Tag Archives: Mission

Philippians 4:14-20 pt. 2; Brief Thoughts

14 Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. 15 And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. 16 Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. 17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. 18 I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. 19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. 20 To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.

Paul’s ministry in Thessalonica was troubled, to say the least. He entered the local synagogue there and labored to explain who Jesus is and what Jesus had done. Though many of the Jews in Thessalonica believed, a mob formed and tried to seize Paul and Silas to bring them up on charges of treason against Ceasar and have them arrested or even killed. After some bribes were paid by the believers, Paul and Silas fled the city by night (C.f. Acts 17:1-9).

What a terrifying reality to face. Imagine entering a city and preaching the gospel message of Jesus Christ with some measure of conversion and success in persuasion, only to find out that a small minority of hateful people have rejected the gospel, formed a mob, and are seeking your death. Certainly, Paul knows what rejection feels like. From an external perspective, Thessalonica appears to be a failure in Paul’s missionary journeys. He was unable to peacefully develop a church community and faced such violence that he was forced to flee. His rejection was evident and the failure was palpable. Yet, the Philippians supported his efforts and maintained concern for his work. It was their contribution that permitted Paul and Silas to work in Thessalonica without cost (1 Thess. 2:9 and 2 Thess. 3:7-8). The Philippians have been consistently supportive of Paul’s missions from the beginning and have maintained that support even in locations where it seemed as if there was no fruit.

Paul did not have to produce reports for the Philippians or send them pictures and testimonials from the field. Instead, they pursued his work and his affection. They sent messengers to him with care packages and pursued him to learn about what was going on in the places he was ministering. While it would have been easy to discount Paul’s ministry at times and insist that they could spend their resources better elsewhere, the Philippians trusted in the Lord to fulfill the work and entrusted their resources to God’s minister. It is this sort of giving that validates the affection of the church for the mission of God. If the church is openhanded with its giving and actively involved in pursuing knowledge of the work, then that church is proving its own affection for the gospel ministry.

Epaphroditus traveled to Paul, risking his life for the opportunity to share in the work of the gospel through the gift of resources to Paul. It is a tremendous blessing to the missionary when others who are like-minded are willing to sacrifice in order to join in the work. This sort of support sends the message to the missionary that they are not alone. One of the most common hindrance to the Christian leader is a feeling of loneliness. In the face of rejection and seeming failure, it is easy to feel alone on the mission. When fellow believers pray, support, investigate, and get involved with the work, missionaries can rest in the confidence that they are not alone and they can lean on the emotional and material support of the broader family of God.

All this support is to the glory of God. Paul’s growing confidence in the Philippians is not only assuring him that he is not alone in the work. It is also fortifying his confidence in the sovereign Lord of all things. Through the provision of support for the gospel ministry, the Philippians are actually validating God’s own sovereign work. The surrender of possessions and commitment to Paul’s missionary efforts serve as validation of their affection, but also of God’s approval and efforts. So Paul’s extreme confidence in God’s provision and sovereignty is only strengthened through the efforts of the Philippians.

When a church submits to sacrifice for the work of the gospel, there will inevitably be a hesitancy to continue with the work as their own resources and ability to provide for their own work diminishes. In times when resources are depleting and efforts seem to be stretching too thin, the church needs the reminder of verse 19: God will “supply your needs.” It is a common struggle in modern western churches to place their security in their own supply of money and resources. Western churches are extremely wealthy. Even the poorest of churches in the west is more financially stable than the average church in the rest of the world. At first, this appears to be a benefit that God has lavished upon His people. However, a careful observer can see that wealth is not always a blessing. Attend one or two business meetings at a local church and the heart of the leadership will quickly be revealed. How much time is spent debating frivolities that cost money and how much time is given to prayer and reports from the mission field or church planting? Does the church spend the majority of its time debating how money is spent or do they spend their time praying and investigating where to send their money? When the money and resources are beginning to be exhausted, the church leaders should remind the people that God will meet their needs. It is confidence in the sovereign God of all things that will bring security, not money. Surrender the finances in obedience to God and He will provide your needs.

