The Legacy of Saint Patrick

The legend of Saint Patrick is almost mythical, but he was actually a real man who lived 1558 years ago. The story of Patrick is fascinating, but the legacy he left behind was also amazing.  His legacy is not parades, shamrocks, and beer. His legacy is bigger than that!

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Patrick’s legacy is Christ! Being “in Christ” and proclaiming Christ was by far his greatest legacy. Christ changed him. Christ saved the Irish. Christ changed a nation. Christ built his church. Patrick opened of his Confession by saying,

“My name is Patrick, I am a sinner, a simple country person, and the least of all believers. I am looked down upon by many.” (Confession, 1)

Like the apostle Paul, Patrick’s humility (Eph. 3:8; 1 Cor. 15:9), was less of him and more of Christ,

“For [Christ] I perform the work of an ambassador, despite my less than noble condition. However, God is not influenced by such personal situations, and he chose me for this task so that I would be one servant of his very least important servants.” (56)

Patrick was a simple and humble slave of Christ. Patrick was no longer a slave to the Irish; he had a new Master. It was because of this grace that he first tasted as a slave in Ireland that he could not be silent,

“God came along and with his power and compassion reached down and pulled me out, raised me up, and placed me on top of a wall. Because of this I must proclaim my good news…I must pay God back in some way for all that he has done for me here on earth and what he will do in eternity.” (13)

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Patrick knew nothing about the Americas, so when he looked across the Atlantic he believed that Jesus’ command to go into all the world had been carried out. He thought Ireland was the “ends of the earth.” (38)

Patrick’s passion was to spread the fame of Jesus’ name (40),

“I can say: Who am I, Lord, or what is my calling, that you have worked with me with such divine presence? This is how I come to praise and magnify your name among the nations all the time, wherever I am, not only in good times but in the difficult times too.” (34)

He was willing to spend his life for the sake of Christ (36-39, 53, 58-59). This was heart and soul of his Confession,

“If I be worthy, I am ready even to give up my life most willingly here and now for his name. It is there that I wish to spend my life until I die, if the Lord should grant it to me.” (37)

William Carey, the English missionary to India, was influenced by Patrick. He said, “Surely it is worthwhile to lay ourselves out with all our might in promoting the cause and kingdom of Christ.”

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History tells us prior to Patrick, the Irish worshiped the sun (and mountains and rivers), which was almost universal in early times. People naturally worship creation rather than the Creator. Patrick tells us the Irish worshiped, “idols and unclean things.” (41)

Irish Druids were known to sacrifice their first born sons to please their gods. They worshiped trees, wells and pillar stones which are so common throughout the country. Later Christian missionaries carved crosses on the pillar stones in order to draw away people from superstition and turn their attention to the Gospel of Christ.

Many of Patrick’s British friends were offended and angered that he would spend priority time with pagans, sinners, and barbarians (46-48). They thought since the Irish were illiterate brutes that they were out of reach of the gospel.

Does this sound familiar? It sounds a lot like the Pharisees who called Jesus a “friend of tax collectors and sinners,” and who said of Himself, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17). Patrick was just following in his Master’s footsteps! His Confession was a defense of his mission to pagans and resembles Romans 10:12-14,

“For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”

Little did Patrick’ murmuring friends know that within a 100 years Ireland would become a reservoir of knowledge and faith, he instilled a sense of literacy and learning that some historians would say “The Irish saved civilization.” The Irish guarded for centuries manuscripts and records on Western civilization that on their island were untouched by the wars and plagues.

Although Patrick loved pagan’s he boldly spoke out against their evil practices. There is a famous saying, “Patrick was a gentleman, who through strategy and stealth. Drove all the snakes from Ireland.” While there is no fossil record of snakes ever existing in Ireland it can be safely said that these snakes weren’t snakes, but pagan teachers.

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After being threatened of an ambush by the Irish King of Tara. It is said that Patrick sang this prayer of protection,

“Christ, be with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ where I lie, Christ where I sit, Christ where I arise, Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me. Salvation is of the Christ.”

The Druids didn’t care much for Patrick (52). He faced from them many threats, assassination attempts and betrayal. His response to these threats was,

“I fear none of these things, because of the promises of heaven. I have cast myself into the hands of almighty God, who is the ruler of all places.” (55)

He appeared like a bare-footed child walking in a minefield on D-day. It reminds me of Nate Saint and his colleagues who died at the hands of the Auca Indians in Ecuador, Nate Saint said, “I would rather die now than to live a life of obvious ease in so sick a world.”

You can see the love that Patrick had for the Irish in what he wrote to King Coroticus, a Welsh man who raided Ireland. In the letter, Patrick encouraged church leaders in Britain to shun the king and his bandits who killed Christians and stole Christian woman. Patrick’s grief over his lost loved ones is still felt 1500 years later,

“My newly baptized converts, still in their white robes, the sweet smell of the anointing oil still on their foreheads—you murdered them, cut them down with your swords! . . . With tears and sorrow I will mourn for you, my beautiful, beloved family and children—from the countless number born into Christ through me . . . Don’t they know that the same God is father of us all? No, they hate you—they hate us—because we are Irish.”

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As you read through Patrick’s Confession you see his love for prayer and hearing from God. To Patrick, God was a friend, Father, mentor, and Master. Prayer was his source of power for ministry and his armor against spiritual attack. Prayer for Patrick was birthed in the soil of difficulty and need. His prayer life launched he he was a teenager and slave,

“After I arrived in Ireland, I tended sheep every day, and I prayed frequently during the day. More and more the love of God increased, and my sense of awe before God. Faith grew, and my spirit was moved, so that in one day I would pray up to one hundred times, and at night perhaps the same. I even remained in the woods and on the mountain, and I would rise to pray before dawn in snow and ice and rain. I never felt the worse for it, and I never felt lazy – as I realise now, the spirit was burning in me at that time.” (16)

May the story and legacy of Patrick inspire you today 1558 years beyond his life. May we mimic his humble life and his Christ!

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Slemish Mountain, supposedly where Patrick was a slave and began to pray.
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The Story of Saint Patrick

There are many myths about Saint Patrick. What I gleaned about the real Patrick, I did from his two writings: Confession (which I will quote from a lot) and Letter to the Soldier’s of Coroticus. I also recommend a church history book by Michael Haykin.

Birth

Patrick was born around AD 390. He grew up in a rural coastal village near what is today Wales, England. He lived under Roman rule, but by this time the empire was shrinking and crumbling.

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A 4th Century Irish homestead.

Teen Years

Patrick’s grandfather was a pastor and his father was a deacon. His family members were devote Christians and he learned the Scripture from a young age. However, as Patrick put it, he wasn’t serious about his family’s faith nor their teaching, rather he lived on the wild side (as a stereotypical pastor’s kid). He would be considered a practical atheist living as if God did not exist.

Do you have a pastor or church leader as a close relative? While this is a wonderful blessing a Christian family doesn’t guarantee you will be a Christian yourself. A young person must follow in the footsteps of Jesus and have faith in him alone, not just that of his family.

Slavery and Salvation

Historically, Rome never conquered Ireland. As Roman soldiers began pulling out of England there were more organized attacks by the Irish. On one occasion Patrick’s village was attacked. He said,

“I was about sixteen at the time. At that time, I did not know the true God. I was taken into captivity in Ireland, along with thousands of others. We deserved this, because we had gone away from God, and did not keep his commandments. We would not listen to our priests, who advised us about how we could be saved. The Lord brought his strong anger upon us, and scattered us among many nations even to the ends of the earth. It was among foreigners that it was seen how little I was.” (1)

In fact, Patrick became a Christian during his captivity in Ireland,

“It was there that the Lord opened up my awareness of my lack of faith. Even though it came about late, I recognized my failings. So I turned with all my heart to the Lord my God, and he looked down on my lowliness and had mercy on my youthful ignorance. He guarded me before I knew him, and before I came to wisdom and could distinguish between good and evil. He protected me and consoled me as a father does for his son.” (2)

After six difficult and dangerous years as a slave (35), Patrick, escaped Ireland by walking 200 miles to the coast and found a boat to England (16-22). The journey itself was his intro to missions. Overall, God used his time in Ireland for good. He said,

“That is why I cannot be silent – nor would it be good to do so – about such great blessings and such a gift that the Lord so kindly bestowed in the land of my captivity. This is how we can repay such blessings, when our lives change and we come to know God, to praise and bear witness to his great wonders before every nation under heaven.” (3)

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Calling and Training

After Patrick returned to England and reunited with his family he said,

“Again with my parents in Britain. They welcomed me as a son, and they pleaded with me that, after all the many tribulations I had undergone, I should never leave them again.” (23)

Isn’t that sweet!?

Patrick stayed for a while in England (and possibly in France) to study the Scriptures. This time made a huge impact on him and his love for the Bible. His writings are saturated with quotes from the Bible. He did cite parts of a creed, which may have been used in his home church in Britain. The creed shows the influence of the Nicene Creed from AD 381.

Although, Patrick was a contemporary of Jerome who wrote the Vulgate (Latin Bible) and Augustine, you don’t see them referenced in Patrick’s writings. They lived far from each other and their educations were very different. Patrick by his own admission said he had a meager education (9-13), yet this likely helped him relate to the Irish who looked down on the high-minded Celts and Gauls of Europe. Yet God uses both educated and uneducated in his service!

Ordained as a pastor, Patrick, shepherded in Britain for many years. At the age of 48 (the average life span was 35), when he should be cashing in on his retirement, he instead had a dream. In the dream a group of Irish called him to return and share the good news (23). Echoing Paul’s call to Macedonia (Acts 16:9), he believed the dream was from God. He was appointed bishop to Ireland by his church and was sent out as a missionary. This is when took on a common Irish name Patricius or Patrick.

