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Archive for the ‘Mission’ Category

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When there is so much work to be done ‘at home’ should we be sending out missionaries abroad? When our national churches – in Kenya or the UK or wherever we are – are struggling so much with false teaching and lukewarmness and have so few faithful Bible teachers and servant leaders, can we afford to be sending well-trained Christian workers to other countries? In an age of mass migration and refugee flows, when the world is coming to our doorstep (praise God) is there any need to send out missionaries? When sending people across borders is so costly and difficult and when there are still many neglected, functionally-unreached people in our own lands shouldn’t we just concentrate on shedding gospel light into dark corners close to home and de-emphasise ‘going’?

There is a lot of truth and wisdom and gospel-heartedness behind those questions. Undoubtedly there are huge needs and opportunities ‘at home’ and it will be right for many to stay and address those. It is also perfectly true, as many have said, that getting on a plane doesn’t make you a missionary; every follower of Christ is called to Great Commission obedience wherever they are and wherever they go (Mat. 28). And we also need to come to terms with the ways in which global demographics and dynamics are changing – mission from everywhere to everywhere – and root out the deep down ugly prejudice which sometimes makes us (me) anxious about that. And yes, it is often better and more cost effective to send funds to support gospel workers in their own countries rather than sending someone over there.

But here are four suggestions of why, while we want to be doing all those things, we still need to be sending out high quality gospel workers across borders:

These are the days of Elijah

In pastor Joshua D Jones’ strangely titled but extremely good book Elijah Men Eat Meat he draws multiple insightful parallels between our current post-post-modern age and the days of Elijah, Ahab and Jezebel. In one chapter he focuses on mission and notes the phenomenon of sound biblical churches with a good grip on the primacy of word ministry and a clear understanding of the mission of the church “to preach the gospel and make obedient disciples of Jesus throughout the nations…” who nonetheless

“…lose foreign mission as a focus because ‘we have so many problems here at home.’ Given all the spiritual darkness that we see in Israel, it would be easy to assume that God might put foreign mission on hold. Elijah has no shortage of work to do within his national boundaries. After all, there are plenty of fake prophets to combat and plenty of seduced hearts to turn. Yet, God sends Elijah to another nation to spend two years of his life witnessing to one pagan woman and her son. How does one even begin to evaluate whether that was a wise use of time and resources?”

It seems that the LORD is less concerned about strategy and efficiency and cost-benefit analysis than we are. He is driving an outgoing, expansive, generous, nation-reaching mission even in the worst of times. And he uses that mission to shame and rebuke and incite Israel and make them jealous (cf. Luke 4:26-29; 10:10-15; 20:16; 13:46-51; 28:28).

Whoever refreshes others will be refreshed (Proverbs 11:25)

John Paton, the great nineteenth century Scottish missionary to the New Hebrides (now Vanuatu) gives testimonies of this in his classic autobiography. Before he went to the New Hebrides he was a much loved and much used pastor in the Scottish Reformed Presbyterian Church. Many in the church, including elders, tried to persuade him that he was far too valuable to the church in Scotland to risk throwing his life away in a mission to pagans who would probably eat him within hours of arrival (not an unfounded fear since the previous missions to the islands had ended in that way). As it was he was eventually used, after many many trials, to bring pretty much the whole island of Aniwa to the feet of Christ. But perhaps even more significant was the way that he galvanised the Presbyterian churches in Australia and Scotland for a long-term missionary concern for New Hebrides. A very large amount of money was raised from not particularly well off churches and tens if not hundreds of pastors left Scotland and Australia to join the missionary efforts in the South Pacific islands. And what went along with those sacrificial efforts towards foreign missions was a revival in the churches that were giving:

Nor did the dear old Church [Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland] thus cripple herself; on the contrary, her zeal for Missions accompanied, if not caused, unwonted prosperity at home. New waves of liberality passed over the heart of her people. Debts that had burdened many of the Churches and Manses were swept away. Additional Congregations were organized…

For it is a fixed point in the faith of every Missionary, that the more any Church or Congregation interests itself in the Heathen, the more will it be blessed and prospered at Home.

