The contrast could not have been starker. Driving home from a weekend speaking engagement it dawned on me that I witnessed a miracle that day. The weeklong media blitz surrounding the demonstrations in Ferguson, Missouri had reached its peak. If the reports were to be believed, the entire nation seemed on the verge of a racial eruption. But an entirely different scenario was being lived out in another major city not that far from St. Louis.
It is a modestly-sized congregation, some might describe it as a small church. Their pastor, a hard-working, unpretentious family man has led the congregation for nearly thirty years. I could observe no majority ethnicity among the attendees. There are Filipinos, others from the Far East, Latinos, Middle Easterners, African Americans, whites, and many of mixed races. In short, the church represents the multi-racial make-up of its neighborhood.
More than that, the congregation represents the Kingdom of God to its neighborhood. The media cycle of Ferguson, Missouri has run its course but genuine racial issues persist in our nation. Sadly, some masquerading as ministers of the gospel have driven wedges between the races and sought to aggrandize and enrich themselves by enflaming conflict. There exists enough blame to go around, whatever “side” one takes. But in this multi-racial neighborhood a church stands tall as a witness to the reconciling power of the gospel.
In the church we are not blind to color and diversity, we are enriched by it. No symphony can create a more glorious sound than the people of God, diverse yet united, lifting songs of praise to the Lord of all. What I remember most of all from our experience in that wonderful outpost of heaven, are the smiles. Anger, so vividly displayed in the video clips from Ferguson, is replaced by joy among the reconciled people of God.
Sadly, deep hostility between races exists in this world. But all across the nation and the world are thousands of these small bands of harmony we call the church. God has planted the church—yes, your church and mine—to be and to do the will of God on this planet. May God empower us to display the grace of God at work, the light of divine love shining in the darkness of sin and selfishness.
The Great Commission as Worship
The Great Commission. It’s the bedrock of the Church’s unshakable commitment to offer every living person an understandable presentation of the story of Jesus. We use terms like obey, fulfill, and finish when we speak of the Great Commission.
Rarely do we speak of missions as worship. But, what is God up to when he sends us on mission? Jesus told us that “the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10 ESV) The lost. We all know what humankind lost in the Fall—eternal life and a relationship with our Creator. God lost something, too. When Adam and eve sinned, God lost the worship of His creation.
Jesus told us what God is looking for, when he told the woman at the well in Samaria, “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.” (John 4:23 ESV)
God has been seeking worshippers for a very long time, it goes all the way back to the very beginning. Before you continue reading, read this story from Genesis 4:1-9.
A Tale of Two Brothers
Since their parents were directly created by God, Cain was the first person ever born. Soon he was joined by a brother, Abel. Throughout history, it has amazed parents that two children from the same gene pool can turn out to be such different people. This was certainly the case with Cain and Abel. In many ways they were polar opposites.
From the story it appears that Cain was the prototypical first-born child. He was hardworking, dominating, with flashes of arrogance. Adam’s oldest son preferred an ordered life. Not surprisingly Cain gravitated toward the disciplined world of the farmer. Aside from the weather, farming was a predictable occupation. Straight rows. Plant in the spring. Harvest in the fall. Many farmers that I have known value frugality. Save. Avoid debt.
I suspect that Abel was more of a free spirit. Abel adopted the more spontaneous and less-structured life of the shepherd. He was not lazy, but not as compulsive as Cain. While his older brother was plowing straight rows, Abel wandered in search of water for his flocks and fiercely protected them from predators. Of the two sons, Abel may have been more relational, more fun-loving and easiest to be around. This young man was a giver. He valued generosity.
For some time, the “First Four” apparently lived in peace, but the brotherhood of Cain and Abel encountered a strong test.
A Test at Harvest
The story of Cain and Abel—of all humankind, for that matter—takes a big left turn during a harvest season. Harvest is a most important time for the human race, even those who have never seen a farm. During the harvest, the food that sustains us is gathered, ensuring that we will survive and thrive for another year. Harvest is a season to celebrate God’s goodness, provision and favor. God’s grace finds a simple yet profound expression at harvest. Harvest is a season of worship.
Because Adam, Eve, Cain, and Abel were the first persons on earth, they were the first to do everything—breathe, walk, eat, bear children, and sin. They were the first to seek God in their brokenness. Their sacrifices were the first acts of worship.
At its core, worship is a worthy offering, from a grateful worshipper to a worthy God. “What will you offer to God?” was the test that confronted Cain and Abel in the season of harvest. Abel passed with flying colors. He offered God his best. He found a completely unblemished lamb, and sacrificed it to the Lord.