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Return and Mission

Patrick returned to the place of his pain with the message of joy—place where he was once a slave he now brought good news of true freedom. In those days there were not many Christians in Ireland. It would have been considered unreached and unwanting (34). Palladius, the first known missionary to Ireland failed and went home discouraged after only a few years.

Patrick understood the Irish. He had lived with them before for six years. He already knew their culture and language. And he loved for them. When the people know that you understand them and love them, they infer that maybe God understands and loves them too. Patrick wasn’t about making civilized Roman Christians, he aimed to see a people and a culture transformed by Christ. He traveled all over the island staying mostly in the northern half. He preached boldly against paganism and got arrested many times by the Irish for stirring up the people against their customs.

Once Patrick stepped foot in Ireland he never returned home to England (43). He spent nearly 30 years in Ireland. He planted around 300 churches, established various Bible schools, and baptized “countless number” into the Church (est. 120,000). He led both kings and peasants to faith in Christ. He never cashed in on that retirement. He died in Ireland around March 17, 461 AD.

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A stone marking a spot near Patrick’s burial place.

The Celtic Church that Patrick helped to advance and establish became for 600 years one of the most evangelistic and mission-minded movements in all of Europe before it was absorbed into the Roman Catholic Church in 1100 AD. The churches Patrick planted believed in salvation by faith through grace. Celibacy was not forced or a requirement. Women were a vital part of ministry. The Bible was intensely emphasized, studied and memorized. Missions was a high priority.

Now that’s a legacy!  And I will share more about Patrick’s legacy in my next post.

Before you open your mouth

If you could ask God for anything right now, what would you ask? If you had one prayer to pray, what would you pray? Here is a request for prayer that hit me hard this week,

“Pray for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.” – Ephesians 6:19-20

These are not my words. These words are from the apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus (6:19-20). He said them following his teaching on spiritual warfare. The apostle gave more time and space to talk about prayer than any other weapon. He gives us three powerful truths to think about before opening your mouth.

Pray for opportunities to proclaim the gospel (Ephesians 6:19a).

Everyday you proclaim many things. You talk about the news or weather, the football match from the night before, how your work or health is going, how you are having trouble with your neighbors, or how the preacher went really long on Sunday at church.

On average women say 20,000 words a day and men 7,000 words a day. That’s a lot of words! No, this is not a message encouraging women to speak less and men to speak more. Rather it is to encourage you to consider the opportunities you have each day to speak. Isn’t it important to pause and pray. Pray that God would give you a good word.

What should we pray? Paul says pray for opportunities to proclaim the good news. In other letters he says to pray for open doors for the good news. Pray for readiness and a response for the hope that is in you.

I’d like to say that before I visit my neighbors house I pray. Or before I chat with a group of men at the market I pray. Or before work with others I pray. Sometimes I neglect to pray.

There is a story in Acts 4:24-31 when Peter and John healed a blind the beggar in Jesus name. It caused a lot of attention and they were invited to speak before the the leaders. After they were released they gathered with believers and told them what happened. They asked them pray. Here is what they prayed,

“Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, “‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’—for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.” – Acts 4:24-31

It is interesting how the believers start that prayer by appealing to the sovereignty of the Lord. They quote David speaking about how the nations gather together against the Lord, and how Herod and Pontius Pilot conspired against the Lord, but at the end of the day God is in control. When there is resistance to the name of Christ, a recognition of the sovereignty of God and His plan is of utmost importance.

Prayer isn’t passive, it’s active. Prayer is really doing something. Prayer isn’t the least you can do, it’s the most. Prayer is never secondary, it’s always primary. It’s not the last thing you do when there is no other option; it’s the first and best thing to do. If there is no prayer, there is no power. Prayer is trusting God that He can accomplish more when you are on your knees than you can accomplish on your feet.

Prayer warriors with no real grasp of what the gospel is all about, may be spirited, but they are no more useful on the field than a soldier without weapons. That leads us to the second truth before opening your mouth.

Proclaim the Gospel (6:19b).

What is the gospel?  The gospel is good news. There are many things that are good. A house that doesn’t leak when it rains is good. Fried chicken is good. A faithful friend is good. Marriage is good. Healthy children are good.

What is the good news? Before we zero in on what the good news is let’s begin by talking about what the good news is not.

The good news is not about having a good character. Some people think a Christian is someone who don’t drink, smoke or chew or go with girls that do. Yes, it is true Christians are different. Christians aren’t to be like the world. They are to be more like Christ. On the other hand, some Christians only talk about the good they do. They brag about how much they pray, go to church, or even fast. Being good is good, but it is not the good news.

The good news is not talking good about God or religious things. Maybe when talking with friend or stranger you bless them in God’s name. They think you are religious because you have religious talk. That is good, but it ’s not the good news.

The good news is not doing good things for God or people. I work with an organization that does good things everyday to help poor and needy people. Other like-minded organizations fight hard for social issues and justice. Christians all over the world have done good—building hospitals, building wells, and freeing slaves. These are good things, but this is not the gospel.

These are all good things. We should be good people, who say good things and do good things, but that is not the good news. There are a lot of people who do and say good things, but ‘good’ people go to hell too.

The Scripture talks a lot about good news. What is the good news and why is it so good? In order for there to be good news there has to be bad news. Do you want to hear the good news or bad news first? Good. Let’s hear the good news first.

The good news first starts with God. God is good. He is more than good. He is great. He is holy. He is wise. He is unlike no other. He is powerful. He created the world by his word. He created it good. He created man from the dust and breathed life into his. He created man very good. He cares for his creation. That is really good news. Could you imagine what this life would be like if God wasn’t like God. Not good.

That leads us to the bad news. Yes, there is bad news. When God created man he gave them one rule. One. What was that rule? Do not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Did man listen? No. What happened? Man did not listen. When God came to the garden. Man hid. Why did he hide? He was ashamed. Can anyone hide from God? No. Who did God call first? Adam. Why Adam? God created Adam first. Adam was made responsible. When asked if he ate the fruit how did Adam respond? He said, “The woman made ma eat it.” Is that true? Yes and No. Yes, Adam ate, BUT he was there when she ate too and he did nothing. Not good. When God asked Eve if she ate the fruit what did she say? She said the serpent made her eat it. Both Adam and Eve took no responsibility for their disobedience. Therefore, they were cursed. They were created eternal beings, but they would now die. All their children and children’s children would inherit their desire to sin. Not good. The bad news is that no one is born good.

Thankfully there is even better news. God did not start over. He didn’t leave his plan or forget man. He did not utterly wipe humans from the face of the earth. Before creation he had a plan to send a redeemer—a Savior. He himself came to earth. Jesus was his name. God with skin on. We celebrated this on Christmas. Jesus lived the only sinless life. He became the only sacrifice for mankind sin.  The really good news is that Jesus saves people born bad.

Why is the gospel so important and good? Without it bad news remains. You remain dead in sin. Yet there is no hope for you. The good news. Do you believe it? Only the gospel has power to make something dead become alive. Those that repent of their sin and believe on Jesus will inherit eternal life.  That is good news! It is the greatest news on earth! Do you believe it? Then will you proclaim it? That brings me to the third and final truth before opening your mouth.

Proclaim the gospel boldly without excuse (6:19-20).

Why did Paul ask for prayer for assurance or courage? Did he fear man. Yes. He was human. Fear is a real thing for everyone. Even apostles.

Did you know there are some Muslims who are coming to faith in Christ? It is truth. It is exciting. Right now there are a small group of men who are reading the Bible from Genesis to Jesus. God is giving them faith to believe. One of those men recently came to faith in Christ two months ago. His name is Mark. He grew up the firstborn son in a strict Muslim family. His teacher at secondary school was a Christian from southern Chad. After class that teacher would read his Bible under a tree. Mark was interested and would ask his teacher what he was reading. His teacher would explain that he was reading the Bible and share many stories. Mark wanted to read more of the Bible so the teacher gave him a copy, but his dad took it and burned it.

A few years later, another believer from a Muslim background was passing through his town. They met by a miracle of God and this believer invited Mark to come learn about the Bible at a workshop. He went. There he began hearing the stories of Adam, Abraham, Moses, David, and more. He asked for his own Bible and was eating it up. When he went back to his village his uncle found his Bible and ripped it up. That didn’t stop his interest.

A few months ago, while talking to my colleague and a member of this church he said, “I believe who Jesus says he is.” He repented of his sin and committed to following Jesus. Immediately, he had some fear. He knew if he were to tell his father he would likely be beaten, imprisoned, or disowned. He hid. Yet the Bible and the Spirit of God kept reminding him that the good news is not something to hide. After much prayer he decided to call his father and tell him he had become a Christian. His father did not take it well. He threatened to catch him and put him on house arrest. He threatened to disown his mother and siblings. He treated to cut off his inheritance. Mark risked a lot. Yet his faith is growing. Pray for Mark to be bold. May his example encourage us to be bold.

Paul says, “I am an ambassador in chains.” Why is he in prison? He proclaimed the good news. People don’t like the good news. Yet in prison, Paul has an opportunity. He has a captive audience. He asks for prayer to be bold to share where he is, even in prison.

You are an ambassador of the King of kings, the Commander of the armies of heaven. Speak as His representative with boldness. Do not be ashamed. Remember the cross of Christ is foolishness to those who do not know the gospel. The good news offends people, especially good people who say good things and do good things.

If everyone likes you and likes your message likely you aren’t sharing the good news. Jesus said to his followers. If you follow me you will be persecuted. Expect persecution. It is the way of a Jesus follower.

Have you heard of the Back to Jerusalem Movement? There are Christians in Chinese. Some 100,000,000 Christians. These Christians are praying to send 100,000 Chinese missionaries from China back to Jerusalem. Along the way they are praying to break the walls of Buddhism, Islam and Judaism. Wow! Let’s pray for the Chinese believers. That is bold! May the church be that bold. May I be that bold.

