In Matthew 16:18, Jesus says, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Emphasis added).  This marks the first time the word church is used to describe the followers of Christ, and I find it interesting that Jesus contrasts it with the “gates of hell.”   The Church verses the gates of hell.  So what is Jesus trying to convey when he compares the Church against the gates of hell?

To begin, let’s start with what a gate is.  In first century Palestine (the context in which Jesus speaks) gates were very common.  Cities and homes were enclosed by walls for protection and gates would allow people to enter and leave.  You can see this in Luke 7:12 when it says, “As he drew near to the gate of the town…”  In this passage, the town Jesus was about to enter was Nain.  For Jesus to enter the town to preach the Kingdom of God to the people, he had to enter by the gate.  We see this again in Matthew 7:13 when Jesus says, “Enter by the narrow gate.”  A gate was a point of entry and exit.

The gate of a city was the weakest part of the wall due to its purpose of being opened.  Therefore, it was substantially important for a town to have a strong gate, one that could withstand a great blow from their attackers and prevent entry.  Many of you are familiar with the medieval picture of a battering ram.  A battering ram was a large object that was able to produce a great force that would burst open a gate so that the army could lay siege to the city.  So what does Jesus mean when he speaks of the gates of hell?   

First, I think we need to understand that Jesus is not talking about Hell as a physical location, like Chicago.  Jesus is talking about Hell in the sense of its power, hence “gates of hell.”  The gates of hell are symbolic of the power of hell.

Second, I think we need to understand who are the citizens of this town who are being separated by the power of Hell?  If we look at verse 13, Jesus begins the conversation with the question, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”  (Emphasis added).  Therefore, I believe the citizens separated by the power of hell are people in general.  The Bible, commonly, refers to these citizens as “the world.”  These people are being held captive by the power of hell.  

I think we see this in other passages such as 2 Corinthians 4:4, which says, “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”  Satan is the ruler of this world.  He has enslaved all of humanity (the world) in his domain of darkness.  He has shut up mankind behind the gates of hell.  And this is what Jesus contrasts the Church against in Matthew 16.  

In contrast to the people of the world, the Church is an assembly of God’s chosen people, called out of the world to trust and follow Jesus their Savior King.  The Church is an army of fellow soldiers serving Jesus Christ.  And Jesus has given his people the means to make entry into the great city of Babylon (the world) to free those who live under the power of Satan.  In verse 16 Peter answers the question of who Christ is by saying, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  To this answer Jesus says, “On this rock I will build my church.” (Emphasis added).  The “this” is not Peter, it is the revelation of who Christ truly is.  Believing in the truth of Jesus Christ, his life, death, and resurrection is the key that unlocks the gates and frees those living behind the gates of hell.

And as Jesus says, “the gates of hell shall not prevail.”  This means that the Church is not defensive, it is offensive.  The Church is moving forward as soldiers advancing into the fallen world and expanding the kingdom of God.  The Church is to be a battering ram bursting down the gates of hell and sieging this world for our King.  

Currently in India, there are over 1.3 billion people.  It is reported that only three percent are followers of Jesus.  From the outside, it appears the gates of hell that surround this nation are strongly fortified, even appearing indestructible, but that is not how Jesus sees it.  He has declared that he, not Satan, will claim final victory over the nation of India.  And it is our commission to use the keys of the gospel to break down the gates of hell and free the captives.  So join us as we partner together as soldiers of Christ to lay siege upon India with the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ.  You can do this by praying, giving, or going.  Check out our website for more information.    

“All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you.  For kingship belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations.”  (Psalm 22:27-28).

Paul, as an Apostle of Christ, was instrumental in establishing the early Church. He did this by the grace of God and instruction of the Holy Spirit. One of my favorite verses is found in 1 Corinthians 15:10, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.”

