Come and See

It’s been about a year and a half since we started our ‘Come and See’ bible study on Thursday nights. It has been a great evangelistic tool. Every week we meet at the church, sit in a circle, and study the gospel of John. Amazingly the attendance is sometimes greater on Thursday night than it is on Sunday because in addition to our regular church members we have several ‘seekers’ that come to the mid-week Bible study.

Why did we start ‘Come and see’? We wanted to give people the opportunity to study biblical Christianity directly from the source (the Scriptures). So many people in Spain think they know all there is to know about Christianity and Jesus but are shocked when they discover that Christ’s testimony of himself and their idea of Christ aren’t the same. That is why we are going verse by verse through the gospel of John and letting the Scriptures speak for themselves. However, I always give preference to their questions. Many weeks I don’t have time to finish the lesson because they have so many questions.

I am thrilled to say that since we started the ‘Come and See’ Bible study we have had five of our regular attenders get saved and baptized. All of them are still with us. Another blessing is that we have always had ‘seekers’ with us. Right now we have two unbelievers that faithfully attend and another that attends sporadically. What is exciting is that those that have been transformed by the power of the gospel are able to share their testimony with these ‘seekers’ and say to them, “I’ve been where you are; I know what you’re thinking.”

‘Come and See’ has also been a great tool for discipleship and training men. It is a great time for new believers to have their questions answered and for mature believers to answer their questions. When we started ‘Come and See’ only Eduardo and I knew enough bible to answer questions. Now I have two other men that are explaining the gospel and patiently helping our ‘seekers’. Last Thursday was especially a blessing. We have a new lady that is attending the Bible study. She is friends with Angie (Eduardo’s wife). She asked these questions: “What is the difference between this church and the Catholic church and why did you start this church?” Instead of answering the questions myself I let the believers in the group answer them. I must say, it was a special moment for me. I saw people that had asked me the same questions in the past answer her questions very clearly and from the Scriptures. Please continue to pray for ‘Ven y Ve’ (Come and see).

 

Training men and Scripture Memorization

A spiritual discipline that has helped me immensely in my Christian life is Scripture memorization. I started memorizing Scripture intentionally when I was fourteen. One of the first changes that I noticed was that I started thinking biblically. Please don’t misunderstand and think that I stopped sinning and achieved perfection. That is far from the truth. My wife could attest to that! What I do know is that my way of thinking changed. I don’t know exactly when it started, but I noticed that little by little verses started popping up in my mind that altered the way I thought and acted. I noticed that I was able to explain the gospel more clearly. I noticed that I was able to answer the objections of skeptics more effectively. But the greatest benefit of all is that I began to desire the things of God. Again, it did not fix all my problems. I still struggle with sin. I still fail in my Christian life. However, Scripture memorization has been a tremendous blessing.

Also, Scripture memorization does not replace other spiritual disciplines. Every believer ought to read his bible and meditate on it day and night. Every believer ought to learn to pray and to diligently seek after God. But I find that very few Christians memorize Scripture. I don’t understand the reason! My challenge to those that find memorization tedious and boring is for them to memorize one of Paul’s epistles. It doesn’t take long to memorize an epistle and the spiritual benefits are eternal. I’ve never met a born again believer that has memorized a book of the Bible and hasn’t been spiritually enriched by it.

So what does Scripture memorization have to do with training men? I believe that the discipline of Scripture memorization enables the men that we are training to think biblically. What skill could be more important for a future pastor or missionary! I’ll give you one example. Flavius Tabardau is a young man that I am training for ministry. One of the first things he did after he was saved was memorize 1 John. I noticed immediately that he had a very clear understanding of true biblical conversion. He would talk about the importance of loving his brethren in Christ and why it’s foolish to love the world. How did he learn those things? Did he learn them by reading a book on spiritual growth and maturity? No. He learned those things by meditating on 1 John as he reviewed his verses every day. When he started preaching five-minute messages, guess from which book he preached?

Next, he started memorizing Romans. We are actually memorizing it together. We are almost done with chapter five. Whenever we meet together to study, we begin by reviewing our memory verses and discussing the meaning of what we’ve memorized. It has helped both of us tremendously. What a book to study! What I have noticed is that his understanding of the gospel is solid. What’s great is that he isn’t learning the gospel from me; he’s learning it from Paul! The other day he said to me, “David, I think I know how to summarize the gospel in two words.” I said, “How”. He replied, “The gospel is: ‘for sinners’.” His answer thrilled my heart because he had understood Paul’s point in the first three chapters of Romans: we are all sinners and in desperate need of Christ! Then he shared with me how he had taught the gospel to one of his friends. He said, “All I did was explain the first five chapters of Romans to him.” Praise the Lord!