What is your excuse for not being bold? What are you afraid of? What prevents you from sharing the good news? It is good news to you? Do you believe it? Will you begin by praying for an opportunity to share it? Will you pray for your boldness?

Will you pause for a moment, right now, and consider these questions and ask the Spirit of God how you should pray. Then pray. And act.

overwhelmed

There are days that are downright hard, ugly, and overwhelming.  Sometimes there are seasons of life when all I see is what overwhelms me most.

There are so many things that can overwhelm us that leave us feeling like we are sinking and can barely breath.  Many of things that overwhelm can begin as good things, but become hard and ugly like a struggling marriage, a wayward child, a strained relationship, or a load of expectations or responsibilities from work or home.

Do you ever have days or seasons like that?  Do you sometime have a difficulty seeing the good in grim situations?  Do you dread the idea that God sometimes places you in really hard places or situations to help you to realize just how desperate you are and how delightful He is?

Today I will look into the heart of a man who is overwhelmed.  He is overwhelmed in a unique way.  Yet he has the help of a good friend with new eyes to help him see the good in the overwhelming.

Paul is the friend who wrote two personal letters to Timothy; a young man.  Timothy was a leader in the church at Ephesus, which Paul planted a decade earlier.  He wasn’t passionate and radical like Paul, rather he was timid and tender.  Paul, as a spiritual father and mentor, writes Timothy a critical juncture to encourage him through heavy challenges he was facing because certain persons were taking cracks at his youthfulness and in the same breath undermining the doctrine of Christ.  Timothy was overwhelmed.

What Paul models for Timothy is that while ministry is difficult and problems with people are real and overwhelming, it is possible to be overwhelmed by the realities of God’s promises and see His purposes in all situations.  Paul helps us to see an alternative in a biblical pattern toward becoming overwhelmed by God, even when my day or season in life is hard or ugly or overwhelming.

1.  OVERWHELMED WITH THANKS (vs.12-14)

“I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent.  But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”

Thankfulness is where becoming overwhelmed with God begins.  As we look under the lid of Paul’s heart we see a man overwhelmed with thanks.  He cannot help but thank God.  He saw the deep crimson stains of his sin, yet saw the grace of God being deeper still.

Before Jesus, Paul was a religious terrorist.  He was the Jewish equivalent to ISIS.  He was radically devoted to his religious system and aimed to stop anyone who differed or threaten it.  When God intersected with Paul on the Damascus Road (see Acts 9), God miraculously altered Paul’s faith and future.  Only God could have altered Paul’s route.

Do you remember who were you before Jesus?  Similar to Paul, you could say, “Though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent—though formerly I was an enemy of God, doubter, skeptic, agnostic, cheater, liar, thief, addict, adulterer, womanizer, slanderer, sloth, fool—But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”

Aren’t you grateful for that “but”?  That little conjunction brings hope in the most hopeless situation.

Paul reflects on his unglamorous past and what the glorious gospel has made him to be.  The gospel takes him back, like when you’re driving in the car and “your song” comes on the radio taking you back to a certain time and place.  Thinking of the gospel had that affect on Paul.  He is so thankful.  Does it have that affect on you?

‘Thank you’ is one of the highest forms of praise.  When someone says, “I am thankful for you,” it can be one of the most precious and powerful things said.   When is the last time you said those words to God?

My first year of life in North Africa was the hardest.  I had created a list.  Not a written list, but a mental list of all the things I was unthankful for; all the things that overwhelmed me most.  This is the part of the message that you should not take home nor replicate, but I want you to see under the hood of my heart because maybe you can relate.

My Unthankful List:  It’s hot (again).  I have heat rash (again).  I am so tired and exhausted.  Someone is knocking at the gate and it’s 5:00am?  I feel so used.  Do people only come to visit to get ice, charge their cellphones, and ask for ride to the next town?  If another person comes to visit and I am expected to be hospitable, I think I will snap.  Are those boys throwing rocks at the tin roof again?  The man who I thought was really interested in hearing about my faith is now forcing his faith on me.  I cannot understand the language or be understood.  They are laughing at me (again).  I am trying so hard.  Today my chores took me all day and I’m still not finished.  Why am I here?  I am sick again.  This has to be my 43 day in a row with diarrhea.  Sophia has lost a quarter of her body weight is she going to be okay?  What I wouldn’t give to have a burrito right now.  I am so fellowship starved.  What I wouldn’t give to be in a church right now surrounded by my brothers and sisters.  I feel like my faith is mimicking this dry thirsty land.

Maybe you can relate.  Although we might live in different places, we are still so easily overwhelmed.

That was until a friend recommended that I go take a walk and pray.  So I did.  I began prayer walks a few times a week.  It took a few walks to stop thinking about all that overwhelmed me and to see what God was doing in me.  Out of these walks came a new list.  A list that I wrote down.  A list that I am proud to share and recommend that you would take home and replicate.

My Thankful List:  I am not alone.  God, you have surrounded me with a family, a team, and a cloud of witnesses.  I am seeing You answer prayers from the front lines.  God, you are providing for all my daily needs (again and again).  When I am tired You are my strength.  You are my protection.  You have helped me make new Chadian friends; many who are hearing the good news for the very first time.  Little by little You help me to communicate (and laugh at myself) and be hospitable.  People are knocking on my gate to visit me. You are giving me a love for those I’ve had a hard time loving.  God you are changing things.  You are changing me!  Thank you!!

A thankful heart is the remedy to one overwhelmed by a myriad of things towards becoming overwhelmed by God.  Thankfulness helps us to see hard and ugly situation through new eyes.  Ask God for a thankful spirit.

2.  OVERWHELMED BY SALVATION (v.15)

“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.”

Paul is overwhelmed by his salvation.  He is overwhelmed that God would redeem a sinner like him.  He knew who he was and would be without Jesus. Paul had the right scale on which to measure himself.  Often I don’t.  More often I compared myself with another person thinking I look pretty good in comparison, but compared to Jesus there is no comparison.

This realization can change your life—I am the worst sinner I know.  Like Paul, I am Public Sinner Number One.  I am the worst sinner I know because only God and I know the depth of my sin.  But thanks be to God that he stepped into my shoes, lived sinlessly, died in my place to clear my debt, championed the grave, all so that God could save me from God’s wrath and my own destruction.

The next time you find yourself thinking, “I’m not that bad!  I teach Sunday School.  I listen to Christian radio.”  Remind yourself just how bad you are by looking at the cross.  Remember the price paid for your sin.  Remember the red blood shed for your sin.  Remember how ugly and horrible cross of Jesus was. That’s how ugly your sin is.  Doesn’t that overwhelm you in a good way?  You got to see your utter depravity before you can see Jesus’ glory.

John Newton was a captain of slave ships for the British Royal Navy and in his own words said he was a ruthless businessman and unfeeling observer.  Despite a regrettable past God intersected with him en route and saved him.  Like Paul, as he looked back on his past he said, “I am a great sinner but Christ is a great Savior.” Later he wrote a song which we sing still today, “Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound), That sav’d a wretch like me!”  Many would say that is “my song.”

Verse 15 is a beautiful missions verse, “that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”  That is the gospel in a nutshell.  That alone gives me the motivation to wake up everyday and share Jesus with others because if it weren’t for Jesus I would not love my neighbor or stay in Africa.  That alone is enough motivation for you to do the same wherever God has placed you, even if it is hard and ugly.  That is a verse to rehearse to yourself everyday.

Why evangelize those around you?  Why go to the ends of the earth?  If God can save Paul.  He can save anyone.  “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”  He can save your boss, your father, your child, your crazy uncle, your annoying neighbor, the abuser, the prostitute, the terrorist, even you.  It happens when God gives faith to a person to believe that “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

To be overwhelmed by God is to be overwhelmed that God would save a sinner like you.  Or that God would even use a sinner like you, which leads us to the next thing.

3.  OVERWHELMED BY MERCY (v.16)

But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.

Have you ever heard the words, “You’ve changed”?  Those can be words you either love or hate to hear.  But God changes people.  It’s his job and joy to change you.  He himself never changes.  But he loves to keep changing you more into his image.   People who do not want to change are either perfect or disobedient.  Which are you?

Paul is overwhelmed by mercy.  To him God’s mercy is a river wide that keeps flowing and never runs dry, it is flooding over its banks, and Paul’s is drowning in it.  And one who is given mercy, gives mercy to others. Mercy multiplies mercy.  God’s design in saving Paul is to make him the poster child parading God’s mercy.  God’s shows off Paul as if to say, “Here is what I can do.  See for yourself.”

God had you in mind when he saved Paul.  That is what the verse says.  That is an awesome thought.  God saved Paul for your sake.  So that you would see God’s “overflowing grace”, divine “mercy” and “perfect patience” and take courage and hope for your own salvation and the salvation of others.

God wants you to see the most unlikely people can believe and do believe.  God can change people and is changing people.  God’s mercy and power are not limited to people who have been set up for Christianity by a good family or live near a church or have a clean moral track record.  The chief of sinners was saved.  And that means hope in evangelism and in your own underwhelming walk with the Lord.

Don’t belittle the mercy of God by saying, “I can’t be changed” or “I’m just the way I am!”  The message of God’s mercy is that what is evil and undesirable in your life can be changed.  A critical spirit can be changed.  Alcoholism can be changed.  Irritability can be changed.  Ingratitude can be changed.  Laziness and overeating and lust can be changed.  The habits of not tithing and excessive TV watching and gambling can be changed.  Lack of hospitality can be changed.  Self-righteousness can be changed.  Fear of telling others about Jesus can be changed.  It’s God’s joy and job to change you.

In what ways are you parading the mercy of God to those around you?  Everyday you are displaying God’s perfect patience and as an example to who are to believe in Jesus for eternal life.  This is a reason to run to God not from God unashamed because of his mercy.

