When Jesus hung on the cross some two thousand years ago, he suffered one of the most brutal deaths devised by mankind. Hanging on a cross suffocates a person. The only way to breath is to push up using limbs nailed into the wood of the cross, which would be excruciatingly painful. There would be little talking, because of the lack of air and the pain of it all.
This is probably why Jesus spoke in short sentences while dying. Each thing he said was important to say. It was also succinct.
Of all the things he said, perhaps one of the most perplexing things is "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" What does this mean? Was there some cosmic rift in the Trinity? How does the Father forsake the Son, and remain a Trinity? These are difficult theological questions.
But perhaps it was not meant to be a theological statement. When we examine Scripture we find something very interesting in Psalm 22. Jesus was quoting Scripture - and not just any Scripture. He was quoting a passage that describes what he went through on the cross.
It meant his Father was not going to save him.
It meant he would find no rest.
Yet he praises his Father as Holy and worthy of Trust.
It meant he was despised by men.
It meant he was mocked by men
Yet he recognizes his Father's care for him.
He sees the trouble all around him, and knows there will be no rescue. He will be destroyed, poured out. His Father lays him in the dust of death.
It is a remarkable statement about his role in this pivotal moment of all human history.
He is the one who saves us, to give us rest, to the glory of God.
He suffered our scorn, that he might raise us up.
His death conquers death itself, giving us new life.
In one small statement on the cross, as he struggled to breath, let alone speak, Jesus Christ gives us the gospel. He calls to you and me. Come, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
He appeals again to the Lord to come to his aid.
He promises to proclaim the glory of God
He calls us to do the same.
Then he turns his thoughts to us. God has not despised our affliction. God hears. We become the congregation who praises God for his rescue. The ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and every family will worship the Lord!
The Lord receives the praise of kingship and the rule of all nations. Those who see it will proclaim the glory of the Lord to coming generations, and to those who have not yet been born. That's us! That's our Fathers and Mothers and our own children! We proclaim His righteousness to the coming generations.
He has done it!
This is a messianic gospel Psalm. It describes the sacrifice of Christ and the result of the sacrifice.
Descendant of Adam, you have inherited the sin of your fathers. You have sinned yourself. There is no rescue for you apart from the sacrifice of Christ. Each of us was without hope, headed only to the just judgement of a Holy God.
Jesus died on the cross to take that punishment for you and me. That was always his intent. He predicted it in His Holy Word, and as he was fulfilling this gospel prophecy, he quoted it so there would be no mistake.
He was forsaken, that we might live.
1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.
3 Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.
4 In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them.
5 To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.
6 But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
7 All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
8 "He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!"
9 Yet you are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother's breasts.
10 On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother's womb you have been my God.
11 Be not far from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help.
12 Many bulls encompass me; strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
13 they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion.
14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast;
15 my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.
16 For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet--
17 I can count all my bones-- they stare and gloat over me;
18 they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.
19 But you, O LORD, do not be far off! O you my help, come quickly to my aid!
20 Deliver my soul from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dog!
21 Save me from the mouth of the lion! You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen!
22 I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
23 You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him, and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
24 For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him.
25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will perform before those who fear him.
26 The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the LORD! May your hearts live forever!
27 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you.
28 For kingship belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations.
29 All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, even the one who could not keep himself alive.
30 Posterity shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation;
31 they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it.
(Psa 22:1-31 ESV)
A big part of church planting is fundraising. Unless you are part of a denomination that fully funds church planting, you will have to go out and raise money among God’s people. This is really a privilege more than a burden, because you can see the work of God in his people as you work to build His church.
Friend of Sinners is a church among the poor in Milwaukee, where racial divides are just beginning to heal. Many of the city’s poor and disenfranchised are not members of the dominant American culture. They go to jail more. They have less job opportunities. Their options are limited. But many of them love the Lord, and many more need to know Jesus. So the people of God must bring the gospel and must deliver mercy. How to do this confuses churches of the dominant culture who don’t understand or are apathetic to the needs of oppressed people in America.