“…and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions…” (Gen 4:4 ESV)
This is the essence of worship—if God is God, he is worthy of our best. Abel’s generosity opened the door to God’s favor.
“The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering.” (v. 4b, NIV)
In contrast, Cain miserably failed the test of harvest. He went to his barns and gathered “some of his crops” (v. 3, NLT) While Abel brought the first and the best, Cain offered some. His frugality got the better of him and morphed into tight-fisted greed. Cain saved for himself instead of giving to God. As a result, he erected a barrier between himself and God’s favor.
“but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell.” (Gen 4:5 ESV)
Alienated from God and furious at his brother, Cain murdered Abel in cold blood. When God confronted him, Cain utters the most famous irresponsible disclaimer of all time, “Am I my brother’s guardian?” (Gen. 4:9 NLT)
What does all of this have to do with missions? The test of the harvest confronts us in many forms today. Missions is one of them.
Cain lost favor with God when he failed to take responsibility in three important areas…
Sin. Sin is an inherited trait. We do not learn to sin, it is in our spiritual DNA. It crouches at the door of everyone’s heart. Cain failed to master it, as has every person since. Murder was the culmination of Cain’s evil heart, not the beginning of it. Long before God disregarded Cain’s offering, Cain had disregarded God. His “worship” became a meaningless act to Cain instead of a connection to the God of redemption.
When Abel offered a lamb, he anticipated the ultimate and permanent sacrifice that reconciles humankind and God—the death of Jesus on the Cross. We do not need to offer a lamb anymore. But we do need to come to Jesus by faith and give our lives to him.
Service. Many people get themselves into trouble through ignorance, foolishness, or recklessness Fire and rescue personnel often find themselves rescuing persons who have made are drunks, unfaithful spouses, deadbeat dads, or violent criminals. They are not accountable for the choices made by the victims they are rescuing. As public servants, however, they are accountable for the oath they took, to provide the highest level of protection possible to citizens—and when necessary, take calculated risk to save lives and protect property.
I am my brother’s guardian. I go because I signed up with Jesus to "Go throughout the whole world and preach the gospel to all people.” (Mar 16:15 GNB) Jesus came to die so that others may live. They are in trouble and need to be rescued.
Sacrifice. God is God, and therefore worthy of our best. As a follower of Jesus you are compelled to do something—your best—in praying, giving, and going.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. (Rom 12:1 ESV)
Certainly the needs of the world are great. But I am not committed to missions because the needs are great—that would be its own expression of arrogance and selfishness. I am a missionary because God is great. God has given me a heart for the lost, and I love them; but, I am a missionary because I love Jesus—he called me to this ministry.
Yes, missions is worship. We value missions so highly because Jesus is worthy. Give your best, not to the cause of missions, but to Jesus.
Consider the sun. Just in case you weren’t paying attention in science class…
The sun represents 99.9% of the total mass of the entire solar system. Burning at a temperature of 15.6 million Kelvin (Not sure what a Kelvin is? Google it, it’s beyond my ability to explain.), it warms the earth from a distance of 93 million miles. I have learned from personal experience how dangerous over-exposure to the sun can be—I will likely go to the dermatologist every six months for the rest of my life, looking for signs of skin cancer. In hot, sunbaked climates, shade becomes a huge blessing. At certain times of the year, I have stood in the sun in shirtsleeves, then stepped just a few feet into shade, and put on a jacket for the cold.
Consider God. The Creator decorated the universe with billions of stars like the sun, some of them even more powerful. God placed the sun and earth in perfect relationship to one another, providing an environment that sustains life, the most precious of which is humankind. As overpowering as it is, the light of the sun pales in comparison to the glory of God.
How is it that one moment we can be experiencing the radiance of God’s presence, and in a short time be stuck in one of those confusing and desperate times when it seems we are shielded from God’s glory and grace?
Come to think of it, we spend our entire lives living in the sunlight, or in the shadows—never in both. Is it the same way in our experience with God?
The follower of Jesus finds a kindred spirit in the writer of Psalm 44. We don’t always find the direct answers that we may want from God, but we find in the ancient songs that we share many of the same questions. And, if we are not afraid to look deeply, we can find more than answers—we might just find God.
Before reading on, you may want to stop and read Psalm 44 in its entirety.
The Awesome Glory of God’s Grace (Psalm 44:1-8)
Yes, there are those times when we live full on in the glory of God's grace (44:1-8). Firmly embedded in the worldview of God’s Old Testament people, ancient Israel, was the idea that God’s favor could be observed by the presence of obvious blessings.
It was not by their sword that they won the land,
nor did their arm bring them victory;
it was your right hand, your arm, and the light of your face, for you loved them.