Again, I don’t believe memorization is the only important spiritual discipline. Also, I’m not against formal theological training and reading books. As a matter of fact, Flavius and I are studying Systematic Theology right now and he is devouring books like crazy. What I am saying is that memorization has greatly helped me and it has helped the men I am training here in Spain. Do you think it could help you? What would happen if you memorized a book of the bible? What would happen if you memorized four? Would if affect the way you think? Would you love God more? Would you be better prepared? If you accept my challenge, please let me know if there is any way I can help you in the area of Scripture memorization.

Scripture Memorization

One subject that I always bring up with the men I am trying to train in Spain is Scripture memorization. I believe it’s a very important part of our Spiritual growth and training. I know that if I can impress on their hearts the importance of this spiritual discipline they will grow in every area of their lives. It’s impossible to commit Scripture to memory without it affecting your actions!

I learned this first from my mom. We were homeschooled as kids and believe me when I tell you that we had to work. It wasn’t a walk in the park. Every morning we would get up early and have chapel before starting school. During that time my mom would have us memorize Scripture. Day after day we would repeat our memory verses until we had learned whole books. I don’t remember most of the verses I learned at that age but what I retained is the knowledge that the Word of God is so precious that it’s worth memorizing.

The next great influence in my life was my uncle, Carlos Arce. I remember when I first moved to Venezuela with my family in 1997. I had the privilege of seeing the ministry that God had given my uncle and the men that he was training for the ministry. One of the unique characteristics of the men that he trained is that they knew the Scriptures. They knew what they believed and why and they could show you from the Scriptures. Often during Wednesday night services my uncle would shoot out a question and the seminary students would have to stand up and answer it from the Scriptures, most of the time quoting the verses from memory. From the children all the way to the adults they had committed hundreds if not thousands of Scripture verses to memory. I’ll never forget one of the greatest hermeneutical tips that my uncle taught me. He told me that the best way to interpret Scripture is to memorize it because it forces you to repeat the passage in your head hundreds of times. This is especially true when you memorize full chapters and books.

For me it wasn’t until I was fourteen that I starting taking Scripture memorization seriously. I was talking with a Jehovah’s witness outside my house and she was asking me all sorts of questions that I didn’t know how to answer from the Bible. I knew the doctrine but I didn’t know where to find it. Unlike me she knew what she believed and quoted numerous passages to prove it. That day I went home and committed in my heart to memorize Scripture.

I want to take a few posts and share some of the things that I’ve learned about memorizing Scripture. I wish I could tell you that I’ve been faithful in memorizing all the time. I have spent months and sometimes years without learning a single verse. But I have been able to retain most of what I’ve learned. I don’t believe you have to have an exceptional memory to practice this spiritual discipline. All you need is the determination to memorize daily and the vision of what God could do through you if you would simply hide his Word in your heart.

The work of the ministry

I memorized Ephesians 4:11-14 a long time ago because those verses help me remember my primary responsibility as a missionary. Verses eleven and twelve mention that God has given gifted people to the church (pastors and teachers) for a specific purpose: “…the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” My job is to disciple and train believers to maturity so that they can experience the joy and the privilege of serving Christ.

One step that I have taken in the ministry here is to create opportunities for people to serve. I could very well lead every ministry in the church but  I would be robbing them of so many blessings. I don’t want to be a one-man band. I cannot reach Spain and beyond by myself. I must multiply my efforts through others.

Recently my parents have gone on a short furlough and have left me with the full responsibility of both churches. Instead of this being a stressful time for me I have enjoyed seeing how God is using the believers in Parla to do the work of the ministry. I live fifty minutes away and I go to Parla only to preach on Wednesday and Sunday. They are taking care of the day-to-day work. I have never seen the church so excited. They are experiencing first-hand the joy of serving Christ. They are sharing the gospel. They are inviting friends to church. I spend my time helping the leaders of the various ministries in Parla to serve more effectively. By the way, they are doing a great job!

The work of the ministry isn’t for an elite few; it’s for the church as a whole. If I attempted to carry every load and lead every ministry, I would only be hurting them. Just like the parent that does everything for his children and doesn’t prepare them for the challenges ahead. God spare me from that sort of leadership. I can think of no greater joy in the ministry than being used of God to help others serve Him.

What do you do when nobody shows up?

That is a question that all missionaries have to deal with at some point. What do you do when you plan a campaign or special event and you distribute thousands of invitations and you don’t see any results? The reason I bring this up is because we have recently gone through this in both churches. We planned an evangelistic campaign and distributed twenty thousand invitations in Parla and ten thousand in Colmenar Viejo. The results? Zero visitors. That is a first for us. So far everything that we have tried has produced visible results. For instance, last year we had nineteen visitors at our evangelistic campaign. So this has really caused me to think.