It is normal for donors to ask: “Are you a church or a ministry?” Or, for instance, “Will your church be sustainable in three years?” (The reasonable time frame for a suburban church plant.) Yes, Friend of Sinners is a church plant. Yes, We do ministry because we are a church plant. As to the second question, no, Friend of Sinners will not be sustainable in three years. Friend of Sinners may never be financially sustainable outside of the resources God provides through the rest of His church. In fact, the gospel itself is not humanly sustainable. The gospel is first and foremost a message given to the poor. But if we cannot plant churches among the poor any longer because the poor are unable to sustain it, is it the good news of the gospel we preach? Who is responsible for the preaching of the gospel to the poor? Perhaps the church has lost track of the great commission Jesus gave it:
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshipped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Churches planted among the poor must do ministry to the poor also. Some argue (quite convincingly) that if the suburban church does not include the poor in its ranks, it has missed the message of the gospel. So the question, “Are you a church or are you a ministry?” is important.
Parachurch ministries today do a lot of things that appear church-like, but these ministries clearly are not churches. Yes, they feed the poor, clothe the poor, visit the prisoner, care for the sick and many other activities assigned to the church that are done in the name of Christ. But ministries typically do not baptize, serve communion, marry people or bury people. The work of a parachurch ministry must be to aid the church in fulfilling Christ’s call to the church to show mercy.
Parachurch organizations play a very important ecumenical role in our world today, where the church is fractured into various ecumenical denominations. Parachurch ministry becomes a uniting factor between people of different denominations, uniting not over issues of orthodoxy, but issues of orthopraxy. Parachurch ministries are usually run by some who are members of the invisible church. On the other hand, the church consists of all the elect of God who are under Christ. The church is His body. The church defies time and national barriers. The church is that body of Christ, outside of which there is no possibility of salvation.
The nature of the church
The true church is invisible, known only by God. But the church is made visible as local church bodies meet together in homes, or in buildings dedicated to the worship of the Trinity. Christ has given this visible expression of the church responsibility for ministry, preaching of the Word, the ordinances and sacraments of God and the gathering together and perfecting of all those who are part of the invisible church. It is by the power of Christ that this visible church is able to serve and nourish the invisible true church.
The church is difficult to spot, and among local visible expressions of the church, some are more and some are less pure. Some identify with one or another body of specific doctrines. Nevertheless, the core beliefs of the church always center on those the church has affirmed, as expressed in ancient documents like the Apostle’s Creed, or the Nicene Creed. Christ gives the church the responsibility and obligation to teach and embrace the gospel, to administer the ordinances, and to publically worship the Trinity.
Granted, even the purest of churches will have some mixture of truth and error, and some churches have degenerated so much that they are no longer churches at all, but antichrist (if they have fallen so far from the gospel that there is no faith in the work of Christ visible at all). As Christians (visible members of the invisible church), our primary loyalty must be to Jesus Christ, and not any denomination. Because of Christ, we can be sure that the church will always exist on the earth until the end of the age. This is because the head of the Church, visible and invisible, is the Lord Jesus Christ, and no other.
The interaction of church and parachurch
Parachurch ministries exercise and important and godly role in united those fragmented local and denominational church bodies into service for the kingdom, orthopraxy, that is done with a greater stewardship blend that individual denominations might find themselves unwilling to cooperate in directly from denomination to denomination. However, a parachurch ministry is not a church. It comes under the leadership of the church, according to Scripture.
Which helps answer the question, “Is Friend of Sinners a church or a ministry?”
The question itself is a false dichotomy. The church is always the umbrella over the ministry that is done by the church. There is no example in Scripture of ministry being done outside of church authority. In this sense, all ministry is church ministry when done in the name of Christ. In our time, where the visible church has been so fractured, God has given us parachurch ministries to allow us to labor in unity for the sake of the kingdom. There are even parachurch organizations that specialize in church planting, for example, Acts 29, or the New City Network. These parachurch organizations facilitate the planting of many churches of varied evangelical denominations for the sake of the Kingdom, though they are not churches themselves. Even my own denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America, has churches within it that have helped to plant churches of other denominations for the sake of the spread of the gospel and the Kingdom of God.
The invisible church is the sole body of Christ. It is mostly revealed by the visible church, with its duties and obligations described in Scripture. One of those duties is ministry, and loving participation with other local visible churches for the advancement of the kingdom. I have initiated such a church plant. Yes, it does ministry! Ministry is one of the duties of the visible church.
Unhealthy interaction between the church and parachurch ministry
There are times when a parachurch ministry evolves, and in the absence of theologically astute leadership begins to display the marks of a church incompletely. In these cases, the ministry is confronted with a decision: whether to become a local visible church or denomination, or return to a parachurch ministry, or secularize. If it returns to service of the church, this is a victory for the church. If not, it will largely cease to serve the greater invisible church. Examples might be the Christian and Missionary Alliance or the Salvation Army, each seen as or originally begun as a parachurch organization, but in the end becoming its own denomination. In doing so, each slows or stops its ministry to the church as a whole, and begins to function as its own visible expression of the invisible church, instead of supporting the visible church.
