Pastoral Ministry of Shaking Hands, written by Pastor H. B. Charles Jr. which was recently shared on Tim Challies blog.  I reluctantly read it with caution because it touches on a topic that I have been wrestling with issue for a number of years.  Reading the blog post confirmed my deep seated convictions on what Pastor Charles Jr. calls “The pastoral ministry of shaking hands.” I simply do not agree with his rationale for this mainly because I believe that the practice that he is advocating is mainly cultural not biblical.  This “pastoral ministry of shaking hands” is mainly a creation of the American culture than it is of the Apostles in the New Testament church.  The practice is very foreign among many Christians outside of North America (although some are now copying it simply because it’s coming from America and thus it must be right).  For this reason (mainly), I do not think that it should be expected of every pastor.  In all fairness, the Bible does not necessarily condemn the practice (although I believe good biblical grounds may be found against it).  But it is also fair to say that the Bible does not sanction or prescribe it for pastors and congregations for that matter and we shouldn’t either. Continue reading