“One of the surest signs of life,” wrote the V.C.R. [an Australian Presbyterian periodical], “is the effort of a Church to spread the Gospel beyond its own bounds, and especially to send the knowledge of Jesus amongst the Heathen. The Missions to the Aborigines, to the Chinese in this Colony, and to the New Hebrides, came to this Church [Presbyterian Church in Australia] from God. In a great crisis of the New Hebrides, they sent one of their number to Australia for help, and his appeal was largely owned by the Head of the Church. The Children, and especially the Sabbath Scholars of the Presbyterian Churches, became alive with Missionary enthusiasm. Large sums were raised for a Mission Ship. The Congregations were roused to see their duty to God and their fellow-men beyond these Colonies, and a new Missionary Spirit took possession of the whole Church. …the Presbyterian Church in Victoria is largely blessed in her own spirit through the Missionary zeal awakened in her midst. Thus, there is that scattereth and yet increaseth; bringing out anew the words of the Lord Jesus, how He said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

That is paradoxical gospel logic. Foreign missions sending is not a zero sum game. There is a great blessing for sending churches.

Foreign missions can be a powerful means of personal growth for the missionary

God uses many means to grow his people – the primary means of grace of word and sacrament in the local church, the local community of God’s people, the nurture of a Christian parent (2 Tim. 1:5; 3:15), marriage and parenting, affliction (2 Cor. 1:9) – but one other that he can use is cross-border mission. An African mission leader in a particular West African country told me that all the guys he knows who are continuing faithfully long term in gospel ministry have one thing in common – they have all been out of the country. That is what has grown in them the spiritual strength and godliness and perseverance for the long haul. This can work on a number of levels – here are six:

  • There is a particular challenge in leaving your home country and people group which forces the missionary to reassess the whole idea of ‘home’ and come to a greater experiential understanding of being an alien and stranger in this world.
  • There is a particular challenge in going into a foreign culture where you are reduced to the understanding and status of a child – unable to express yourself clearly, unable to do simple things without help, constantly making mistakes, unknown and un-respected. A humbling experience that can lead to a greater experiential understanding of being simply a little child in the kingdom of God.
  • There is a particular increase in risk and uncertainty which (hopefully) forces the missionary to rely on the Lord. In some countries the threat level and insecurity is far higher than the missionary’s birth country. I think of two Kenyan brothers who spent last year in countries with very high levels of persecution and threat towards Christians – they testify to how they had to learn new level of trust of God in life and in death. Even if the destination country is quite safe and secure by any objective measure, the missionary almost certainly doesn’t feel as safe and secure as in their homeland – they don’t know which streets are safe to walk, what the noises in the dark mean, who can be trusted, where to get help. And there is a particular vulnerability of legal status as a foreign national – you can always be deported. New battles with fear will need to be fought.
  • There is a particular exposure of sin. This happens in many crucibles that the Lord puts us in – workplace, marriage, parenting – but it is certainly true of cross-border mission that all the unique stresses and insecurities tend to be particularly effective means of revealing the depths of your own heart. A critical spirit or impatience or selfishness that might not have reared its head ‘at home’ comes out strongly in moments of transition and culture clash. We are exposed more clearly as the sinners we are.
  • There is a particular encounter with other ways of thinking and living, other expressions of Christian faith. You are forced to re-examine your own thinking and living and what is genuine Christianity. While living in your own culture your own culture is hard to see largely invisible to you. In some ways, as C.S. Lewis pointed out, reading old books from different times and worldviews can help but there is nothing quite like crossing borders and living in a different place that works to different rules and assumptions to help you see the things you thought were ‘obvious’. You are forced to do some hard thinking about whether you don’t like something because it is wrong or just because it is different. You are given the privilege of having a bit of distance on your own culture as well as a view into a different one and you can start (although you will still be trapped and blind in many ways) to appreciate and critique things in both. In this way your convictions about the really core, trans-cultural, vital things in your faith hopefully get clearer and firmer.
  • There is particular encounter with need. We can read of the unreached millions in Operation World but hearts are stirred by meeting actual people, no longer statistics but precious human souls, people with lives and families and desires and fears. Certainly, wherever we are there are needs all around us – physical and spiritual. But we get so used to the environment we grow up with that we start to filter them out. When we go to somewhere very different from our home country we often see the needs more strikingly and sometimes our very definition of need starts to be challenged. Things we thought we needed, we realise are not needs. Places we thought very needy in one way we realise, through going there, are actually very needy in a different way. I think of a Kenyan who went to the UK and realised that there were extremely spiritually needy people in a wealthy nation. I think of an American who came to Kenya and realised after some time that there was a bigger need than agricultural engineering.