The reason I get the question “Are you a church or a ministry?” seems to come from this same confusion. People know I am planting a church among the poor in a cross-ethnic part of town. There are many ministries I rely on in order to fund and organize the work I do among the poor, or in order to participate in conversations about racism and reconciliation, or to reach out to the prisoner.
“So, are you doing mentoring and discipleship ministry or are you planting a church?” Yes.
“Are you feeding the poor, or are you planting a church?” Yes.
“Are you clothing the poor or are you planting a church?” Yes, yes, YES!
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
This is the earliest description of the church, and includes those marks of the church already mentioned above. This, in combination with the Great Commission, places the church at the forefront of ministry in the world today. This is the vehicle God has ordained for the advancement of His gospel.
Churches, Ministries and Fundraising
I become perplexed when donors ask whether I am starting a church or a ministry, although I think the motivation is good stewardship. But sometimes we confuse good business process with good church ministry. The gospel is not always about spending money efficiently – especially when the lives of the poor are in the balance. I had a wealthy church ask me the ministry-church question in an effort to determine whether to support my church plant. The church declined to support Friend of Sinners in part because “You look more like a ministry than a church.” Yet my church planting efforts are designed to rely on the knowledge that God has provided well-funded parachurch ministries in part so that church plants among the poor can be effective in ministry without having to develop novel, difficult to manage programs of their own.
On the other side, I just had a parachurch foundation refuse to support Friend of Sinners Church Plant because we’re a church not a ministry! It’s their policy. “We don’t think it is right to support a church plant.” The attitude reveals a profound misunderstanding of the purpose and preeminence of the invisible church on earth, as represented in the visible church, in the fulfillment of the Great Commission.
Here’s the bottom line: Christ has ordained that His Kingdom be spread through the church – His body. The moment a parachurch ministry departs from that, they have turned from following the expressed will of Jesus in building that Kingdom, and turned instead to building their own Kingdom. Once that happens, the parachurch ministry must either legitimize itself by becoming its own denomination, as was the case with the Salvation Army and the Christian and Missionary Alliance, or it will eventually secularize as has the Boy Scouts, the YMCA and YWCA, and a myriad of other now-secular, once-Christian charities that have fallen away from the church.
Leaders of Christian foundations and parachurch ministries must regularly ask themselves four blunt questions:
At some point the church of Jesus Christ is going to have to figure out how to plant churches among the American poor. The United States is now the fourth largest mission field in the world. We must reach our cities. We must do so passionately and with resolve and resources. Jesus came to bring the gospel to the poor. So must we.
Meanwhile, Bart Helmbreck (below) and wife Kim stand next to Joe and Magugu Davis at Bart's ordination. Alderman Joe Davis represents District 2 in Milwaukee. He is running for Mayor. As Bart and Kim continue on their path of establishing the Ezekiel 37 music and worship ministry to which God has called them. What an honor to have a significant, leading Milwaukee official and his wife honor their efforts for the gospel in Milwaukee. Bart has played a significant role in both the Pub Evangelism and Picnic in the Park outreaches of the Friend of Sinners church plant. Please pray for Bart and Kim as they continue in their call, and in their efforts in helping to plant Friend of Sinners Church. City church plants require many partnerships, and Friend of Sinners has been very blessed in this regard! Praise God.
Rev. Thurmon Williams speaks at LDR Weekend in St Louis, where Dan attended with his Dad and Rob Honey from Milwaukee. The conference focused on the idea of Orthodox Activism, looking carefully at Scripture.
Below, conference worship at Covenant Seminary. Also, Dan with Frank, Glenn, Rob and Richard of the Captive Project at the coffee shop.
A report from F.E.A.S.T. (Feeding Everybody At the Same Time) where we were able to provide physical and spiritual nourishment for people.
Dan also talks about our need for financial support from you!
I just finished listening to a message from Nation of Islam lead representative Minister Louis Farrakhan. In his message, Minister Farrakhan preached a message of good works, and he wants to unite Judaism, Christianity and Islam as the three faiths of Abraham. But it's a faith of works. Get yourself clean. No grace, just a kind of mercy.