(Psalm 44:3 NIV)
The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
(Numbers 6:24-26 ESV)
Light shines on the righteous and joy on the upright in heart.
(Psalm 97:11 NIV)
In this view, the formula seems to be rather straightforward: if God is pleased with me, I will be blessed with health, abundant crops, many children, and a victorious army. Using the testimony of his ancestors (vv. 1-3) the psalmist constructed a theology of victory. (vv. 4-8)
In a similar way we, as God’s New Testament people, continue looking to the Lord, His Word, and the power of the Holy Spirit, to shine brightly on us, granting us success. The wonder of the Jesus story is that the glory of God takes on flesh. Emmanuel embodies God’s glory.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth… No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known.
(John 1:14, 18 ESV)
To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
(Colossians 1:27 ESV)
But, the glory of God no longer simply shines on us, it shines in us and from us. From the glory of God flows power, transformation, and blessing
Of course, all of this is tempered with a deep understanding of grace. The psalmist understood that all the good that happened for them was a gift from the unmerited favor of God. God’s active glory is not based on our worthiness or our efforts, but on God’s love and God’s purposes.
Living full-on in the glory of God is an amazing and awesome thing. Worship experiences are emotionally intense. Financial blessings—sometimes miraculous ones—repeatedly occur. Health and healing describes our life. But it’s not always like that…
The Shadow Side of Grace (44:9-25)
There are times that we live in shaded places, where the blessings from God's grace seem few and far between, like we are shielded from God’s glory. If faithfulness produced glory/blessing, then does a setback mean that we no longer merit the glory of God? Is it my fault?
One commentator suggests this psalm is written on the heels of a devastating defeat during the faithful reigns of Jehoshaphat or Hezekiah. Coming of age in a period of relative peace and prosperity, the psalmist witnessed a dramatic change. His theology of victory was being severely tested. He had heard the stories of God’s intervention on Israel’s behalf, but he was not seeing it. He was tired of stories, he needed the reality.
Perhaps, there was a sin to blame. Have we failed God in some way and now God is correcting us? Couldn’t find anything.
If we are not to blame, perhaps God is: “Has God forgotten to pay attention?” Do you feel the disappointment? The psalmist’s faith joy in the light of God’s face has turned to doubt and despair. “Why do you hide your face?” (44:24a)
I have felt the same way, and so have you. It can feel like God is looking the other way, that the shining face of God’s favor is directed somewhere else—pouring out blessing for others while you are standing there all alone with nowhere to turn.
Here is how we really feel about God in these times…
Get up, God! Are you going to sleep all day? Wake up! Don't you care what happens to us? Why do you bury your face in the pillow? Why pretend things are just fine with us? And here we are—flat on our faces in the dirt, held down with a boot on our necks. Get up and come to our rescue. If you love us so much, Help us!
(Ps. 44:23-26 MSG)
If you are looking for an easy solution, the psalmist’s prayer leaves us with an ending that does not completely satisfy.
So, what happens? Does the glory return? Do the people finally find sin hidden deep in their hearts and find repentance? Was there a greedy man like Achan that needed to be removed from the army? Did they ever get their mojo back?
I don’t know. It’s not the end of the story, just the end of the prayer.
It’s the same for you and me, whether we are baking in the rays of God’s wonderful glory, or shivering in the shadows of struggle. Sorry. Don’t know what’s next. Not the end of the story.
But there is one thing the psalmist remained convinced of, and so can we. In the sunshine, or in the shadows…
You can count on God's love (v. 26b)
The writer, a skilled wordsmith, has been taking us on a verbal journey. The testimony (vv. 1-3) of his ancestors became his theology (vv. 4-8), truths that he believed but were secondhand to him until he was tested (vv. 9-26a) by struggle, weakness, and disappointment.
But now with the last word of his song, he delivers us to the destination: trust. In Hebrew, the term hesed describes the unshakeable, steadfast love of God for God’s people.
Elijah was a prophet of Yahweh that lived most of his life in the shadows. He lived alongside a small stream, eating what ravens provided, until the stream dried up. God directed Elijah to a poor widow, from whom he begged free accommodations, eating literally from day to day, what the Lord miraculously supplied. But Elijah learned the voice of the Lord in those shadow places.
Later, when Elijah absolutely needed to hear the voice of God, he knew what to listen for.
The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.
(1 Kings 19:11-13)
The Lord loves me too much to leave my trust untested or God’s voice undiscovered.
When we reach the end of this life, we might add up the time we have spent in the shadows compared with that we have basked in the radiance of the face of God’s glory. I suspect we will have been in the shadows longer than the sunlight.
