Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Authentic Mission will involve bearing the Cross and Suffering for Christ's sake.

George Verwer the founder of Operation Mobilization writes:
'We seem to have a strange idea of Christian service. We will buy books, travel miles to hear a speaker on blessings, pay large sums to hear a group singing the latest Christian songs- but we forget we are soldiers.’

Suffering has always been part and parcel of Christian mission. The founder of Christianity died on a cross, virtually all the apostles were put to death, and the Christians in the early church until the conversion of the Emperor Constantine were often thrown to the lions or burned at the stake for the amusement of the onlookers.

Throughout Church history it has been the same when the Church tries to reach out in an enemy environment. Jesus had warned his followers that it would be so:
‘They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. This will result in your being witnesses to them. But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict’.
I think of the hymn :
'Must I be carried to the skies on a flowery bed of ease
when others sought to win the prize and sailed through bloody seas'?

The mission of Christ was certainly no ‘flowery bed of ease’. It was foretold by Isaiah that Christ would be a suffering servant ‘a man of sorrows and one acquainted with grief’ He was denied and betrayed by his friends before being beaten , tortured and then finally suffering and dying on the cross . Before his death Jesus told his disciples:

“The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified. 24 Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. 25 He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honour. (John 12 .23.)

Today in many parts of the world Christians are going through terrible persecution. China, India, Sudan and Vietnam to name a few. The Marechale ( see picture below) the eldest daughter of General Booth of the Salvation Army wrote from her prison cell in the 1880’s:

'Jesus was crucified .. Ever since that day, men have tried to find an easier way, but the easier ways fail. If you are to win thousands who are without Christ, you must be ready to be crucified: your plans , your ideas , your likes and your inclinations. Things have changed , you say you have liberty now. Is there? Go and live Christ’s life, speak as he spoke, teach what he taught, denounce sin whenever you find it, and see if the enemy will not turn on you with all the fury of hell… Christ wasn’t crucified in a drawing room. He was no easy chair business… Do you shrink from being bated, misrepresented and spoken evil of ? it is time you were crucified..'
At one stage in my work among among teenagers things were starting to get messy. Though we found it a testing time it was still small beer compared to those suffering in other countries. I had my tyres slashed and some of the other leaders wanted to leave. It was then that certain scriptures (like the ones below) came alive to us. I certainly hadn't needed them for quite a while.

‘Consider it pure joy, my brothers whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance’ (James 1.2.)

'But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.'2 Cor4.7

These became food and drink for the leaders. It was then I realised that God was perhaps doing more in us than he was doing with the youth. The enemy hates what we do and will oppose it.
If things go well all the time, if we never face any opposition perhaps we are not doing the Kingdom of darkness any damage. Will we give up when things get hard? Will we take it as a sign that God isn’t in it. Paul warns the younger Timothy who was prone to timidity in 2 Timothy 4:2‘Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction’.2.Tim. 4.2

We shouldn’t be surprised when Satan tries to prevent us reaching out to the lost. He will try to cripple us with fear. He will try and make us take the easier option so we don’t have face the flack or the jibs or the gossip.
Let us take Paul encouragement to Timothy as our own.
2 Timothy 2:3‘Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.’


Scoey said...

Acts 21 tells of Paul’s intent to head to Jerusalem, and also the fact that he received several prophetic words and pictures declaring, “If you go to Jerusalem, you will be thrown into prison.”

I never understood why, after hearing these multiple warnings from the Holy Spirit of the imprisonment, persecution and suffering awaiting him in Jerusalem, Paul still purposed to go to Jerusalem. I even tried to come up with possible reasons WHY he might be so intent to finish this journey; none of the reasons made sense, especially considering the man the Apostle Paul was. So I asked the LORD, “What would make a man choose this path and persist in the face of what looks like preemptive warnings of danger and trouble from the Spirit?”

Immediately, an earlier portion of Paul’s story flashed into my mind, from the time right around his conversion (Acts 9:10-19.) From the beginning, God revealed that He had made Paul His “chosen instrument to testify of Christ and spread the gospel, before the Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel.” And one of the first things revealed to Paul was how much he would suffer for the sake of the Name of the LORD.

Aha! I get it. Paul was on a mission from God.