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In Africa, sometimes it’s too hot inside that we sleep outside.  Our night light are the bright stars in the sky.  Why are the stars so bright and beautiful?  It is because the sky is so dark.  In the same way, you live in a dark world tainted by sin, but God in his mercy uses you as his lights to shine for all to see what God can do in a person or a community overwhelmed by him.

4.  OVERWHELMED WITH PRAISE (v.17)

Paul ends his personal thoughts with a bang.  He does this from time to time.  Its as if he gets caught up in the thought and his pen explodes into doxology on the page.  God’s goodness becomes his anthem. He is overwhelmed with praise.

To the King of the ages (past, present, and future), immortal (who never naps, takes a break, or dies), invisible, the only God (who doesn’t have a living comparison), be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (For more see Revelation 5)

Enough said.

When comprehending God saving power over your past, when you see yourself against the cross, when you acknowledge the mercy of God saving a sinner like you, it is natural to be overwhelmed, overcome, overjoyed, and overflowing with gratitude and worship to God.  A person overwhelmed by God sees his troubles or trials through news eyes.  He sees people problems through new eyes.  He sees whatever is hard and ugly and overwhelming through new eyes. For all that you lack is supplied for you in Christ.  All that ruined you was renewed in Christ.

May God give you new eyes to see the beauty of what he is doing in you and those around you, even when it is hard and ugly.

May we be around the worst sinners looking for gospel opportunities.

May your complaint turn to thanks and praise.  May you be refreshed by the joy of your salvation and that God would use a sinner like you.  May God overwhelm you and your church.

 

Application

What areas of your life do you struggle with thankfulness? How does thankfulness change the way you see your circumstances, even difficult ones?  Spend some time in prayer thanking God.

What do you remember about your salvation story?  What does it look like to rehearse the gospel to yourself everyday?  Why is it important to be reminded of the gospel so often?

What is the mercy of God? How have you experienced the mercy of God? In what ways are you parading the mercy of God as an example for others to see?

Read Revelation 5.  How is Revelation 5 a bigger picture of 1 Timothy 1:17?  How is John’s vision of Jesus overwhelming with praise?  Why is it helpful to have this future picture of Jesus? 

When was a time when you were overwhelmed by God?  What about God’s working in your past, present, or future marvel you?

unashamed I stand

Hutts wheat field

My first “real” job was at Schmidt Sporting Goods in the Wausau Center Mall. It was the perfect job for a teenager into sports. I was fifteen, a new Christian and a bit awkward socially. There were many times during a shift at work when the crowds would dwindle and stocking was slow and the employees would gravitate together to chat. You can imagine the variety of conversations that would unfold between young adults. This was the first testing ground of my faith. At first I was shy. I didn’t want to reveal my identity as a Christian. I was ashamed. I learned to camouflage to my colleagues. At church, I was outspoken and on fire, always attending youth group, serving where I could, even going on missions trips, but outside of church I hid my light under a bushel basket. I will share more about my time at Schmidt’s later.

Oddly enough, I am now on mission in North Africa. I’d like to say that I have changed. That I share my faith like a wild fire burning through the bush in a windstorm. However, that is not always the case. I often resort to hiding the light. Why am I so ashamed? Chiefly, I think much of what others think of me and think little of what God has done for me.

I know I am not alone when it comes to timidity of faith. The Bible is chalked full of examples of people reluctant to bear the name of God. Moses tried every excuse in the book not to go back to Pharaoh and represent God. Jonah ran opposite Nineveh to the sea. Peter denied Jesus multiple times before the rooster crowed. If you were to ask each of these men to write Romans 1:16 it might have read, “For I am ashamed of the gospel for is it the weakness of man unto slavery to everyone who disbelieves.”

You and I both know that isn’t how that verse reads. I have rehearsed that verse ever since I started attending Sunday School. Instead the verse reads, “For I am unashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes.” According to this verse the gospel does two things: 1) it brings out shaming behavior in those who will not believe it and 2) it gives freedom from shame to those who do believe it. In other words, the gospel that causes shame also frees us from shame.

It is difficult to keep quiet about my faith in North Africa. When people see me or my beard their first question is, “Are you Muslim?” because most Muslim teachers have beards. I sport my beard on purpose. First, my wife digs it. Second, it’s a great conversation starter. Of course, I respond, “No. I follow the way of Jesus.” So I had this same interaction with a group of Islamic teachers and they responded, “Ah, we follow Jesus too and God’s other prophet, Mohammad. Do you follow Mohammad?” When I responded “No” the teacher with the biggest and whitest beard preached at me for 10 minutes trying to convince me of my error and foolishness. The way I was being belittled made me think about the religious guys during Jesus’ day. I left the interaction gut-checked and scarred, but like Paul’s words (see: Colossians 1:24), I was able to understand a smidgen the sufferings of Christ.

It would be great if this was a one-time interaction, in fact, it happens a lot. A few months ago, I arrived at our neighborhood corner store. There was an older woman arguing with the boy managing the store how there isn’t any coins to make change in this town. It is a true exaggeration. We sometimes make it our ministry to tape up crust old bills that are falling apart and return them to circulation. I tried sympathizing with the woman, but she turned at me and said, “You are white. You probably have lots of money and change.” Now, in this culture, it is not appropriate to talk much with woman publicly, so I didn’t make much of it. I just smiled awkwardly and said, “I just brought enough change to buy bread.” She then asked, “Are you Muslim?” When she learned that I only followed the way of Jesus she yelled, “Why are you here, you unbeliever.” I stepped back, blessed her and turned to walk back home. As I walked off she cried out, “Become a Muslim.” I thought she was just having a bad day, but the next day she had a similar interaction with a female colleague. We were bearing the shame for the name of Jesus and ouch, it hurt.

How did Paul or Jesus handle the shame heaped on them? Hebrews 12:2 says about Jesus: “For the joy set before Him [He] endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Jesus did not let shame gain the upper hand, rather he set his heart towards joy in His future place with His Father. Jesus saw His temporary pain as eternal gain. Paul echoed this when he said, “To live is Christ, to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21) It’s a win-win when you are in Christ.

In Acts 5:41 when the disciples were beaten and charged not to speak about the name of Jesus. It says, “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.” They ‘despised the shame’ trading it for joy because they suffered with Jesus because no amount of earthly shame can erase the joy we will have when we’re with God. Jesus erases all shame. “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.” (1 Peter 4:16)

Coming back to Romans 1:16, Paul said he is not ashamed of the gospel because it is “the power of God unto salvation.” What makes the gospel so offensive is that it takes me, man, out of the salvation equation and it puts Jesus Christ front and center. I can do nothing to earn salvation. Jesus did everything. That offends people because people want some credit or merit points to put on my imaginary good deeds sash.

My friends and I have recently committed to memory Acts 4:12 into Arabic, which in English says, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) When sharing this verse with my Muslim friends it causes a stir and bring upon me shame from those who do not believe, but for me, these words have freed me from shame.

Therefore, with Jesus and Paul, I say to you. Suffer, yes. Be misunderstood, you bet. Be shamed, absolutely. But do not be ashamed. You will be shamed, but you need not be ashamed. Because the message of God’s saving work in Christ is the only final triumphant message in the world. Temporary pain. Eternal gain.

Jim Elliot said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” It wasn’t until after the Alca tribe slaughtered Jim Elliott, Nate Saint, and their three colleagues that they realized the men they killed had lived the words they had been taught to them about Jesus. They saw Jesus in the way they lived and died.

It was a slow shift at Schmidt Sporting Goods and I gathered near the cash register to chat with Nate and Brian who were working that night. The question came up, “Why don’t you like to work on Sundays or Wednesday night?” I told them that I went to church and met with my friends to learn about Jesus. In the minutes that followed they allowed me to share the gospel with them. Nate responded, “Justin, you really believe that nonsense? That God wrote a book? And that Jesus is really God?” He went on to shame me for my beliefs. To fast forward a few years, while in college, I got an email from Brian. He told me how that summer he had a life-altering boating accident in which he broke his neck. In his recovery God brought to mind our conversations years earlier and he began reading his Bible and attending an evangelical church. Soon after he gave his life to Christ. He thanked me for not being ashamed.

I praise God for His work in Brian, but usually I expect responses to the gospel like Nate. If the Bible says people will think of me as foolish it is what it is (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:20-31). In 2 Corinthians 6:1-10, Paul says that we are to expect afflictions and slander (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:23-26). Peter echoes Paul, in 1 Peter 3:13-18 when writing to group of believers under fire for their faith to expect suffering because Christ Himself suffered.

1 Peter 3:8-9 is a key verse in which Peter calls the you and I, the church, to stand under persecution, shame, ridicule, misunderstanding for the sake of the gospel. Would you make this verse a prayer for me? As I will make it a prayer for you and your church. “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.” (cf. Luke 6:28)

forgiveness and ministry

pointing fingers

A relationship that his been vital to me has been to long-time missionary Marc Blackwell. I first met Marc during my year long church planting apprenticeship in South Africa. By the time I met him he had already been serving overseas for three decades and had been used by God to plant churches from Sarasota, Florida to Harare, Zimbabwe to Cape Town, South Africa. In the short time that I was with him he demonstrated how to plant churches, showed the innards of being a godly husband and father, and helped me “act like a man”. It was a high privilege.

Today we have the high privilege of hearing from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. By the time Paul wrote this letter he had just wrapped up his third missionary journey and for two decades he had planted churches around the northern Mediterranean coastline.

If you could describe Paul in one word, what word would you use? There are certainly many words one could choose, but I would choose the word “defender.” Paul was a defender of the faith, a defender of Christ, a defender of the resurrection, a defender of his own ministry, and today we will see him as a defender of the unforgiven. Today’s message is on forgiveness and ministry,

2 Corinthians has a different flavor than 1 Corinthians. Paul’s first letter has a zesty flavor as he addresses questions and concerns in the church, but his second letter has a sweet n’ salty flavor as he shares his heart as a pastor and defends his calling from Jesus.