If Hebrews 11 is to be believed there are a multitude of God’s people who have lived their entire lives in the shadows, but maintained unbroken faith. The radiant glory is intermittent, even rare—for now. In the shadows, one may be shielded from the “glory”, but there is no shield from God's presence and grace. The sunshine of glory is wonderful, but there is a sweetness to the shadows, the holy place, where I hear the gentle whispers of God.
Will you embrace your shadow place today? How?
Push back against a me-first culture through missions
“It’s not about you.” With those words Rick Warren opened his best-selling book, The Purpose Driven Life. Nine years later, Max Lucado followed with It's Not About Me: Rescue From the Life We Thought Would Make Us Happy. Sadly, in the narcissistic culture that we have become, it’s all about “me.” The world is disoriented in its disconnection from God. But it’s different in the church—right? Well, no. Despite so many warnings to the contrary, it is difficult, if not impossible, for the materialism and self-preoccupation of the culture to escape the Church. For many Christians “the American Dream” has come true, but their life has become a nightmare of stress, debt, and broken relationships.
Jesus anticipated this problem when he said, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Mat 10:39 ESV) Every day, Christians in the USA live with the blessing of living in a free and prosperous society. But there is a trap that can and must be avoided—the trap of entitlement. When we begin to feel that we deserve our blessings, we enter the danger zone of losing our life to our own selfishness.
To avoid the trap of selfishness and entitlement, we need to “lose” our life. This does not mean that we develop a dark suicidal wish, or that we enter some kind of joyless existence. What it does mean, is that we engage in an intentional life-style of giving ourselves away. For me nothing illustrates that notion better than the movie, “The Guardian.” In the film, Kevin Costner plays a Coast Guard rescue swimmer, one of those very few selfless persons that possess the courage to brave unbelievable conditions—risking their lives to save others. Their motto, “That others may live,” reveals a kind of selfless thinking and living that is rare indeed. It reminds me of an old hymn…
Rescue the perishing, care for the dying,
Snatch them in pity from sin and the grave;
Weep o’er the erring one, lift up the fallen,
Tell them of Jesus, the mighty to save.
Rescue the perishing, care for the dying,
Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save.
(Lyrics by Fanny J. Crosby)
[Click here for a video by Gary Chapman, with the background story of the hymn. It’s a nice repackaged acoustic arrangement.]
Thankfully, there are many ways to give yourself away. Through involvement in missions, for example, you have opportunities to give of your life through…
Prayer. Secure a list of missionaries that your church supports and pray for them. Also, Jesus instructed his disciples to, “pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest." (Mat 9:38 ESV) Click here to join us in praying for laborers in 2014.
Giving. Generously support the missions and evangelism programs of your church. Pray about waiting on that big-ticket purchase as an expression of selflessness.
Personal involvement. Join that short-term missions trip or community outreach that you church has been planning. What about nurturing a relationship with a neighbor that needs the Lord?
Sure, it feels risky. But there is no surer way to find your life than to give it away.
A Debt too Large to Repay
Among the many burdens that this culture carries is the devastating weight of debt. As a nation, we owe more than we can possibly repay in our lifetime. Individuals and families are staggering under the load as well. The average household carries $15,800 in credit card debt alone. To illustrate, assume you have a credit card balance of only $10,000, with an attached interest rate of seventeen percent. If you remit the minimum payment of $142 each month, it will require thirty six years to pay the debt in full. In the end, you will pay $61,000 to eliminate a $10,000 debt, assuming you charge nothing to the credit card in the meantime. Add to this a car loan and a mortgage and we understand that the average family finds their financial margins perilously depleted. It is no wonder, then, that bankruptcy becomes the only solution for so many—they owe a debt that they cannot possibly repay.
One day Jesus and the disciples were invited to a meal at the home of Simon, a Pharisee. That was not particularly surprising, but what was absolutely shocking was the lack of hospitality shown to Jesus when he arrived. A welcome guest would always be greeted with a kiss, his feet would be washed by a servant, and he would be anointed on the head with oil. Despite being denied all of these common courtesies, Jesus took his place at the table with the other men. They began to eat, leaning on one elbow, their feet laying away from the table.
In an adjacent room sat the women. As they engaged in lively conversation, it was apparent that one woman was not at all welcome. Ignored as the others talked, this woman sat silently by herself, her eyes riveted on the room next door.
The commotion started with the gasps and protests of the women. Suddenly the ignored woman had left the table, and then returned with a very expensive flask of perfume. Gliding into the room where the men were continuing their animated debate, she moved directly toward Jesus, and kneeled at his feet. She began to weep, so profusely that her tears completely saturated the dusty feet of Jesus with their moisture. With both hands, she reached to her head and allowed her hair to fall on his feet, tenderly drying them with her long black locks. Quickly, she reached for the flask, and poured the entire contents over Jesus’ feet.