Despite Paul’s God given grace and work ethic, Paul was still a man. He was limited by space and time. He was limited. He needed help, and help he had. Paul was almost always in a group. Very rarely do we see Paul alone in ministry. Some of the men that were a part of Paul’s ministry were Timothy, Luke, Mark, Barnabas, Silas, and Titus. However, even this group was limited. As the gospel spread through Judea, Samaria, and the Ends of the Earth, this band of brothers just wasn’t enough. Similar to Paul, they couldn’t be everywhere at all times. So what was the solution? Pastors.

“This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you—”Titus 1:5

The Apostle Paul commissions Titus to appoint elders. Elder is just another name for Pastor. For the early Church, Pastors were crucial in the expansion of the Kingdom both in depth and in breadth. Over the years, nothing has changed. It is still God’s desire to have Elders in every town, including the towns in India.

This is one of the goals of Epaphroditus and Grace Christian Ministry (GCM), to have Pastors in every town in the nation of India. Having said that, this is easier said than done, for a Pastor is more than a warm body, despite what you might see in American pulpits today. Titus 1:9 tells us that a Pastor “must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.”.

Pastors must be trained up to know and to teach sound Biblical doctrine, and this is one of the primary focuses of GCM, to train up Pastors to instruct and rebuke. GCM achieves this is two primary ways, a Bible College and Learning Centers. It has been GCM’s past practice to not charge a tuition for their college or their classes so as not to put an obstacle in the way of men who feel lead to become a pastor.

And this is where you come in. Epaphroditus exists to act as a messenger between GCM and the Church in America. It is our purpose to present needs that exist on the front lines of gospel ministry in the nation of India, and then allow God to move in hearts as He wills. One of the primary needs in India is financial support for training up Pastors. It takes only $30/month to support one Bible college student. If God is calling you to support this endeavor, please partner with us to provide an elder in every town in the nation of India.

Today qualified as a “Whistle Stop Tour” of four churches here in Kerala. We were able to see their buildings (most often a home or rented building), meet the Pastor and his family, and a small number of each congregation. Due to the time of day, many of the believers of the churches were working. It is such a humbling experience to visit these churches. It really changes your perspective and your heart.

Continue reading “The Church Among the Rubber Trees”

For the past few days I have been doing a lot of thinking about covenant commitment. What is it? How does that play out in our life? We see in scripture that God made a covenant with Abraham. We see the covenant commitment played out throughout the entire bible. Our God is committed to the covenant he has set in place.  So is it possible for us to do the same? I believe that answer has to be a definitive yes!

Continue reading “Covenant Commitment”

“Then he said to the disciples, the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into the harvest.” – Matthew 9:37-38

We have been back from India for almost a week. The multitude of sight and smells are still resonating in our minds, and many special moments live on in our hearts! It was amazing to see how God used each person on the mission team in unique and wonderful ways. No one person was more important than another. During the trip we saw the needs: the need for prayer, and the need for financial support.

I often wonder why God placed me where I am at this particular time. Has that question ever crossed your mind?  Why did he place me in the United States?  I often feel guilty and find myself asking the question, “Why am I so materially blessed and others around the world less fortunate?”

Continue reading “The Harvest Is Plentiful”

I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving. – Psalm 69:30

It has been a few days since setting foot on U.S. soil again after being gone to India for more than a week. My mind and body seem to be adjusting back to normal sleeping patterns. I say this at 2 a.m. while writing this blog post, so maybe I’m not doing as well as I had thought. In anycase, I feel good and came back encouraged.

That said, it seems I have developed some sort of twitch while away. At any point in time, my hand will start patting my leg. Or, in some cases, my hands feel the need to clap in familiar rhythm. The singing and songs of our time in India has left its musical footprint on my mind and it sounds a lot like this:

Continue reading “Simply Sing His Praises”

Yesterday, Babu took us to four different churches. One church was on the third floor of a commercial building and it is smaller than my office at work. In fact, I am guessing many of you have bathrooms larger. Babu said that twenty people meet every week in that small room to worship Jesus Christ. I had the honor of baptizing two of them last Sunday.

The next church was on the side of a hill, in the middle of the forest. It was one of the five Churches that they own the land and the building. Along the hills were houses. Many of the residents are Hindus, however God is on the move and every year more people are accepting Jesus Christ.