Perhaps this is not the most important reason for foreign missions (all this focus on personal growth can get a bit me-centred) and neither is it an invariable rule (there are plenty of counter-cases of crossing cultures leading to personal hardening and de-sanctification – mission can lead to pride as much as to humility) but it is a genuine positive effect. As Peter found in Acts 10, missions can be just as much, if not more, about the change of the missionary’s heart as anyone else’s.

We need each other

The ideal for the global church is not independency but interdependeny. There will always need to be movement of Christians around the world. Like the circulation of the blood in the body – it is healthy for there to be a circulation of Christians around the body of the church. The weaker parts will need the help of the stronger parts and each part of the body will be simultaneously strong and weak in different ways – in courage, in carefulness, in theological resources, in financial resources, in mission-heartedness, in sacrificial love. The goal is mutual encouragement (Rom. 1:12).

And in the theological endeavour itself, as Amos Yong has observed, the global church has a lot of “resources… to contribute to the conversation” which are currently largely ignored. This is not to romanticise ‘minority theologies’ or to suggest that the Western tradition is always wrong or to go for a relativistic reader-centred view of truth. In fact the majority world will continue to have a huge amount to learn from the Reformation tradition for a long time to come. It’s simply to suggest that God doesn’t give any one part of the global church a monopoly on truth and insight, that the Spirit distributes his gifts across the whole church, across borders, and that we can learn a lot from the way different people in different cultures may be able to see certain aspects of the Word more clearly than we do.

Some mutual learning can happen at a distance (even online) but there is nothing like actually being with and alongside and living and working together in gospel ministry. Much glory goes to God and much growth occurs and much learning happens as people of different cultures interact together and serve churches together and go on mission teams together (BTW multi-cultural leadership and mission teams are an old idea – Acts 13:1-3; 16:1-5; Romans 16).

At the end of the day we will all have blindspots – moral, cultural, theological. We will need to remove our own logs and each other’s specs. And both seeing the logs and the specs can be greatly helped by crossing borders.

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Great piece from Sammy Maina, programme coordinator at iServe Africa:

matthew_28_19_by_treybacca-d5v67j4

The Messiah has risen. Yes he is alive from the dead. And word has been sent out to His disciples and that they should go to Galilee and there they will see the risen Christ. Off they go [the eleven of them] to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.

Finally the moment had come for him to ascend to the Father. What would he say?

When they saw Him, they worshipped, but some doubted.  Then Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Are these the words they expected to hear? I don’t know what the disciples expected to hear. But what am sure of, is that what Jesus said, had a huge of impact not only to the lives of the 11 disciples but also to all those who would ever follow Christ.

What was Jesus central mission on earth?

Jesus’ mission was His Father’s mission and the mission was to save his people from their sins (Matt. 1:21). For this to happen first and foremost Jesus had to die to bear the curse and burden and punishment of his people, and second the good news of salvation (the gospel) had to be preached to all peoples because the Father’s love is global (Matt. 8:11-12; 4:42) and salvation comes through hearing and believing in the gospel word (John 3:16).