Shocked into speechlessness, Simon could only say to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner." (Luke 7:39, ESV) Yes, she was a sinner. But this story isn’t about a woman who finds forgiveness. Indeed, it is the story of two debtors. One the consummate insider, Simon, the respected religious and civic leader. The other, the very definition of an outsider, the woman with no name but with an admitted profession, prostitute.
One of these debtors will leave this encounter completely relieved of debt. The other never quite gets it. It is easy to identify with one or the other of these characters, but, as we shall see, it’s not that simple.
Grace that Truly Amazes
Financial debt weighs heavily on families, individuals, organizations, and nations. But there is an even greater burden to bear than a maxed-out credit card. That heavy load is sin. We inherited it, but willingly accumulated more. We're in deep trouble, because there is no way out--well, almost no way.
Sitting with Jesus are two people who would never be in the same room, had it not been for their interest in Jesus. Simon and the woman are so different from one another that you might call them polar opposites. Simon the Pharisee represents the ultimate insider. He has the favor of God all over him. Just ask him. His ticket to heaven was reserved a long time ago. Or so he thought. You see, Simon missed something along the way. While his life of service to God as a Pharisee was an honorable thing, he forgot that it was people that God loves, not their performance. Simon was devoted to the system and missed the Savior.
The “sinful woman”, in contrast, was the definition of an outsider. She wasn't just marginalized; she was hanging on to the edge of the page by her long fake fingernails. We don't know her first name, but Hopeless was her middle name. When she saw how badly Jesus was being treated by Simon (not much better than she had been treated herself), she had to do something. She was wired to be a worshipper, so she started worshipping the only way she knew how, without reservation.
To Simon, the behavior of the woman and of Jesus was completely unacceptable. So Jesus told him a story.
“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?" (Luke 7:41-42 ESV)
An intelligent man, Simon knows exactly the point that Jesus makes with this anecdote. He sheepishly answers, "The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt."
“Bingo!” replies Jesus. Between the two, there is no doubt who's the longest rap sheet was. But there they sat, side by side in debtors’ prison. Both owed more than they could ever hope to repay.
To Simon the Pharisee and to the Sinful Woman, each from opposite ends of the social spectrum, comes the same message of grace, "You are forgiven."
Imagine that Chase Bank sends you a letter, declaring your $10,000 credit card debt forgiven. But it goes further than that. Now imagine that in that very same letter the president of Chase Bank says, “Not only do I forgive your debt, I want to be your friend. I’ll send the jet to pick you up for lunch next Tuesday.”
“That will never happen,” you say. Of course not. That is exactly the point. The outrageous love of God produces grace that God extends to us through forgiveness of our sins. If we accept God’s offer, our sin goes away completely, the load of debt is lifted. Chances are, you believe that your sins are too many and too large. Forgiveness is out of the question. You’re wrong. The love of God can lift the weight of any sin. Give it a try.
It’s Personal No matter how you come to meet Jesus, the bottom line is this: he wants to forgive you. As amazing as that seems, it goes so much farther—God wants to know you, to have a personal relationship with you. And it doesn't matter if you are an insider or an outsider.
One might say that here we are, reclining at the table with Jesus today. Are you the “Simon” in the room? You have been near the things of God for a long time, perhaps your whole life. You have done good things and avoided doing evil things. But the personal relationship just isn’t there, and you know it. When I first met Jesus, I was a Simon, albeit a very young one. The oldest child of a pastor, I literally “grew up in the church pew.” I knew the songs by heart, learned my memory verse every Saturday night, and said my prayers at bedtime. But I didn’t know Jesus personally. That all changed on a hot summer Sunday night. Seated in my accustomed spot, I began to hear the words of the guest preacher (who happened to be my grandfather) in an unusual way. As the Holy Spirit began to speak to me, I suddenly understood that the Lord wanted to know me, and I wanted to know Jesus personally. I came to the altar, pouring my heart out to God, and sensing God’s presence for the very first time.
Perhaps your story is more like the Sinful Woman/Sinful Man. The first Sunday that Lori (not her real name) attended church, she was covered in an undeniable attitude of resistance. Invited by an acquaintance, she had reached the bottom of the barrel. No money, estranged from her family, with nowhere to turn, Lori arrived with plenty of doubts. She looked downward, with a mix of fear and anger. During the service, an invitation was given for individuals to come forward for prayer for special needs in their lives. Lori reasoned that it probably wouldn’t hurt to go ask the minister to pray for her to find a job. I asked Lori what we needed from the Lord. She surprised even herself when she blurted out, “I want to ask Jesus in to my heart.” And I had not yet even preached my riveting sermon! Jesus was meeting Lori in a direct and personal way. Her life was altered dramatically in that moment. Lori remains a follower of Jesus today, a blessing to her church, her family and her friends.