The third Church was an abandoned building in the middle of a rubber field. There were holes in the roof and it did not look safe at all. We sat inside in the dark, due to no electricity, and heard the loudest singing of our trip. We asked them about their struggles and how we could be praying for them as individuals and they responded that they do not need anything for they have so much joy in their heart for Jesus.

The last Church we visited was a rented space from another pastor not associated with GCM. It was comparable to a wine cellar. There was one light that hung from the center and it appeared that a car battery was used to light it. Bugs were everywhere and we saw a spider on the wall the size of my hand. But once again, it was a place that glorified God.

It continues to amaze me. God is moving in this nation. For those who are too busy to pay attention, it may not seem like it, for the Church in India is so small and so poor, but make no mistake Jesus is building His Church. The Kingdom of God is not of this world. It moves by the power of God’s Word and the power of God’s Spirit. And it moves from heart to heart.

“[O]n this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Matthew 16:18

Yesterday, we visited two churches. One church meets on the second floor of a three story business building. They rent the space. Justin preached on having faith in God.

The other Church we visited was in the midst of a rock quarry. The church building was right on top of a large piece of black Indian granite. It was a one room building that was 20′ by 50′. The building was comparable to an abandoned garage in America. Having said that, GCM is very thankful to have it. This is one of five churches where they own the building and the land underneath. For the other thirty churches they are renting space, or meeting in homes.

The cost to purchase land and build a one room church building is $20,000. Due to a majority of the parishioners being poor, the likelihood of this happening is very slim; however, with God all things are possible.

The people do not seem to be affected by the poor conditions (or lack there of) of their church buildings. The outside of the Church may not be beautiful, but when the inside is filled with the praises of God, it melts your heart. Why? It is because their faith is founded the Rock of Jesus Christ, not on things of this world. Their joy is not found in how nice their buildings look, or how comfortable their chairs are (many churches have no chairs). Their joy comes from knowing the steadfast love of the Lord.

At our first church visit, Freddie preached on being chosen by God before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). It is a powerful reality to know that God has loved you before there was a you. God tells us that He has loved you forever. After Freddie’s message, a man named Lubies (our driver), approached Javan and said, “Good sermon. Tears.” He then made a motion with his hands of tears coming down his face.

I would exchange the greatest Church building in America, for a church full of people with hearts like Lubies.

“The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” (Psalm 18:2 ESV)

Today we had a wonderful day of worship. We started at 10:00 a.m. and ended at 2:00 p.m. No one left early to catch the football game. In fact it seemed the longer we worshipped the more powerful it got.

Probably the most stricking thing of the morning was the baptism. It was emotional. It was hard to keep the tears back watching people confess their belief in the Lord. After the baptism the girls wore dresses that resembled wedding dresses. We have a picture up on the “Pictures” page.

It is a great reminder that when we come into the Church through the blood of Jesus we become his loving bride. We wait for bridegroom to return so that we can be with Him.

Come Lord Jesus, come!

Today was the last full day of the GCM convention. It was full of people rejoicing in the Lord. We spent the morning with the orphans. They sang songs, recited memory versus and even preached. It was a blessing to be a part of it. We handed out some of the school supplies to the kids and made paper hearts with them. There were a lot of smiles on their faces. We also got to participate in graduation, which was a honor. I think Javan in his post spoke a little about this. So I won’t write more about it.

Tonight I preached to about 400 people about Christ being the King of Kings. At the end of the night they asked people to come to the front and commit or recommit their lives to the Sovereign King. Once again, we were told that this is illegal, but they chose to do it anyway. About 8 people came forward. So praise the Lord. I pray that their were more in the crowd that drew closer to their King and surrender their life to Him.

I also spent some time telling everyone about New Life Church and the encouragement we have received from everyone back home. Everyone was very excited to hear that God is working simultaneously in India and in the United States during the GCM convention.

It shouldn’t surprise us, but it is always amazing to see people rally around the gospel of Jesus Christ and the movement of the Holy Spirit in their lives.