We don’t know much about the explosive situation that happened at Corinth between letters, only that there was a man who opposed Paul and shredded his character and ministry. A mutiny arose and some in the church sided with the man. It was sticky enough to cause Paul to leave Corinth. It also caused him and the church much pain. Paul wrote another letter known as the “severe letter,” which is not included in the NT. It was clearly a difficult letter for him to write (v.5; cf. 2 Cor. 7:8-13a).

By the time Paul wrote 2 Corinthians the majority of people in the church agreed with the apostle Paul, not the false teacher. The church grasped onto Paul’s guidance and disciplined the man from the church. The discipline proved to be effective for the man grew sorrowful and it led to his repentance. Isn’t it wonderful to see church discipline work? Yet there was still one problem at Corinth: some in the church had not forgiven the man nor did they restore him to the church. For whatever reason, whether some members of the Apostle Paul posse were offended more than Paul and wanted to inflict more punishment or some were skeptical if the man really had repented or if there was fear he would be a repeat offender, we are not sure. But what is sure, this type of situation can shipwreck a church and the reputation of Christ. This is why Paul takes time to address the situation.

When Paul used the title the Body of Christ to describe the church he wasn’t using it as a churchy slogan (cf. Rom. 7:4; 1 Cor. 12:27; Eph. 4:12). It was a God-ordained image for a community of brothers and sisters with radically interconnected relationships. That’s why Paul said, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Cor. 12:26). The pain that Paul felt by this man’s personal attack was also felt by the church, but the joy Paul had for his repentance was not shared.

You are most like God when you forgive (vs.6-9)

One of the hardest thing to do in life is to forgive an offense, maybe it’s because of the pain and shame and embarrassment. Maybe it’s because our world elevates revenge and retribution, when forgiveness is viewed as weakness. I love superhero movies like Spiderman, Batman, and Captain America, but within each you will see a theme being “Revenge is mine. I will defend my pride.” Today, revenge is in and forgiveness is out.

Paul is a hero of a different kind. He felt the pain from being shamed. And most in his shoes would find a way to round house kick this man Chuck Norris style. Yet Paul walks a different road and he submits to another power. And he asks the church to forgive the man and restore him to fellowship (vs.6-8). What we see is Paul’s heart, a heart that Christ had freed and restored on the Damascus Road, where he—the chief of sinners—had come face-to-face with the grace of God. He was a man given much grace and becomes an agent of grace to others. Like Joseph, Paul understood the plan of God is to forgive and restore his brothers.

Paul praised Corinth for their obedience to discipline the man, but he poo-poo-ed their reluctance to welcome him back into the family. The offense bounced off Paul. The pain of his opposer didn’t rub him wrong. He already forgiven him. He thought their discipline was punishment enough, it worked, and the man didn’t need to suffer anymore. Enough was enough. Paul now saw the man was being swallowed up in his sorrow and if he wasn’t restored soon the man would drown in it. What the repentant disciplined man understood, many in the church do not understand—life apart from the Body of Christ is to be void of its benefits and securities and comforts and joys.

If forgiveness is of paramount importance for this man and the reputation of the church, so it is with us. Forgiveness is not optional, rather it is a matter of obedience (v.9). Our ministry is a ministry of forgiveness. We extend the forgiveness of God with those who hope God will forgive them someday. To forgive an offense is to act most like God, while withholding forgiveness is the most self-righteous act. God is a forgiving God. He forgets our offenses as far as the east is from the west. Jesus is forgiving even on the brink of death on the cross (Lk. 23:34, 43). What would a lack of forgiveness on our part say about our Christ or his church? Let us freely forgive because we have been forgiven much.

You are only able to forgive an offense because you were also forgiven (vs.10-11)

Paul makes his plea to the church to forgive by saying, “I, the offended, did it, and you can do it too.” (v.10a) And he adds that the forgiveness was for you—the Corinthians’ sake—“in the presence of Christ.” (v.10b) The fact was, if the Corinthian church refused to forgive this repentant sinner, a poison would choke the way of grace and their refusal to forgive could kill their church.

Jesus said that unwillingness to forgive is proof of not having experienced His forgiveness. Remember Jesus prayed, “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). Then He drives the truth home in the next sentence, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (6:14, 15). Jesus is serious about forgiveness. This “forgiven people forgive” teaching was so elementary to Jesus’ teaching that he devoted entire parables to it, “‘So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart’” (Matthew 18:35).

Your example to forgive an offense might be just the encouragement that a lost sinner or a young believer or a well-established church needs to see to help them when an opportunity to extend forgiveness comes their way. A few years ago, I met a elderly missionary couple who served on an international team in the jungles of Brazil. A small misunderstanding caused one couple to be offended and it grew to be so painful that the villagers could feel it. The team was on the verge of separation. They tried one last meeting to discuss the situation, but before they did they shared communion. As curious villages looked through windows at the three couples they saw them break bread and drink together. The meeting to follow never happened because in the image of communion the couples remembered who they united around first and foremost. The team wept, prayed and embraced one another. Decades later after a church was established in the village and the church began to have it’s own issues and the elders remembered the example of the missionaries who had broke bread and forgave one another as Christ had forgiven them.

What do you learn about forgiveness and ministry from this text? I have learned two vital truths: First, my ministry of forgiveness comes from Christ. I am challenged by how Paul minimizes the offense and maximizes the presence of Jesus. I see that the motivation to forgive was given to Paul “in the presence of Christ,” as He looks on in approval and empowerment.

Second, unforgiveness is Satan’s strategy. Paul concludes his plea by saying if you don’t forgive the man you have been duped by Satan — “so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs.” (v. 11) The young church in Corinth could have collapsed if they refusing to obey God by forgiving the repentant sinner, even though he caused such pain. If they had let him stew in his sorrow, they would have cooked him and them. And Satan could then have put a fork in the church of Corinth.

Corrie ten Boom recalled in her book The Hiding Place a postwar meeting with a guard from the Ravensbrück concentration camp where her sister had died and where she herself had been subjected to horrible shame:

“It was at a church service in Munich that I saw him, the former S.S. man who had stood guard at the shower room door in the processing center at Ravensbrück. He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since that time. And suddenly it was all there — the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, Betsie’s pain-blanched face. He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing. “How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein,” he said. “To think that, as you say, He has washed my sins away!” His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I, who had preached so often to the people in Bloemendaal the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side. Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him. I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your forgiveness. As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me.”

God’s Word says, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). And again, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Colossians 3:12-13). It is your ministry to forgive because you have been forgiven.

Is there unforgiveness in your heart today? Is there pain or embarrassment or shame caused by someone that you need to allow God to restore? Will you rejoice, today, in your own forgiveness?

the gospel without borders

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Gospel and missions, which go together like macaroni and cheese. The gospel is simultaneously at work in us and through us. Inwardly, our desires and motives are being changed as we repent and believe the gospel. As we are moved by Christ’s love in this way, we are compelled to outwardly engage those around us with the same kind of redemptive love. The gospel is active, it’s on a mission, in us and through us.

In Romans 1:8-17, we see Paul’s motivation for gospel ministry. Missionary ministry. Paul is fired up about the global scope of the gospel because God’s fired up about it. This is what I talk about when I speak of missions: “Missions is the activity of God’s people partnering with God’s mission.” Let’s see how this is made practical in Romans 1.

1. THE GOSPEL MISSION BEGINS WITH YOU, THE CHURCH (8-13)

“First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world.” (v.8)

Who’s the “you” Paul refers to when he says, “I thank my God for all of you”? He’s referring to the Christians in Rome. Although this letter was first to the Christians in Rome, it is also a letter for you. This letter is a gift from God to the church of every generation.

Why is Paul thankful for them? They are spreading their faith to all the world. They are not just expanding their facilities (or home churches); they were expanding the fame of Jesus’ name to the nations.

1.1 THE GOSPEL MISSION THROUGH THE CHURCH IS BIRTHED THROUGH PRAYER (9-11)

“For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His Son, that without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you.”

Like most letters, including Romans, Paul begins by sharing how he is praying for that church. I love reading Paul’s prayers. He loves the church. He constantly prays for them. He pleads with God to be with them. What Paul understands is that mighty movements of God are birthed through prayer. It’s not about Paul or His mission. It’s about His God and His mission.

Prayer serves to showcase whatever is on your heart; it reflects your passions. If you do not pray consistently and fervently for the nations, pray for workers for the harvest, pray for the reach of the gospel, pray for Christ’s glory to be made known in all the earth, you do not have any reason to believe that those things will happen through you or the church.

When God burdens people to pray for missions, He lights a fire that is not easily extinguished. Churches and their people begin to pray, then to give, and then to go. The first missions endeavor on record emerged from a period of worship, prayer and fasting among the members of the church in Antioch (cf. Acts 13). Christ Himself established prayer as a precedent for missions. “Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest'” (Matt. 9:37–38). Whenever the church joins together to pray for God to send workers, He does.

Prevailing prayer stirs the heart and opens our eyes to see what God sees, to love what He loves and to long for what He longs for. Spending time in the presence of One who loves and pursues the nations cannot help but be contagious.

1.2 THE GOSPEL MISSION THROUGH THE CHURCH IS A COMMUNITY CALLING (11-13)

“For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you—that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles.”

The church is beautiful. It’s beautiful because Jesus is the Groom and we are His Bride. We are incomplete and insufficient without one another. If I am not pouring into the church or allowing the church pour into me, I am forsaking God’s means for my spiritual growth and together we are forsaking our calling (cf. Hebrews 10:24-25). Paul longs to pour into the church, but he also longs for it to pour into him. He wants to be mutually encouraged by their faith. Paul wasn’t a super saint. He wasn’t a one-man-show that could function solo.