But now that Jesus was returning to the Father, He had to ensure that God’s mission to draw peoples from all nations to himself was accomplished. Just as the Father had sent the Son (Jesus) so was Jesus to send out His disciples (then and now) to make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:18-20; John 20:21). And that is what the risen Christ was calling His disciples to. This is what came to be known as the great commission. Looking at the book of Acts, it’s evident that the 11 disciples didn’t just listen to Jesus’ command but actually went forth to preach the good news from Jerusalem, to the uttermost parts of the earth. They did not just “go and tell” but they “went, told and made disciples”.

Is the great commission only about going out to another country?

No, it’s more than that. But sadly unlike the 11 disciples some of us today over-emphasise “the going”. “The commission is not fundamentally about mission out there somewhere else in another country.

It is a commission that makes disciple-making the normal agenda and priority of every church and every Christian disciple. (The Trellis and the Vine,  Marshall & Payne, 2009, p. 13)

What is the essential goal of the church?

The goal of the church is making disciples. Simply defined a disciple is a pupil or, if you like, a student and follower of another person and/or his teachings. The disciple does not only learn, but also meditates and acts upon the teachings. As Christians we are Jesus’ pupils. Discipleship is personal. And discipleship is a process. It’s not as instant as coffee or as quick as sending and receiving money via M-Pesa. Discipleship calls for commitment and hard work. When Jesus called the disciples, he taught them, nurtured them, mentored them, prayed for them and walked the talk. And part of following him was to be made into fishers of men. Therefore the church should make disciples who make other disciples.

What’s the simplest to do between a) discipling and b) going to out to preach the gospel?

The other day I posed this question to some of my friends and colleagues. These were answers I got:

  • discipleship is handwork but doable;
  • discipleship requires a lot of commitment and dedication;
  • discipleship has got to be deliberate and there must be a plan on how to do it.

Enough said. I couldn’t agree more. Discipleship is hard work but doable.

What is required to make disciples?

To make disciples, you have got to have disciple makers. Disciple makers are Christians who have already been discipled. This doesn’t mean that they have attained perfection and are no longer disciples. Until one goes to be with Christ (whether by being called home or when Christ returns) one remains His disciple. The 11 were not anywhere near perfect.  Nonetheless they had already gone through the “Jesus Discipleship School” – particularly in those crucial 40 days between His resurrection and ascension when Jesus opened their eyes to see Him and His Kingdom in all the Scriptures and sent them out to preach that message (Luke 24:44-49; Acts 1:2-3). Jesus knew that it would not be easy, all through. The disciples were to encounter a number of challenges and face death daily. But Jesus did not leave them helpless. He promised that he would be with them to end of the age. He gave them what they needed for the task ahead of them. He gave them his Word (Luke 24:44-46), his Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49) and more so His grace (Luke 24:36).

So by God’s strength, the 11 disciples (and Paul) made disciples that made disciples. Consequently, as we see throughout the book of Acts, multiplication resulted and many followed Christ not just as disciples but as workers making more disciples.

Making disciples is by grace and to grace

As we seek to make disciples, it’s worth underling this point that making disciples is by grace and that as disciplers we are directing people to Christ. To begin with it is by grace that we become Disciples of Christ (saved by grace); it is by grace that we remain his disciples and follow Him (sustained by grace); and it is by grace that we serve Christ. When we keep that in mind, we will disciple others in humility; we will be patient with them as they grow in Christ to maturity; we will rebuke them in love when necessary.

Most importantly, in discipleship we point or direct people to Christ. By all means the discipler must be a good example for others to learn from (imitating them as they follow and imitate Christ). But it is Jesus that all should follow and become like. Everything that the disciple does has to be done in light of the Christ’s gospel.

At iServe Africa we are passionate about Christ’s mission and his command to make disciples. And ours is not just a passion. But we are in active pursuit of the same. Every year we seek to make disciple-making disciples, through our apprenticeship programme. We train, mentor and equip young men and women, and send them out to make disciples. It’s not the very easiest thing to do. Even so Jesus’ promise to be with us to the end of age is always of encouragement to us.