There is only one way to authentically connect with God in a personal relationship. Humble yourself. Absolutely, no way around it. Humbling yourself means to quit trying to fool yourself and quit making excuses. Simply make an honest assessment by asking yourself, “Do I have a personal relationship with Jesus?”
Sadly, Simon never got it. He walked away from an encounter with Jesus. His life continued on as before, alienated from the God he claimed to serve, carrying his unbearable burden of sin-debt. In contrast, the woman who had lived a life filled with shame and regret walked away transformed and debt-free. Because Jesus forgave her, she could forgive herself. Jesus lavished her with grace. She responded in a surprising way.
Most who witnessed her actions that day said that she went way too far. But how do you say thank you for restoring a ruined life?
And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. (Luke 7:37-38)
What Simon could not bear to do, the sinful woman could not wait to do. She fell at his feet in worship, in complete abandonment of her life to the one that she now knew loved her more than she could imagine. Her most valuable possession had to suffice as her expression of love for Jesus. If possible, she would give much more.
Worship in its purest form is to pour back on Jesus everything that you are and everything that you possess. The enormous grace that God lavished on us compels us to worship without end and without limits.
God’s Love for You is Greater than Your Failures
As this emotional drama has unfolded, perhaps it has become clear that there is a barrier of sin that exists between you and God. That barrier is no shorter for church kids; it's no taller for drug pushers. There is one and only one solution to that barrier—God's unmerited favor. Even if you are coming from a very bad place, Jesus will meet you with forgiveness, if you will approach Him in humility. Many times over, Jesus Christ loves you more than your failures, more than your sins, more than the pain you have caused to Him and to others.
Experiencing God’s presence doesn’t require a church service, just a prayer from your heart to His. There is an ocean of grace and forgiveness waiting for you.
Why do we send missionaries to America?
Because with the population reaching 317 million, at least 200 million of those unreached for Christ, the USA is the third largest mission field in the world. In America ninety four unreached people groups have been identified. Only India and China have more unreached people.
Ruth and I are pleased to be a part of the force of 950 missionaries, candidates and spouses commissioned as Assemblies of God U.S. missionaries. Our nation remains America the Beautiful, but America needs God.
What is it going to take to reach 200 million people with the gospel? There is no one-size-fits-all strategy or ministry model. Just working harder will not get the job done. But the Lord often brings me to a passage of Scripture that describes a time in Israel’s history that is similar to ours in America.
The story of Gideon (Judges 6-7) has a lot to say to us about the kind of people God can use, even when serving God is losing its popularity. For seven years, the Midianites had been bullying the Israelites into submission, starvation, and humiliation. The nation needed some mighty warriors, because God was up to something even though the immediate future did not look promising. God is up to something in the USA and the Church needs some mighty warriors—are you available?
If so, three qualities are needed…
Sense of Urgency
Urgency means the status quo is no longer an option. For seven years the Midianites had ravaged the land, imposed their will on Israel, and brought them to a place of literal starvation. It had been years since the nation enjoyed a full harvest. They would not survive one more year.
Has anyone noticed that we are in serious trouble in the USA? In popular culture and politics, Christian values are in full retreat. Evil is flaunted while righteousness is ridiculed, even punished.
Is this ok with you? Me neither.
Now, one of the great challenges of the warrior is that people rarely share your sense of urgency. Human nature fears and resists change, unless the pain of remaining the same is greater than the fear of the change. By definition, leaders are change agents; teachers are champions of transformation.
Urgency brings discomfort; it can be downright stressful. In part, this is why urgency is rare nowadays. In America, we are in stress relief mode. Even followers of Jesus—especially followers of Jesus—have filled our lives so full that we don’t have the energy to resist the patterns of the world that are squeezing us to death.
The first thing to do in an urgent situation, is to call out to God. That’s what Israel did (Judges 6:6-7) and that is what the church needs to do. There will be a “call to arms,” But in my spirit I sense that time is not yet. Now is the time to pray.
Allow me to distinguish between urgency and desperation. Desperation is panic that lacks discernment. On the other hand, urgency is a compulsion to change so that we can find the preferable future God has for us. Urgency can be motivated by opportunity, not just trouble.
Conventional wisdom says that when things get urgent, doing something is better than doing nothing. That is not always true. The call to action will occur, but the urgent warrior always prays first.