Serving the nations can be discouraging, lonely and difficult. What Sarah and I miss most about our home church is their fellowship and spiritual nourishment. We miss our small group where we were confronting sin in love. We miss sitting under the pastor’s preaching. We realize how much we need the church, we need their prayers, we need their encouragement, we need their fellowship, we need their nourishment, we need them to ask us the hard questions, and we need them to come with us.

Mission is a community calling. Paul desired a harvest among the Romans. As we go to the nations, you are going to your community. The harvest is not in the pew, it’s beyond your parking lot. Go to it. Missions begins with you, the church, your prayers and your common calling.

2. THE GOSPEL MISSION IS YOUR JOYFUL OBLIGATION (14-15)

“I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.”

An obligation is an action we are bound to by commitment. It’s a word that reminds us of a burden or duty or chore, yet why is Paul eager (joyful as a monkey in a fruit market) to preach the gospel to all people? Remember, Acts 9? Remember how he was changed by the gospel on the road to Damascus? People transformed by the gospel have a joyful obligation to propagate the good news. Paul is under obligation by Christ to preach the gospel to all peoples, not just his people. The gospel mandate to “make disciples of all nations” is our joy. Romans 10:15 says, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!”

If the gospel is not your joyful obligation refresh yourself with the gospel again. Notice, who is Paul eager to preach the gospel to? Romans. Why Romans? In other words, why is he eager to preach the gospel to Christians? To Paul, the gospel is not just initial saving faith; it’s a call to continue to walk in faith each day. The gospel is not the ABC’s of your faith, it’s the A-Z’s of your faith walk. Everything you do from your spiritual birth to death is rooted in the gospel. That’s why it is your joy it is to preach the gospel to all people, including yourselves again and again each day.

The gospel calls us to action. The gospel cannot be contained within the four walls of the church, but it will not rest until it has reached the four corners of the earth. “My aim is to evangelize where Christ has not been named, so that I will not build on someone else’s foundation” (Romans 15:20). This verse stands as the slogan for many missionaries and church planters. To act on the gospel is to obey it and proclaim it until all have heard. It is not enough to cut checks each month to families who are serving around the globe and call it missions. It’s when all the church is going to all the world. That is missions.

Certain countries build barriers and make it hard for Christians to cross borders, but God is there. God is at work. Look at China and read the story of Brother Yun, The Heavenly Man. Or look at the Iron Curtain and read the story of Brother Andrew, The God Smuggler. These are just a few of the stories showing how God busts through man-made barriers. Walls of fear between your neighbor build brick by brick, but those barriers are invisible to God. The gospel sees no barrier or border (i.e. race, status), therefore, you must see no border to the gospel either. The gospel without borders is missions.

The scope of the gospel is global and local. It starts with the border closest to you. The person who butts up to your property. The grumpy guy who is particular about his yard and yells when your dog runs through it. Silent Sally who you barely hear a peep from the apartment across from you. It’s your mission to bring the gospel to your neighbors. It’s your joyful obligation.

Our family parked in Philly for 3-months. It was there we had our daughter Sophia. We lived in a parsonage and we had neighbors that we really wanted to share the gospel. It was a family with teenage children. I knew I should reach out and befriend them. But my sense of “should” had no motivating power. It was law, not gospel. My love was conditional—if we had more in common, if we were here longer, it would be easier. Two-months passed and we made very little contact with our neighbors. Until one day, Sarah was backing out of our driveway and our neighbor was backing out of their driveway too. Our cars collided in the middle of the street. The opportunity to connect with our neighbors appeared suddenly. The majority fault for the accident was our neighbors and they we’re quite ashamed. In the days that followed we were able to have conversations with our neighbors. Sarah especially showed love, kindness, and grace. She even took time one evening before we were about to leave for Quebec to share with them the gospel. It was her joyful obligation with a little help from an accident.

3. THE GOSPEL MISSION IS FUELED BY A PASSION FOR THE GOSPEL (16)

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”

Have you noticed that Paul talks about the gospel constantly? You do not have to guess Paul’s hobbyhorse. If you’re in a conversation with him for one-minute you can bank your bets on him directing the conversation to the gospel. Paul boasts boldly and bountifully in the gospel. It’s his passion. It’s his mission. He has no shame because the gospel has erased all and any shame he had before or after Christ. The gospel has set him free from shame. The gospel might bring shame upon Christians from a sinful world, but it’s message will remove the shame that stains the world.

According to Paul, the gospel is not just something that saves; it is the only thing that saves. It is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. So without the gospel there is no missions, and missions is not missions without the gospel. They go together like peanut butter and jelly.

Mission is a label put on many things. We can do a lot of good things that we ought to do (i.e. care for widows, orphans, build homes for habitat, feed starving children, cure aids, etc.) all motivated by a passion for God and compassion for needy people, but is this missions? Let it be known, healthy in hell isn’t our mission. Ministry without the gospel it is not missions. “Missions is the activity of God’s people partnering with God’s mission.” And God’s mission, from before the foundation of the world, has been to redeem a lost and broken world. Paul alludes to this earlier in Romans 1,

”Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by His resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of His name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,” (Romans 1:1-6)

If reaching the nations with the gospel is God’s passion, I want it to be my passion too. May our prayer mimic Amy Carmichael who wrote, “Give me the love that leads the way, The faith that nothing can dismay, The hope no disappointments tire, The passion that will burn like fire, Let me not sink to be a clod: Make me Thy fuel, Flame of God.”

4. THE GOSPEL MISSION IS ROOTED IN THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD (17)

For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

People desperately need hope, they need God’s love and goodness, they need His righteousness; a righteousness that originated in God, was prepared by God before time, is revealed in the gospel of Christ, and is offered to all. Missions is about God giving faith to people who previously had miscued faith and no faith in Christ. The gospel is God’s means to open blind eyes to the beauty of Christ’s righteousness,

“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:7-11; cf. Romans 3:21-26)

To recap, missions begins with you, the church, through your prevailing prayers and your community calling. Missions is your joyful obligation. Missions is fueled by a passion for the gospel. And missions is rooted in the righteousness of God. How are you actively partnering locally and globally with God’s mission?

let there be light

christmas-star

This message is used by permission from my good friend Brian. Brian is a former physicians assistant and shepherd. Now Brian is serving the gospel to the least reached. He is living the Words he wants you to hear. Be a light in darkness this Christmas…

2 Corinthians 4:6 “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

For the first time in my life I made the connection between this passage and the creation account in Genesis 1.  The opening verses of Genesis are some of the most well known verses in all of scripture, right up there with John 3:16.  And we’ve probably heard or read these words at least 100 times before. But now I was beginning to make the connection between God’s strategy for saving the world and that which He was breathing into a visible and tangible form at creation.

Genesis 1:1-5 “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.”

Every time I’ve read this or heard it, I always thought, Wow, God is a powerful God.  He is amazing.  He is a creative and awesome God.  For by the breath of His mouth, the universe and all of creation was called into existence.

But there is something even more amazing being spoken of in this passage.  Something  that I had never seen before.  Something that pulses deeper than even the glory and majesty of creation.  And its something that existed long before Genesis 1 ever did.

And that was God’s plan for redeeming the rebellion of humanity and winning His bride back to Himself.  I want you to see that when God called forth light out of the darkness, it was pointing to Jesus.  But not only was it poetically prophesying the coming of Christ, it was manifesting God’s design and call upon all those who would follow Him.

So I think there are 2 vitally important things we need to learn from this passage that relate directly to our lives as we pursue after God and seek to be imitators of Christ.

Light Shines in the Darkness

The first is that light was created to shine in the darkness.  Genesis 1 paints such a clear picture of this.  It starts out by saying that darkness covered the face the deep.  In other words, it was crazy dark.  You know, the kind where you can’t see your hand when it is right in front of your face.  And it was into this that God says: “Let there be light.”

Now I want to be clear about this because the practical applications of this are costly.  Its fun to talk about and intellectualize, but to change our lives to bring them in alignment with the truth of what this teaches is a whole other story.  So I want to make sure we are all on the same page here.

God did not call forth light to shine in the light.  It wasn’t because “light” covered the face of the deep that God says “Let there be light.”  It was because there was darkness.  God said, “Let light shine out of darkness.” Light has a created purpose and was designed to exist and shine in the darkness.

So now we have to begin to deal with the implications of this for our lives.  Because we are that light.  We are the light that was redeemed to shine in the darkness.

Matthew 5:14-16 says “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

Now I just want to make one clarification.  We are not the Light capital “L.”  When this passage says that “you (and I) are the light of the world,” it means we are the light of the world like the moon is the light of the night.  The moon is just a big round pile of dirt.  It has zero ability of producing light.  But when you go outside on a dark night and look up into the sky, the moon’s brightness can light up the night.

And we say, look at the moon. Look how bright the moon is shinning.  And in doing so, we ascribe or we attribute the ability to produce light to the moon, when in reality, it is only reflecting the light of the sun.  It can’t make one tiny shred of light itself.  And so it is no different for us.

In this passage and anywhere else in Scripture for that matter, when you see it referring to us as the light, just know that it is not us that is the light.  We only shine when we are reflecting the Son, “S-O-N.”  And just as the moon was created to shine in the darkness by reflecting the sun’s light, so we were made to do the same.

So the first issue we have to deal with is where are we shinning? I have to tell you.  I was so convicted by this, that as a youth leader I had the audacity to be so excited about taking our students on summer mission trips.  And I would get so excited about being this great beacon of light in those dark areas for one glorious week every year, but I did little to nothing to shine in the darkness the rest of the time.

And now Becky and I find ourselves living in the very neighborhoods that we served on our mission trips to those places and all I could think about is moving somewhere else.  It was good enough to do for a week on a mission trip, but to actually live there and start to raise our family in such a place was hard to come to grips with.