I work in a country where many churches seem to have given up on mass evangelism, confrontational/personal evangelism or most any other kind of evangelism. I have heard believers in Spain say, “We have tried all of that and it hasn’t given us any results so we simply don’t try it any more.” But is that the correct answer to this question? Simply give up?

Most people wouldn’t say that they are giving up; they would give more “spiritual” answers. They would say that God is obviously not working in Spain like He is in other places so we shouldn’t expect any results. Or they might claim that Spaniards are more hardened to the gospel so we shouldn’t be surprised with the negative results. My only problem with these answers is that they usually come from people that aren’t trying anything. They have essentially given up.

Now I’m not saying it’s easy. I have to constantly fight discouragement. I just don’t think that we honor God when we stop trying. So I want to know how I should deal with this question in a way that is true to Scripture and that glorifies God. I posed this question to my friend Travis Snode (missionary to the UK) and he gave me some great advice. Here is what he wrote:

  • Remember that it’s not your job to win them or convince them but just to be obedient to go and tell them.
  • Evaluate what you did and what you could do differently.
  • If you did everything you could or if you could not think of anything to do differently, then just determine to keep getting the word out as a matter of obedience. Let the people know that you are doing outreach not just because it works but because you are commanded to do so.
  • Use your meetings as an opportunity to get people in your church involved, to train men.  Even if no one shows up, it was a victory because the believers are growing in their faith and they are inviting their friends.
  • Be careful to remember and teach your people that you can be joyful in the Lord regardless of the results.  Example – Luke 10:20, they were to rejoice in their name being written down, not in the results.

He certainly speaks from experience. He is a hard worker. What I appreciate about him is that he has never let negative results become an excuse to not do anything. In the next few weeks I would like to explore this question even further.

The Problem of Evil

Image

We have recently started a new series of messages in both churches on the problem of evil. This issue is probably one of the greatest problems facing Christianity today. It’s a problem that has caused many to reject the message of Christ  and even deny God’s existence. So what exactly is the problem of evil? Many describe this problem by asking several questions. For instance, If God exists, why is there evil in the world? Where is God in the midst of pain? What purpose could there possibly be for all of the pain and suffering in this world?

Without a doubt all of us have asked these sort of questions. We see the world in which we live with so much pain and suffering and we find it hard to understand why God would allow things to continue this way. All you have to do is watch the news or read a newspaper to understand the seriousness of this problem. It has been said that if you live long enough you will suffer and if you live a short life and avoid the full blown effects of pain you will cause the pain of bereavement on the loved ones that you leave behind. We cannot escape this problem. It’s all around us.

I cannot say that I have experienced a great deal of pain but I know that eventually I will experience it in my own life or in the lives of those around me. It’s often difficult for me to find the words to say to those that are in the midst of pain. Sometimes the best we can offer is silence and a shoulder to cry on. I echo the words of C.S. Lewis when he said, “When pain is borne, a little courage helps more than much knowledge, a little human sympathy more than much courage, and the least tincture of the love of God more than all.”

I believe if we’re honest we would have to admit that all of us have problems understanding why God would allow so much suffering and pain in this world, especially when we consider the abuse and torture of children and those unable to defend themselves. It would appear from our vantage point that a lot of the suffering in the world is pointless. We love God, we trust Him and worship Him but many times we do not understand His ways. After all as God says, “…my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.” (Isaiah 55:8)

By the way, if you find it hard to understand this problem you’re in good company. The Bible is full of examples of characters that pleaded for God to explain the persistence of evil. Even whole books of the Bible like Job and Lamentations are dedicated in great part to this problem. Reading through Ecclesiastes I found these verses that summarize our frustration with the current state of affairs, “So I returned, and considered all the oppressions that are done under the sun: and behold the tears of such as were oppressed, and they had no comforter; and on the side of their oppressors there was power; but they had no comforter. Wherefore I praised the dead which are already dead more than the living which are yet alive. Yea, better is he than both they, which hath not yet been, who hath not seen the evil work that is done under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 4:1-3)

Thankfully in Christ there is hope. Salomon here raises questions about evil which ultimately find their answer and complete satisfaction in the cross of Christ. During the next few weeks I would like to share with you my personal study on the problem of evil. We will discuss four topics: The reality of evil, the origin of evil, the purpose of evil and the future of evil. I approach this subject not as a philosopher or scientist but as a preacher. I unapologetically profess a Biblical Christian worldview. I believe Christianity explains everything including the problem of evil. I hope these posts will be helpful to you as you deal with this issue on a personal level or as you help others deal with this issue.