The single-minded purpose to get to Jerusalem wasn’t an exercise of stubbornness on Paul’s part – he simply understood that this was part of the living out of the mission given to him by the LORD years before. The fact that his obedience and persistence could (and would) result in imprisonment and suffering were almost an afterthought; the mission, and the spread of the gospel, were preeminent.

I think that we might have an underlying assumption that suffering is to be avoided at all costs, probably because suffering hurts. Digging deeper, we may have an unscriptural ‘karma-like’ belief about good and bad happening in our lives, e.g. if we’re doing what God wants us to do, life will be good, and if not, then that’s when the bad stuff happens.

Jesus told His disciples, “The servant isn’t greater than his master; if they persecuted me, they will also persecute you…” (John 15:20) If I’m living a life of obedience to the LORD, living for eternity and not just for comfort in the here and now, I will suffer. The good news is that any “present sufferings won’t even compare to the glory that will be revealed” in, through, and around us in Christ Jesus and by His Spirit (Romans 8:18.)

Paul was sure about one thing – God had given him a mission, and therefore, whatever it took to complete the mission, he knew that God would provide it.

I pray for such a faith to grow in my heart and mind, and for that kind of faithful perseverance to the calling and mission that God has placed in front of me. LORD, help me live life with eternity and Your values firmly in sight, and with a single-minded focus on my mission.

Anonymous said...

We can read not only about Jesus warning but also about what actually happened to Paul, an early cross-cultural worker. Paul actually listed his sufferings in 2 Corinthians 11).

39 lashes from the Jews (5 times)
Beaten with rods (3 times)
Shipwrecked (3 times)
Hungry. thirsty, and cold
Labor, toil, and sleeplessness
In danger from rivers, bandits, false brothers, people from passport country as well as nationals.
In danger in the city, in the country, and at sea.
Cross-cultural workers today experience similar suffering, although they are more likely to be in airplane crashes than shipwrecks.

Do we have to suffer?
During his first term of cross-cultural service, to encourage and strengthen people, Paul told them, “We must suffer…” (Acts 14:22). Why would we have to suffer? Sometimes suffering is the only way to reach a particular goal. For example, most people have experienced getting a sliver in their hand or foot. This frequently happens during childhood, and children often want to leave the splinter in rather than suffering as the parents remove it.

However, the parents know that if the splinter remains, it will become infected and may turn into a serious problem. The parents also know that the only way to get the splinter out is to dig it out. Assuming that the parents do not take every splinter to a physician where anesthesia is available, removing the splinter causes some suffering as it is removed.

Why would anyone rejoice in suffering?
The answer is in the “know that” phrase which is in italics in the paragraph above. When you “know that” your suffering is the way to develop particular traits, you can rejoice as you consider the goal.

James wrote that we should “consider it pure joy” when we face trials because we know that this leads to perseverance, which then leads to maturity (James 1:2-4). It is not that we enjoy the suffering, but we rejoice because we know that we are moving toward maturity.

Romans 5:3-4 states, “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” Again, our joy comes not from the suffering itself, but we rejoice because we know that we are moving toward character and hope.

It also helps to know that we are not alone in our suffering. Peter, a third culture kid, tells us to stand firm “because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings” (1 Peter 5:9). You are not alone, Christians all over the world experience similar sufferings as they develop perseverance, character, hope and maturity.

Does suffering always lead to perseverance, character, hope and maturity?
It can lead to these characteristics, but it does not always do so. Suffering may result in people becoming either better or bitter, depending on how they respond to it. The writer of Hebrews points out that God, our heavenly father, disciplines (not punishes) us like our earthly parents do (Hebrews 12). Just as people differ in their response to their parent’s discipline when they are children, so do people differ in their response to God’s discipline when they are adults.

The writer of Hebrews encourages us to endure hardship as discipline and notes that everyone experiences discipline. Our earthly parents do what seems best to them, but our heavenly father does what is best for us. “God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace” (Hebrews 12:10-11).

Each of us chooses whether or not to accept God’s discipline gracefully (Psalm 119:71) to develop perseverance, character, hope, maturity, righteousness, and peace or to reject his discipline and become bitter toward him and about life in general. We choose whether to become better or to become bitter.

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