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More tweets:

Joy through tears. Life through death. #Paradoxology

Knees on the floor. Nose in the text. (2 Tim 2:7) @DickLucas

Anything outside of Christ or not rooted in Him or full of the gospel is not genuine Christian spirituality. #SoWalkInHim

Is a 21 day fast > 1 day fast? Non-Christian spiritual disciplines: greater –> results. Christian spirituality: grace –> receiving.

Spiritual disciplines: those things we do by the grace of God to keep us living under the grace of God (Jude 20-23) @SammyMaina

ChristianMind =  a mind which can think about even the most “secular” topics “Christianly” (HarryBlamires)

ATR initiation – new life, identity, behaviour; boy –> man. Xian conversion – new life, identity, behaviour; man –> boy. (Matt 18:4)

Genesis 3 Hide&Seek: Who is hiding? Who is seeking? #MissionaryGod

Apprentice: Now I realise that I’m not doing God a favour by volunteering for this year. He doesn’t need my help in his mission. #Privilege

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And two very helpful papers on ATR:

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2014-08-24 16.14.23

Thanking God for a good day yesterday. Here are the notes so far:

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From Job 2:11-25:6:

  • Job is sitting in gehenna/hell, unrecognisable (Isa. 52:14), a man of sorrows, acquainted with every kind of grief (Isa. 53:3).
  • Job’s ‘comforters’ throw at him verses like “I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread.”
  • Job’s great hope is beyond death, beyond the destruction of his flesh, in resurrection life and seeing his Redeemer face to face (Job 19:25-27).
  • Fidel movingly concluded with a powerful personal testimony – things may not be better in this life but in the end there is a new body and seeing Christ – that is our hope.

Later in the day it was a privilege to have with us a missionary family serving among largely unreached people in the north of Kenya. They shared:

  1. Mission is God focussed; mission is God’s heart from Genesis to Revelation; mission is to gather people from all ‘ethne’ (meaning all people groups); “Mission exists because worship doesn’t.” (Piper, Let the Nations be Glad).
  2. The great Abrahamic blessing is fulfilled in the NT in terms of justification in Christ (Gal. 3) and turning us from our wickedness to God (Acts 3).
  3. There are real challenges in their mission context – insecurity, language, transport (waiting all day for a bus that never turns up then finally travelling with a small baby in the back of a lorry), communication (no reception), heat (up to 40 degrees C), lack of good drinking water, having to sacrifice ambitions (the Kenyan dream) and the misunderstanding of family and friends – but all these can be overcome in God’s grace.
  4. Most striking of all, the brother shared about tensions with family as a firstborn with nine siblings, educated and expected (and wanting) to help. He talked about Mt. 10:37-39 and how he had at the same time done his best to keep communication channels open and then about how it was actually the best thing for his family for him to go because they had started to look at him as a god-provider and they needed to break from that and seek the real God. He was a clear that there was no promise that they would not go hungry some days or sometimes suffer for his decision to go but it was for their spiritual good and he had already seen some fruit in a brother now interested in becoming a missionary himself and other siblings growing in their relationships with the Lord. Amazing testimony.

Also today:

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return christ

What really struck me from the last few days of the ministry training course last week was the emphasis that came out on the future, eternity, our great Hope.

I’d never noticed what Fidel brought home so powerfully from 2 Tim. 4:1-2 that the number one reason to preach the word is the return of Christ. We are preaching in the last days a gospel of eternal life in view of the coming Day (cf. 2 Tim. 1:1, 10, 18; 2:10; 3:1; 4:8).

We found that the reason to put to death our ungodly desires (Col. 3:5) is because Christ, who is our life, is about to appear and we will be glorified with him (Col. 3:4).

Sammy reminded us from Job that the end comes at the end, and in the same session one of the apprentices very movingly shared how she had been through times when she desired to depart and be with Christ more than cling to this life. This in turn resonated very strongly with the account we read from John Paton’s autobiography:

At last the child literally longed to be away, not for rest, or freedom from pain — for of that he had very little — but, as he himself always put it, “to see Jesus.”

