Dear Praying, Helping Friends:
We thank the Lord we received enough last month to give all our men a much needed Christmas bonus. They labor with uncommon dedication, but by design we do not give them high salaries, for this would put them too much above the level of the people they need to reach and make it more difficult for them to reach self-support. At the same time, we need to give them enough so that the wives do not need to work, but can stay at home, love their husbands and guide the children. As Paul told Titus: “Teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live and… train the younger women to love their husbands and be self-controlled…busy at home, kind and subject to their husbands.” It is God’s will that Christian wives help their husbands as much as possible in guiding, including home schooling, the children – although this duty is ultimately the responsibility of the fathers. As God said of Abraham (shortly before Isaac was born), “For I have chosen him to direct his children…to keep the way of the LORD…so that the LORD will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.” In this way, the children of our men can receive an education that is not only well above the academic level of state instruction, but enables the entire family to be a shining light for Christ in the spiritual darkness around them.
There is, in fact, so much that we can learn from studying the life of Abraham. As you know, our Hungarian men now have a course on Romans for people where Chapters 1-4 are basic for understanding salvation in Christ. When I first set up this course, I did not see the full importance of Chapter 4. This chapter not only teaches that faith is the only way to approach God for forgiveness and the righteousness He offers those who come to Him through His Son. It also reveals Abraham’s God-centered faith as the only kind of faith He blesses as opposed to all other kinds (human-centered kinds) of faith. Interestingly, as we saw more and more people in this course seem to understand Chapters 1-3 but completely stumble at Chapter 4, we realized that the key to understanding this entire section was to understand God’s way with Abraham and how Abraham’s responded to the light God revealed to him in the midst of the darkness about him. This then led us to add a special study on the life of Abraham at Chapter 4 to help people understand the nature of true faith. In other words, a unique plan of salvation for man requires a unique way to respond to it. (This is why J. Gresham Machen wrote What is Faith? in his day.)
So Chapter 4 of Romans, which seemed simpler than Chapter 3, is just as deep and, in fact, in terms of application, is pivotal to the entire Epistle. For true faith is how the saving work of Christ is appropri-ated – being the only way of knowing Christ as the messianic Son of David and the divine Son of God, whose person and work for sinners on Calvary are attested by His resurrection. So we added to Chapter 4 a major study of the life of Abraham, looking at how he responded to God’s truth revealed to him – first in worship, then in family matters, then with others, then in his work (and all activity), then with his possessions. It also became clear to us in this course that true faith, Abraham’s kind, is a pilgrim faith, the kind that “looks for a city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” (Heb. 11:10). So that “calling upon the name of the Lord” cannot be a flippant thing like asking Santa Claus for something for Christmas, but falling down at the feet of the Almighty and grasping Him who, when grasped, means to be Lord over all in us. So what started for us as a better tool to win the lost (Romans 1-4) has become a major factor in building our church. For no one can really serve Christ who does not know Him as He is – the risen Christ, the Lord of Glory, the coming King of Kings, the One we will adore for all eternity as described in Revelation 5:4-6. This insight then helps us understand Romans, Chapters 5-8 (second part of this course). God’s plan of salvation makes sense only when we realize that Christ is the Lord of Glory. And no one should presume to call Him savior who does not know Him as Lord.
Abraham’s pilgrimage is also a “commentary” on II Cor. 5. The first five verses of II Cor. 5 speak of living in an earthly tent yet having a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, which is what Hebrews 11:8-11 says of Abraham, the pilgrim who “looked for a city with foundations whose architect and builder is God.” Verses 6-10 speak of walking by faith – which is what Abraham did in Genesis Chapters 12-24. Verses 11-15 speak of “no longer living for themselves, but for him who died for them and was raised for them,” and this is what Abraham did when, time after time, he continued on the path God set out for him. Verses 16-21 then say: “All this is from God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation…and committed to us the message of reconciliation,” and this is what Abraham was in his day – an ambassador for Christ wherever he went. So the gospel of God’s grace is not just a great mission “tool” for ministers and missionaries. It is basic to the life and witness of “all who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our Father Abraham had.” (Rom. 4:12)
So Romans is a profound book that will lead to great blessing when true faith is understood. But to really appreciate this and teach it to others – ah, that is the thing! So many people struggle with this lordship issue. They tend to think of salvation in Christ mainly as forgiveness and a way to avoid hell. So we must show them that true faith requires them, like Abraham, to leave their self-centered “home” (life style) on earth and follow the Lord of Glory in pilgrimage. People are not naturally attracted to this “narrow way” and, indeed, cling to their spiritual darkness. But when God by His Spirit stirs a person’s heart and that person faces a serious grief, he tends to be open to this Romans course. In the last month, we had three women whose husbands were suddenly taken from them. Two committed suicide and one was killed in an auto accident. So this is what God does – send a grief, stir the heart, and give an offer via us to help him/her understand (from God’s Word) that there is still hope and meaning to life. Rank unbelief may exploit a Connecticut-like tragedy to blame God for not caring. But those who are directly impacted by it usually do not defiantly scream “Why?” In fact, they are more likely to be ready for some “good news” from the living God who offers them a new path in life – a God-centered one in Christ. But that window may quickly close if no one is there to tell them of the hope of the gospel. This is why it is imperative that not only our men are trained in this life-saving work, but our members as well.
Let me turn to other news of the work of our 16 men in Hungary, Romania and Ukraine. This past year was our best summer camp season ever. Our conferences too. This past New Year’s weekend, we had some great conferences for the youth in Hungary, Romania and Ukraine. Our future is with our youth, and God is doing a work with them. We are also thankful for a great year in distributing the 23 books we now have in Hungarian, including our latest, Sinclair Ferguson’s Grow in Grace. We also went through the first printing of Pink’s The Sovereignty of God, and are now into a second printing. Another big happening was a major renovation at our main property in Miskolc where our seminary and Hungary conference center are located. All three of our buildings had extensive repairs, and two had extensive renovation. And the Lord graciously gave us funds for this so we could do it without any borrowing, thanks to your giving and the giving of our churches. In addition to the school, this valuable property is being used throughout the year for our congregation in Miskolc, for all-Hungary conferences, for regional evangelistic meetings and, four days a week, to teach English to over 50 young people, using the Bible as the main book for learning to read English. This gives Rev. Imre Szoke an opportunity to present gospel messages to the students and come to know some of the parents in a much better way.
Keep praying for 1) Clara and me (wisdom and health) 2) our men and their work with people in this Romans course 3) a powerful moving by God’s Spirit in the hearts of many and 4) good continued financial support, without which we cannot do this work. Please also remember 5) our grandson, Eric Rapp in Illinois, who has been struggling two years with ulcerative colitis.
Yours in His faithfulness,
Bob and Clara Rapp.