The above questions are good questions to ask. Though they are not exhaustive in their determination of the heart of a church, they will give some indication as to the church’s dedication to the mission and their confidence in God’s provision. When you are seeking a church to partner with in ministry, seek out the heart of the leaders in that church. Then see if the people are following the Word of the Lord. If their confidence is in the Lord and His word, then they’ll be able to lead well and the people will be able to join in the mission. If not, keep searching.

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John 9, My favorite Jesus Story

One of my favorite questions to ask people is, “what is your favorite Jesus story?”  (a trick I learned from my older brother Jeff)  I love this question because it tells us a great deal about each other.  It tells me if a person actually reads the Bible or if they just regurgitate stuff their pastor has said.  It tells me if they have certain theological dispositions and tendencies.  It lets me briefly peer into their inner workings and attitudes towards religion, faith, and culture.  I thought today I’d share one of my favorite Jesus stories with you.  It will come in multiple parts, this is part one.

In John 9 there is a man who was born blind begging on the side of the road.  Jesus’ disciples ask, “whose fault is this man’s blindness?  Did he do it or His parents?”  Now, this question indicates a very peculiar understanding of life.  These men believe that bad things happen as a direct result of our individual wickedness.  To be sure, sometimes we suffer consequences of our sin in a dramatic and dire way.  For example, you end up in Jail if you break the law.  You may get sick and not be able to think as clearly if you are enslaved to alcohol or mind altering drugs.  Or you may end up losing jobs and being broke because you cannot overcome some sort of addiction.  Whatever the case, there are certainly consequences for individual sin that sometimes have great ramifications.  But, this is not the case with every trial and infirmity.  This poor blind beggar is simply blind.  Sin exists in the world and as a result death and infirmities plague EVERYONE.  This man is not guilty of being blind.  He simply is blind.  His own guilt is no greater than anyone else’s and he may actually be more righteous than the disciples!

To be clear, the true indictment should be laid on the community that surrounds this man.  The question the disciples ask is, “why is he blind.”  The question Jesus would have them ask is, “why is no one doing anything about this?”  Jesus asserts, “This man is blind so that the works of God would be shown.”  Cases of infirmity, sickness, and disease exist so that we can show the love of God to one another and recognize our common need for Christ.  So this story begs the question, where is the community of redeemed believers who follow God?  Why have they not taken care of this one?  Jesus kneels down and heals the man.  In Jesus’ example, we are beckoned to do the same thing for the broken around us.

Read the scene carefully, He doesn’t say a word to the man.  Just puts some mud on his eyes and says, “go wash that off.”  It must have been the weirdest thing that man had ever had happen to him.  I’m a little surprised that there is no record of the blind man’s verbal response.  I imagine that this must have been almost offensive, as Jesus’ healings often seem to be.  (He is always initiating healing with a rather offensive statement.  C.f. Jn 5:6, “do you want to be well?” or Mt. 12:13 to the man with the crumpled hand, “stretch out your hand.”)  I can only imagine what he was thinking, “what do you mean, ‘go wash this off!?’ of course I’m going to wash this off, you just put cold wet mud in my face you big bully!”  And yet, once he has washed it off, he was healed.

We are called to work this mission.  We are called to bind up the broken and take care of those who have shattered souls and lives.  It is in these broken people that we find the love of God is most fruitful.  It is in the broken community gathered around to aid each other that we see the Life Eternal at work.  So, get to work Christian!  Find some broken people and lift them up!

What’s your favorite story?

Isaiah mowing

 

grass

You ever notice that when the ground is left to itself, it grows weeds, thorns, and briars?  When the earth is left to itself, it runs wild and provides only thorns and weeds.  I know, annoying right!?  It’s as if God gave humanity some sort of responsibility to work the ground!?  Sheesh!  (I realized after re-reading this, that that joke is only going to be funny to about 4 people, but seeing as how I sometimes only a few people read this blog, I’ll just leave it.)