As God begins to build the warrior, the biggest change occurs in the warrior himself or herself. Beyond a sense of urgency the warrior needs…
Separation from Destructive Influences
The gods of Midian had infiltrated the camp of Israel, including Gideon’s own household. Check this out…
When the people of Israel cried out to the LORD on account of the Midianites, the LORD sent a prophet to the people of Israel. And he said to them, "Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: I led you up from Egypt and brought you out of the house of bondage. And I delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of all who oppressed you, and drove them out before you and gave you their land. And I said to you, 'I am the LORD your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell.' But you have not obeyed my voice." (Judges 6:7-10 ESV)
God’s own people were worshipping idols! What are idols?
Sadly, it still happens today. What happens when God’s people become contaminated by worldly values? We lose our power, drained like a dollar store battery. The Apostle Paul was able to call, by the virtue of his transformed life, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” Today I fear the church’s call to the world is, “Follow us as we follow you.” The warrior’s commitment is a commitment to the Word of God. She or he demonstrates a courageous obedience to God’s Word—they are people of the Book. God is up to something, and God never works outside of the Word.
Mighty warriors take on and overcome the idols of this world. Gideon’s first act of courage was to tear down the idols of his father.
That night the LORD said to him, "Take your father's bull, and the second bull seven years old, and pull down the altar of Baal that your father has, and cut down the Asherah that is beside it (26) and build an altar to the LORD your God on the top of the stronghold here, with stones laid in due order. Then take the second bull and offer it as a burnt offering with the wood of the Asherah that you shall cut down." (Judges 6:25-26 ESV)
We were never created to be conformed to the patterns of worldly living, it will kill us. Victory and freedom await if we will allow the Spirit to transform us into the image of Jesus.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom 12:1-2 ESV)
Today’s warrior must be especially critical of culture. By its very nature, culture is a human construct that reflects the image of God and the fallen nature of humanity. Every day our culture grows less Jesus-friendly. Sure, you can talk about faith and values, but, Jesus-talk and Jesus-like living makes the culture very irritable. The Mighty Warrior is loyal to one culture—our citizenship is in heaven. (Philippians 3:20)
But how can I bring down the idols in my life? Like Gideon, build an altar to God. An earlier generation of Pentecostals had an expression they called “praying through.” That meant going to prayer with a resolve to persevere until an answer arrived. In addition to prayer, find help from encouragement and through accountability to a brother or sister who will help you become an overcomer. Above all, do not be gentle with idols. They must be torn down and destroyed. Now. Do not see another sunrise with that idol standing in your life.
So, mighty warriors have separated themselves from destructive influences and they possess a sense of urgency. But the most important description of mighty warriors is that they are…
Strong through the Holy Spirit
I am a life-long fan of the Green Bay Packers. My childhood idol was Bart Starr, their Hall of Fame quarterback during the 1960’s and Most Valuable Player of the first two Super Bowls. Several years ago, we visited the Pro Football Hall of Fame where we saw Starr’s Super Bowl I jersey on display. That jersey was part of a dominating performance, but now it just hangs there lifelessly. It was Bart Starr’s ability, not the jersey’s, that won the game.
“The Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon.” (Judges 6:34) I have been told that a better translation might be “the Spirit of the Lord clothed himself with Gideon." The word picture says it all. It sure looked like Gideon, but a different man stood before the army as they prepared to fight the Midianites.
What unfolds is nothing short of a miracle. To muster the troops, Gideon gives a mighty blast of the shophar. An army arise out of the beaten-down people. But God trims it to 300 men. No man could claim credit for the victory that awaits. When the 300 men blow their trumpets and raise a great shout, the countless Midianite army was put to flight by God Himself. It was an epic victory, read it in detail. (Judges 7)
Warrior do not go to battle unclothed.
…and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high." (Luke 24:49 ESV)
To do God’s work we need God’s power. Luke reminds us that there are really two parts to the Great Commission: 1) Stay and 2) Go
Leader, find the strategies that God desires for you to employ. But the bottom line for reaching the USA with the gospel is the life transforming and healing power of God.
When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” (Matthew 11:2-5 NIV)
The Lord’s desire and our need is to be clothed with the power of God. Like Gideon. Like Jesus. Like the Early Church that turned their world upside down.
May the Lord give us warriors, men and women with urgency, that have separated themselves to God, and find strength in the Holy Spirit.