Now, I believe in the law. I delight in the law of God. The law of God is a wonderful thing. So wonderful, I want the law of God to be fulfilled in every way. The problem with minister Farrakhan’s approach is that his message denigrates the law. Allah is not a God who fulfills the righteous requirements of the law – that when the law is broken, sufficient punishment must be applied to pay the penalty for it. Neither Islam for the Koran provides any atonement for the sin of a believer. Clearly the sin of the unbeliever falls on the unbeliever, but the sin of the believer in Islam is simply overlooked. The law in this sense is abolished for that person.
Minister Farrakhan wants to spread the idea that Jesus was a correction to Judaism, and that Islam, in like manner, is a correction to Christianity. He wants to affirm Christ, but not the Christ I know.
So allow me to correct Farrakhan with the words of Jesus:
The bottom line is that the law cannot be fulfilled by just forgetting about past sin. Any god, including the Muslim Allah, who shows mercy to sinners by simply forgetting about their sin without any punishment has not fulfilled the law of the True God, but has abolished the law for those people and their lawless past. There is no atonement, and further, it is sin for that god to overlook the breaking of the law. Such a god cannot be considered holy. This kind of god has simply mired himself in the sin of the world by overlooking it.
But Christ came as our substitutionary atonement. He comes to unite us AND to fulfill the law by paying the price in our place. His death on the cross for us is the fulfillment of the law on our behalf, and he is certainly our righteousness.
I warn my Christian brothers and sisters: Do not fall prey to the false prophet Farrakhan, who wishes to draw you away from the one true God by his unholy Islamic doctrine that abolishes the law of God, rather than fulfilling the Law in the substitutionary atonement of Christ. Minister Farrakhan rejects Jesus as the co-eternal and co-equal second person of the one true triune God, co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and the Spirit. He only sees Jesus as a prophet.
Do not be deceived. If you follow Nation of Islam, you are walking away from the grace of God.
Our target for a first service at Friend of Sinners Church has always been at the end of 2016. The strategy is one that recognizes the importance of cross cultural ministry, of enculturating into the community first, and then when there is trust and acceptance begin to strategize services. We were giving away Bibles, and promoting Friend of Sinners Church with new friends. Dan was playing dominoes with Deon, a friend from last week, when the request started circulating among those enjoying the picnic: "When is the pastor going to preach - we'll come back to hear him then."
Dan had not prepared a sermon, but Scripture teaches us to be ready in season and out of season. We were giving away reader's Bibles (NIrV), Dan did not have the Bible he uses to preach from, but he knows Romans Road by heart. So, with FoS Pub Evangelist Bart Helmbreck on the guitar, and with Kim singing, and with song sheets from Bart's car, a service was born at 1:00 Saturday afternoon in Carver Park with 12-15 people in attendance. Many asked if services would continue next week at 1 pm, and promised to be back.
Praise God for His grace and power to do much more than we could ask!
What does it take to prepare a picnic in Carver Park? Grilling 96 brats, a dozen hotdogs, potato salad, chicken salad, treats, toys... A slight glimpse behind the scenes in this YOUTUBE VIDEO.
Left, Bart warms up for the service, (though he doesn't quite know yet that it will happen).The service went well, considering it was planned on the fly. (Please ignore Dan's singing on the YOUTUBE VIDEO!) Bart was such a blessing, and we were surprised that "Romans Road" (the passages Dan had already decided to preach on) were written on the back of the song sheets that Bart happened to have with him. God is so majestic in his sovereignty! He is moving so mightily in Milwaukee, and our prayer partners are a key support element in this work of God. Thank you so much!
Over the last year, Dan has had the privilege of going to Birmingham, AL for a very special time of instruction, encouragement and fellowship with eight other Church Planters from around North America. These men have become good friends and trusted confidants. Thank you for praying, as Dan has been able to build strong, supportive friendships in this group of Great Commission warriors for church planting!
Picnics in the Park are turning out to be a wonderful experience. The Lord has brought many people to be fed and to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Some folks just come to eat the food. Typically they comment about how nice it is for us to be there.
Others come to eat and their hearts are ready to hear. They stood and talked while eating. Eventually some sat down and stayed for an hour or more. We were able to listen to their stories and share the love of Christ and His grace with them. We prayed with some regarding their families, their struggles, drug addictions, jobs, and for the unity of all believers.
Some folks are very receptive, and some even gave us their contact information. We praise God for all the adults, children, moms, dads, grandmas, and babies that we have met so far and we are praying that the Holy Spirit will draw them back next Saturday.