God is not calling us to have an experience every now and then when we shine in the darkness.  Its not about having this special little time in our lives once a week every year where we turn the light on for a little while and pretend this is how we live all the time or this is how we would live all the time if we only had the opportunity.  Because we do have the opportunity.  It just takes sacrifices that if we admit it, are probably not willing to make.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying we shouldn’t do these things.  Engaging in short term missions is absolutely necessary.  I’ll be the first one in line when given the chance and I’ll be the biggest cheerleader encouraging anyone and everyone to go.  All I’m saying is that what happens in the that week should simply be a reflection of what happens in our lives every single day.

You see, I have come to the humbling place in my life where I began to realize I was doing all this “stuff” for the Kingdom, but it was all being done in the light.  I was involved in this and I was involved in that, and it was all good and worthy stuff, but it wasn’t about shining in the darkness.  I found I was just fooling myself behind this disguise of advancing God’s Kingdom without actually setting foot in the darkness.

His Kingdom is a Kingdom of Light.  No matter how hard we work or what great things we accomplish in the light, His Kingdom is already present there.  And if we are going to be a people who are about advancing His Kingdom, it can only be done in the darkness.

We were called into His marvelous light in order that we might shine in the darkness.   This means that our lives must be lived out in the those places.  Now I’m not saying that everyone needs to move to the inner city, but some of you might.  Some of you may need to go home and start packing boxes.  And don’t be looking round at your neighbor right now, cause I’m talking to you.  And maybe its not about where your home is, but where you work or where you go to school.

What I am saying is that we need to take a good hard look at where we are shining.    And we need to stop making excuses for keeping our distance from the darkness.  Its not comfortable.  Its too hot.  Its not safe.  The school district isn’t good enough.  Its too far.  Its too hard.  Its too costly.  It takes too much time.  It doesn’t align with our goals, or our family or our future.

To be a light in the darkness is costly.  It is not safe.  It is not always comfortable.  It is certainly not the easy way to live.  But why would be dare be content with anything else?  Don’t settle to be a light among lights.  Don’t compromise for the sake of safety or comfort.  We have but one candle to burn, and I’d rather burn it out where people are dying in darkness than in a place that is flooded with lights.

God Separated the Light from the Darkness

The second thing I want us to see is that God separated the light from the darkness.  That is, God set apart the light to be different.  While the light was created to exist and shine in the darkness, it was made to be fundamentally different from it.  When God created the light, there was no question as to which one was which.

God didn’t make a light that most days of the week looks like darkness except on Sundays.  Or one that maybe shines all week except for Friday and Saturday night.  And He didn’t make a light with a motion detector so that when left alone it was identical to the darkness, but as soon as somebody came around, it would turn on as if it had always been on.

Light doesn’t look anything like the darkness.  And there are some pretty hefty ramifications for our lives because of that.  It doesn’t walk the same.  It doesn’t talk to the same.  It doesn’t act the same.  It doesn’t spend its money the same.  It doesn’t have the same goals or values.  It is different from the darkness in every way, but yet was created uniquely to exist in beautiful harmony with it.

And this separation in essence is why we exist.  Because this is what distinguishes light from the darkness.  This is what separates believers from everybody else on the face of the planet.  Because the goal of the darkness is to make much of itself, but the purpose of the light is make much of Christ.

How is it then that the lives of sinful humans can display the glory of our Almighty God to the world?  How is it that we who are so little can make much of One who is so great?  I believe the answer is to echo the cry of John the Baptist found when he said in John 3:30, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

John Piper said this: “This is why we exist – to display the glory of God… It is our created nature to make much of God.  Not to fulfill this purpose… is to be a mere shadow of the substance we were created to have. Not to display God’s worth by enjoying Him above all things is to be a mere echo of the music we were created to make. It is to be a mere residue of the impact we were created to have.”

The overriding thing that separates the light from the darkness is an unbalanced passion for the glory of God and the Kingdom of heaven.  And I realize that for some of you that may make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.  Because a lot of times in our culture we associate unbalanced to mean unhealthy.

We talk about the need for balance in our lives all the time, right?  Balance, balance, balance.  We have to have balance.  We don’t want to be too far one way or too far the other.  And at times this is true, but I think sometimes we have watered down Jesus for the sake of balance.

There was a man by the name of Nee To-sheng, otherwise known as Watchman Nee.  He was born in communist China in 1903.  He came to know Christ at the age of 17 and spent the next 30 years traveling throughout China planting churches and shinning the Light of Christ in some of the darkness places on earth.  But in 1952 he was arrested for his faith in Christ and leadership among many of the local churches in China.  He sentenced to 15 years in prison,  although he was never let go and died in his cell 20 years later. Some of his teachings have been complied together into a profoundly powerful book called “The Normal Christian Life.”

Average and normal are not the same.  You see, average just means we look like everyone else.  Normal means we look the way Jesus expected us to look.  It means we shine the way Jesus expected us to shine.

Did Jesus really mean to love Him with ALL our heart, soul, mind, and strength?  Did Jesus really mean to love our neighbor as ourself?  Did Jesus really compare the Kingdom of heaven to finding a treasure in a field and selling everything for that field?  Because that doesn’t sound very balanced.

There is a word for someone who becomes that fixated on someone or something, but it isn’t balanced.  Its obsessed.  It is being driven by an all consuming passion to the point that none of what Jesus taught even sounds remotely crazy.  Quite frankly, it makes perfect sense.

If there is anything in life we need to be obsessed with.  If there is anything in life we need to be consumed by.  If there is anything in our lives that we need to be unbalanced about, it is the Jesus Christ.  It is the glory of God.  It is the Kingdom of heaven.

The more our lives display Christ’s worth above all things, the brighter He will shine in us.  This is why it is so fundamentally important for the light to be separated from the darkness.

Because when we look like we care about the same things they do.  When we look like we hope in the same stuff they do.  When we look like our values are the same as theirs, Christ will never look great in our lives.  Our lives must show that Christ is more precious than life.

To do this, we must make sacrificial life choices knowing that magnifying Christ is more valuable and more satisfying than protecting and preserving our own personal comfort or agenda.  So we may need to start asking ourselves some tough questions.  Questions that we may very well not want to know the answers to.  Because I think all to often we are far more content desiring to justify our actions instead of seeking to magnify Christ with them.

Now this is the part of the message where I would normally tell you some inspiring story about a missionary in Africa or Asia or something who is living this out.  The problem is, most of us really can’t relate very much to that.  So let me give another example that may hit a little closer to home.  Its a story about a guy who asked the right questions.

There is a pastor by the name of Francis Chan, maybe some of you have heard of him.  He has a love and devotion for God that you will rarely find anywhere.  He also happens to be an incredible speaker and when you put those 2 qualities together, it makes for a very dynamic pastor.  Thus the church he started in California grew like mad quickly topping 3000+ people.

They were making plans for building a 50 to 60 million dollar facility when he took a little trip to Uganda that changed his life forever.  He saw poverty first hand like he had never imagined.  And it got real personal for him when he saw little girls the age of his young daughters rummaging through garbage for food.

And all of a sudden it hit him, what does it mean to love my neighbor as myself?  Cause you know, Jesus said that.  In fact, He said it was so important, it was only second to loving God first.  So one of the first things he did upon returning to the states was to move his family of four out of their 2,000-square-foot house into one half that size so they could give more to missions and to the poor. He said: “I couldn’t reconcile how I could live in such a nice house while others were starving.”

The very next church board meeting Chan showed up with a one track mind.  When their church, (Cornerstone) first started and for many years there after, they gave away 4% of their budget.  Chan now walks in in the door and asked them to give 50% away.  His salary was slashed along with all other staff taking pay cuts and serious sacrifices in their programs were made.  But in less than 1/2 hour their budget was flipped on its head.

Instead of building a massive multimillion dollar building, they built an outdoor amphitheater saving countless of millions of dollars.  They have worship outside every Sunday, rain or shine.  And if it happens to rain on a Sunday morning, they get wet, but they know it is for the sake of Christ and His Kingdom.

Now here is a guy, living in the United States with the exact same pressures, the exact same influences, and exact same struggles that we face, but yet consciously and intentionally positioned his life to be separated from the darkness.  While the rest of America chases after it’s illusive dream, he has refused to be seduced by it.  Instead, his heart, mind, his soul and wallet are fixed on heaven.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next.  It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.”

My prayer is that Christ would be so prized in your lives that you would blaze so brightly it would fry the retinas right out of the eyeballs of those who look upon you.  That your  hearts be so fixed on Christ that everything else would pale in comparison.

My goal isn’t that you be moved by the stories of those people who are living radical lives for Christ, yet do nothing to act yourself.  But instead, that you would earnestly seek the face of God for where and how He would have you to shine.

I don’t claim by any stretch of the imagination to be living this perfectly.  That’s precisely why I had to preach it.  Because this message is for me as much as it is for any of you.  It is time we be the light we were created to be.  Its time we let our light shine in the darkness.  And its time that the only thing people see when they look at us is a life obsessed with Jesus Christ.

triumphant odiferous sacrifice

Staying on mission is tough. Even, as I prepare for the mission it’s tough. God has used the stories of missionaries like Hudson Taylor, David Brainerd, and Mary Slessor to keep me moving. These men and women lived on the front-lines suffering for the sake of the name of Christ. Today, I will look at one missionary’s testimony of how he pressed through tough times. His name is Paul.

In 2 Corinthians 2, Paul had just written a hard letter to Corinth and is anxious how it was received. So he sent Titus ahead to find out how they were doing. “When I came to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ, even though a door was opened for me in the Lord, my spirit was not at rest because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I took leave of them and went on to Macedonia.” (2 Corinthians 2:12-13) Although the door was open for Paul in Troas, He could not shake God’s moving to connect with Titus and the call to spread the gospel in Macedonia.