 

I remember the first yard I had to mow.  I don’t mean the first yard I mowed.  I mean the first yard that was “mine.”  It was not rented, it was not someone else’s.  It was mine and is to this day my yard!  This yard barely had a sprig of grass in it.  When we moved in, there was a 3 foot perimeter of grass around the majority of the house.  Beyond that, most of the yard was weeds and dirt.  But we seeded that ground, and watered, and mowed, and weeded, and used grass feed, and weed killers on repeat.  I can remember trying to follow the lines when mowing.  You know what I mean?  You mow trying to keep a straight line next to the line you’ve already mowed.  However, if you have weeds and dirt over most of your yard, you cannot always see the lines.  It takes a great deal of patience to mow weeds and cultivate grass.

 

In the book of Isaiah, God speaks about the need to work the ground.  He talks about His vineyard.  He says in chapter 5 that He is going to let His vineyard become overwhelmed by the thorns and briars.  What is remarkable is that God is restraining evil from over running His people.  So, He need not destroy the people Himself, just leave them alone and let them to their own devices.  Much like a yard, weeds will spring up when it is left untended.  God says that briars and thorns will grow up in it.  Even without the nourishment of the rain, these choking instruments of death will grow!  (Isaiah 5:6-7)

 

Why is it that the vineyard has become so abased?  It is because they have forsaken the Lord and they lack the knowledge of the Lord. (1:3, 5:13) So, the Lord states that He will let the earth overrun His garden.

 

I believe that the American Church has been overrun by the world.  Though there are exceptions, many have forsaken the word of God for the consumer driven lusts of this world.  this personal belief is why I work in the church, but that is beside the point.  The cares of this world have risen to choke out many who would otherwise love the Lord and devote themselves to Him!  Many have forsaken the Word of God and are blind to their own doing so.  And many more are aiding the slow steady death of the churches in our country, albeit unwittingly.  The message of Isaiah 1-5 is an extremely apt description of the state of the American church.  (Just a disclaimer: The church in America is NOT ISRAEL, while the description is similar, it is not the same.  The true church has the indwelling Holy Spirit and is therefore able to do some mowing and mission, Israel did not.)  So…  it is to those who are on the mission of God to mow the weeds.  (No need to quote the wheat and the tares parable, the illustration is just an illustration, read on)

 

How do we mow?  Well, I’m glad you asked.  The first thing to do is to return to the study of God’s Word.  The people of Israel were cut down because they had no knowledge of God and they had did not follow His word.  God has given us His word; we must feast on the word!  The second is a fierce devotion to obedience of that Word!  You can read the Bible, or you can Study the Bible.  It should be assumed that “studying” the Bible has an objective to it.  The objective of a Christian who studies the Bible is to become more like Jesus.  Study of the Word must be transformative or it is a waste of time.  Finally, it takes time.  No one gets to be an old Saint overnight.   In the same way, the church (a collection of saints) will take time to get there.  It takes years of labor to mow weeds and cultivate grass, but Isaiah 4 promises us that the Holy Spirit will redeem and make His people beautiful.  So we can rest in the confidence that our labor is not in vain, though sometimes it is difficult to see the lines that we have been working so hard to follow.

 

My wife and I mowed our weeds for seven years now.  The grass is beautiful and our yard is lovely.  It didn’t start that way…  We only had a few feet of grass around the immediate perimeter of our house.  But given time, diligence, and patient work, the grass has grown and now much of what we do is maintenance.  Weeds still rise and we still must remain faithful to tend the garden.  But the constant tending has resulted in a beautiful garden in a fallen world.  Likewise, the churches in our country must dedicate themselves to the diligent study and obedience to the Word of God.  Otherwise, the warnings in Isaiah 5 will soon beset our churches.

 

Some encouragements for those who mow (spread the Word of God):

 

  1. The grass WILL grow.  You may not see it, but hold fast, it will grow in time.  The promised redemption of Isaiah 4 is just as true as the condemnation of Isaiah 5.
  2. God gives the growth!  A truth from 1 Corinthians 3:7.  It is not your mowing that makes the grass grow!  God gives the growth.
  3. Make your mowing fun!  Remember to rejoice in the sprigs of grass that God gives you to tend.  When you see some growth, delight and rejoice in it!
  4. Finally, remember Jeremiah verses Jonah.  Jeremiah did not get to see the grass grow, but it was his joy to mow and trust the Lord.  Jonah saw grass grow but did not delight in mowing and had no joy.