Sunday marks the beginning of what many Christians around the world observe as Holy Week. It kicks off with the festive, praise-filled expressions of Jesus' disciples as he enter Jerusalem, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” By Friday, the enormity of God’s grace compels us to deep reflection as Jesus is laid in the tomb. But then again, inexpressible joy overwhelms us as we behold the resurrected Jesus. I encourage you to select one of the gospels and live in the Holy Week story this week. Get on the emotional roller coaster and allow the word of God to change you this week.
Read more about Holy Week in this blog written by James Emery White.
The Church. Some hate it. Others love it. Many misunderstand it. Almost all Christians worry about it. But there are four things that we know about the Church:
1. The favor and blessing of God is on the Church.
The Church is the visible expression of Jesus on earth. Paul describes it as the “body” of Christ. (Colossians 1:24) Jesus loves the Church so much that he died to create it. (Acts 20:28; Ephesians 5:25) Sometimes we fret that “the Church nowadays has lost its way” and perhaps some local churches have veered off track. But if we can trust the love of God—and we can—then we maintain our confidence that the Lord who established this Church with his blood will continue to pour his grace upon it.
2. Jesus promised to build His church
“I will build my church,” Jesus proclaimed, “and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:19) The word picture describes a forward moving church overcoming every obstacle that its enemies helplessly place in its path. For two thousand years, opposing worldviews have taken aim against the church. Not one has succeeded.
3. Jesus is fulfilling His promise to build the Church
In the Assemblies of God alone, a new believer is added every twenty seconds, and a new church is planted somewhere in the world every fifty-two minutes. In India, Assembly of God leaders and churches have engaged in what is believed to be the largest single church planting initiative in history. They will train 30,000 pastors to plant 25,000 house churches by 2020. The conservative estimate of leaders in India is that 625,000 new believers will result.
4. Every believer belongs to the Church
“Together you are the body of Christ. Each one of you is part of his body.” (1 Corinthians 12:27 CEV) The Church is expressed as a local church. No, a perfect local church does not exist; humans bring human brokenness to the church. But it is in our life together that we find a path to wholeness in Christ. You need a church, and a church needs you.
Wow, what a winter we are experiencing! While large parts of our nation have endured a historically cold and wet winter, other parts, including the southwest, have been unusually dry and warm. The snow, ice, and rain continue to fall in some places while a streak of 70 days with no precipitation was just ended this weekend in Phoenix. In our travels, we have experienced some of both extremes. Some like it hot, others like it cold, but we have all been reminded that we cannot control the weather.
Nature reminds us that we encounter seasons in our lives. And, they are mostly out of our control. But each season prepares us for the next. The winter snow provides the moisture needed by the summer crops. In turn, we are sustained through the winter and spring by the fall harvest. In the same way, each season of our lives prepares us for the next opportunity that God has in store for us.
Our sense of anticipation grows stronger every day. Windows of opportunity continue to open around the world and in the U.S.A., and we are eager to get to work at the International Offices of Global University. But, we have embraced the deputation season of our ministry. A strong network of prayer support and financial provision will sustain us as we equip a new generation of Spirit-filled leaders in the years ahead. What a joy it has been to meet so many pastors and visit incredible churches that are engaging the harvest in their communities and around the world.
We thank the Lord that our financial support is growing, and we hope to be fully in place soon. The unique training ministry of Global University has been raised up for this time. Thank you for praying for us and for your faithful and generous financial support.
I grew up under Soviet rule. I was told that the whole world spoke Russian. I thought I would live and die under Soviet rule. Then one day the wall fell, and we saw the truth. I believe just as in a day the Soviet rule ended, that in a day Islam too will fall.Armenia, largely regarded as the first Christian nation
-An Armenian church leader
Armenia, largely regarded as the first Christian nation in the world (301 A.D.), finds itself surrounded by nations that are 98% Muslim (Click here to view a map). Among the Christians in Armenia are two Pentecostal Unions and a strategic Pentecostal church (Word of Life), from which a coalition of leaders have requested the assistance of Global University to train leaders to reach the Muslim world.
Currently, there are no Bible colleges in Armenia. In 2014, Armenia Bible College: a School of Global University will launch. The Graduate School of Theology has already begun, with a goal of establishing a largely Armenian faculty. Next, will be translating Global University's undergraduate curriculum into Armenian. Then, the Unions will engage in training leaders to reach Armenia and beyond. Their goal is to train 250 people in the next five years to serve as missionaries to the Muslim world.
Please pray for these efforts. Most importantly, pray that the Lord of the harvest will call those 250 men and women to go as missionaries.
David L. DeGarmo (D. Min.) serves Global University as Associate Dean of the Graduate School of Theology. Along with his wife Ruth, he is also a U.S. Missionary. He has extensive experience as an educator, missionary, and pastor.
David writes an additional blog on a variety of topics. Check it out...