This is the context behind two illustrations Paul gives to help us understand how he presses on through tough times in ministry and stays on mission spreading the name of Christ, “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.” (2:14-16)

1) ARE YOU PLACING YOURSELF IN THE TRIUMPHANT PROCESSIONAL GIVING SACRIFICES TO THE NAME OF CHRIST? (v.14)

Paul’s first image is common to Rome, “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession.” After a great victory there would be a parade. It wasn’t a parade of candy and clowns, rather a huge triumphant processional with rank after rank of trumpeters, streams of soldiers and senators, wagons of spoil, prisoners to be enslaved or executed, and ended with the hero or conquering general dressed ceremoniously riding a chariot.  Along the route people cast flowers, burned incense or poured out perfume. Wonderful fragrances filled the air.

So why does Paul use this illustration? It serves two purposes. On the one hand, Jesus is triumphant and Paul is in His service. But on the other hand, Jesus is like a heroic general and Paul is conquered and called to suffer in His service—even die.

The word triumph is used one other place in the NT, Colossians 2:15, “[God] disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in Him.” In Colossians, Paul says God leads the devil in triumph, but in 2 Corinthians, he says that God leads Paul in triumph. Both have been defeated in their rebellion against God. Both are being led in triumphal procession and shamed for their rebellion. However, there is a great difference, Paul is “in Christ.” He was defeated and taken captive; but he was brought to faith and forgiven, and became a joyful servant of the greatest General who ever was. Jesus, the One who conquered sin and death.

Although Jesus was the one marched to His death, He rose victorious from the grave. He conquered death as the ultimate and final sacrifice for sin (Hebrews 9). And it is Jesus’ sacrifice that gives Paul motivation to also give his life as a sacrifice to God (Romans 12:1-2). When you are finding ministry difficult, place yourself in the triumphant processional praising the name of Christ. Recognize your place in the parade and give thanks to your Hero.

2) ARE YOU SPREADING THE FRAGRANCE OF CHRIST EVERYWHERE YOU GO? (vs.15-16)

Paul second illustration is a continuation of his first, “And through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere.” Smells is a God-given sense that affect us all—for better and for worse. Smell alerts you to danger, such as, a building on fire. Animals use smell to survive.  Smell tells you when someone else is around. There are delightful smells like freshly bake cookies, meat on the grill, fields of lavender, the smell of a little baby, or a new car. There are also putrid smells like dirty socks, moldy cheese, Mosinee’s paper mill, skunks,1 or even worse, a dead skunk.

Paul thinks of his missionary life and ministry as spreading fragrance of the knowledge of Christ. He considers the gospel odiferous. Using OT imagery, Paul says we are like incense being offered to God or animals being burned upon the altar, “we are the aroma of Christ to God.” Notice our aroma is first to God, not man. It is to Him we give our first, best, most, and greatest sacrifices of praise. As God warns the children of Israel: “If you will not listen to me, but walk contrary to me…I will lay your cities waste and will make your sanctuaries desolate, and I will not smell your pleasing aromas.” (Leviticus 26:27, 31)

Also wrapped up in Paul’s message to Corinth are heart-rejoicing and heart-breaking words about missionary service: spreading the name of Christ pleases God, but it does not please everybody. His fragrance divides the world, “For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.” To those on the side of Christ His smell is of victory and life (cf. Romans 10:15),2 but to those on the side contrary to Christ His smell is of defeat and impending death (John 15:18-25). As a bee makes sweet honey sweet to the taste, it can also sting too. So it is with the work of Christ and spreading His name to your neighbors and the nations. Don’t expect everyone to like the message or the you the messenger.

WHO IS SUFFICIENT FOR THESE THINGS? (vs.16-17)

Paul concludes by asking a crucial question—“Who is sufficient for these things?” Who can bear the weight of knowing that the aroma of a Christ-exalting life will lead some to eternal life and reveal to others death? The answer: no one. That’s why Paul says, “For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.” (2 Corinthians 2:16-17) Paul carries out the mission by the grace of God. He is not sufficient—you and I are not sufficient—in ourselves. No missionary feels sufficient. And 2 Corinthians 3:5 Paul says, “Our sufficiency is from God.” (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:12; Romans 1:5)

Staying on mission is tough. Each day you face the temptation to cling tightly to your life, comforts, treasures, and self-sufficiency. Are you willing to lay down your treasures to treasure Him? May God lift your eyes to see His incomparable worthiness and may you without reservation place yourself in the triumphant processional giving sacrifices to your victorious Savior spreading His sweet and putrid fragrance to your neighbors and the nations.

never the same: peace child

The Sawi were headhunters and cannibals when a young couple named Don and Carol Richardson arrived in their village carrying their seven-month-old boy Steve—and a message that would change the tribe forever. The year was 1962, and Steve—and later, three more children—spent their youth among the Sawi, learning the language and embracing the culture in ways that would shape the rest of their lives. Their story was immortalized in the best-selling book Peace Child and a feature film of the same name, inspiring a new generation to take the gospel to the remaining isolated tribes of the earth.

Fifty years later, Steve, now president of Pioneers-USA, joins his father, Don, and two brothers, Shannon and Paul, to visit the Sawi village where they grew up. What is the state of the church they planted among the Sawi? Are the friends they played with still alive? Did anyone remember the mark their family left on the tribe? Journey with Steve as he travels to the swamps of Papua, Indonesia, to introduce you to the Sawi, and explore the impact of the gospel among a previously unreached people group.

[HT] Preorder a hardcopy of this DVD by clicking here: Preorder Never the Same DVD

preach or heal?

Missionaries are often divided into one of two camps: preachers or healers.

Healers are known for their compassion and love (Col.1:27; Mt.22:36-40; Lk.10:29-37; Js.2:15-16; Lk.12:48; Mt.25:31-46), but they must remember to teach (Mt.28:19-20). They often heal to get to the heart. Preachers are often known as good news messengers (Mt.24:14; Rom.10:14, 17; 1:16b; 1 Cor.9:16; 1 Tim.4:13; 2 Tim.4:2), but they must remember the poor (Mk.14:7a). They often get to the heart to heal. Both are needed; both are called of God; both are on the same mission; both can be one.

Our engagement tactics are largely born out of our bias; preachers engaging with preaching tactics and healers engaging with healing tactics (13).

ONE COMMAND

Was Jesus a preacher or healer? (Lk.4:40-43; Mt. 9:35) He was both. He benefitted the needy as he preached (Mt.10:7-8; Mk.6:7, 12-13; Lk.9:2; 10:1, 9). The apostles in Acts continued to preach and heal. Jesus modeled the preach and heal tactic, He commanded it, and the disciples obeyed Him by using it as they went out (17; cf. Acts 3:6-8, 12-13, 19-20; 4:4, 9-10, 33-35; 5:16, 29-33). Jesus sent out all of His disciples to preach and heal. They were given one command, because the two ministries work together in God’s master strategy.

GO WITH WHAT WE KNOW

We need to leave our identity compartmentalization (or specialization or professionalization) at the door when we do the work of the gospel. You might be a doctor, farmer, engineer,tent-maker, homemaker, or pastor, but don’t let that become your total identity. The disciples were not Jedi Masters, they were fishermen, taxmen, politicians, doctor, and ordinary men commissioned to do something greater than their own identity. They took on a new identity in Christ. The problem with compartmentalization is that we often leave participation in the gospel at the door for the sake of our specialization or profession. As our engagement tactics are largely born out of our bias, our bias is largely born out of our educational background. The disciples all performed services as the Holy Spirit enabled them–not with in those realms for which they had been schooled. The identity of the disciples was being a follower of Jesus Christ.

Preaching and healing is a two-handed plow. Both handles must be held with equal pressure and commitment for the one plow blade to dig deep into the ground and transform the soil into a place best prepared for the seed. A hoe or one-handed tool is much less effective and requires more dependence.

IS STRATEGY A BAD WORD?

Most of Jesus’ disciples traveled widely and planted churches extensively: John Mark (Egypt, Libya, Rome), Peter (Jerusalem, Babylon, and more), Andrew (Georgia, Caspian Sea, Istanbul, Russia, Greece), John the son of Zebedee (Rome, Asia Minor, Ephesus, Turkey), Phillip (Asia Minor, maybe France), Bartholomew (Asia Minor, Armenia), Thomas (India, maybe iraq, Iran and China), Matthew (Palestine, Persia, Macedonia, Syria, Ethiopia), Jude (Armenia, Syria, Persia), Simon (Egypt, North Africa, Syria, Persia, Rome), Matthias (Armenia), and Paul (note:3 missionary journeys).

There are two kinds of people: strategy lovers and strategy leavers. It is always our prayer and expectation that our projects and programs will be hijacked by God and driven in His direction. Making disciples and church establishment are the work of God, not men (Acts 19:20). So strategy is simply a starting place that identifies where we are, where God says to go, and how to make intentional step froward, trusting Him for all the process and everything that we need. We cannot predict or control what God will do. But by positioning apostolic ministers and the peoples of unreached nations together, we do provide a venue for God to do something great (38).

What we see happening in Acts is a people movement towards Christ (i.e. church planting movement) or a multiplication of disciples and churches (cf. Mt.13:33; yeast). Indigenous movements of disciples and churches is not our measure of success; only obedience is. Our objective is indigenous movement of reproducing churches (42).

All strategies include two components: meeting the needs of hurting people, providing daily opportunities for preaching, and positioning the apostolic workers so that God can use His power to bring about a Christward movement (43).

Adapted from Preach and Heal by Charles Fielding

7 year mission

It was 7 years before William Carey baptized his first convert in India; it was 7 years before Judson won his first disciple in Burma; Morrison toiled 7 years before the first Chinaman was brought to Christ; Moffat declares that he waited 7 years to see the first evident moving of the Holy Spirit upon his Bechuanas of Africa; Henry Richards wrought 7 years on the Congo before the first convert was gained at Banza Manteka. – A.J. Gordon, The Holy Spirit in Missions, pp.139-140

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