How badly do we need this powerful injection of eternity into our Christian lives and churches?

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Notes and resources:

Intro to Expository Preaching – Context

Christ-centred youth ministry

Being pro-active in mentoring

Preaching Christ from the Gospels (esp Matt)

How to manage email with filters and folders

2nd year programme:

The church as mission agency

Lessons from the life of John Paton

Doctrine of Salvation (2) – Predestination, Justification and the glory of God

Preaching from OT narratives

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munugishsignThat’s the motto of Munguishi Bible College, Arusha, Tanzania. Isn’t it brilliant? Recently they met together as a college staff team and went back to basics, looking at the Bible, looking at the Bible storyline and asking these great questions about what pastoral ministry and mission are all about:

  • Mungu ni nani?
  • Katika duniani, Mungu anafanya nini?
  • Kanisa ni nini?
  • Huduma ni nini?
  • Wachungaji ni nini?
  • Huduma ya wachungaji ni nini?

This was the college principal’s summary of what they came up with:

to be brief – God is saving people, holding off Jesus’ return to give more people a chance for repentance.  Jesus is calling to his sheep, by his Spirit and through his Word.  As his servants declare the gospel, Jesus’ sheep hear his voice, and respond in faith.
If that’s all true – what should we as pastors do – surely its to maximise the preaching of the gospel, and shape our ministries around seeing people meet the Lord Jesus in his word.

That’s saying a lot in 80 words!

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13870300-anatomy-of-the-human-body

The church is Jesus’s body on earth. So we should be continuing Christ’s ministry on earth. Feeding, healing, blessing, lifting up the broken and marginalised. We are his body. Not just preaching at people – that would mean the church is just one big mouth – we need to be Jesus’ hands and feet to go to go to the needy and hungry and broken and care for them. That is the church’s mission.

Is that true?

Well there’s plenty of good sentiment in there about having compassion for the needy and marginalised. As John Piper said at the last Lausanne conference if we don’t care about physical suffering we’ve got defective hearts. We should be like our heavenly Father who sends rain on the just and the unjust and like the Son who blesses even his persecutors (Matt. 5:44-45). I find that very convicting.

But are we right to say that this is the church’s mission? I.e. what we are commissioned to go out into the world to do not just as children of God but as a church? In particular, can we draw this mission stuff out of Paul’s teaching that the church is the body of Christ?

As I’ve looked at the ‘body’ passages over the last week or two I’ve noticed that they have particular purposes:

  • Romans 12:3-8 – Do not be proud. There is diversity and unity. Use your gifts. (Most of the gifts seem to be for use within the church. ‘Ministry’ and ‘mercy’ are probably also within the fellowship given the immediate context (v9-13) but could be outside (v14,20) or both.)
  • 1 Corinthians 6:15-17 – Your bodies are members of Christ. Do not unite with a prostitute.
  • 1 Corinthians 10:17 – Unity in our communion with Christ.
  • 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 – There is unity and diversity. Jews and Greeks are one. In your diversity of gifts do not have an inferiority complex. Do not be proud. You are needed by one another within the fellowship (v21-22). There should be care for one another within the fellowship (v25-26). (And in chapter 14 we find that the diversity of gifts/members is for building up the church (14:4-5,12,19,26 cf. 12:7)
  • Ephesians 1:22-23 – The headship of Christ for the church. The exalted position of the church in union with Christ.
  • Ephesians 2:15-16 – Reconciliation with God and with one another – Jews and Gentiles – through the Cross.
  • Ephesians 4:11-16 – The five-fold or four-fold (whichever you prefer) Word-teaching gifts are for equipping the whole church for works of ministry – not ministry out in the world so much as to build up the body of the church (v12). And this building up means not so much numbers but unity in the faith, knowledge of the Son and corporate Christlikeness (v13-15). Each part of the body is to work together to build up the body/church (v16).
  • Ephesians 5:23-32 – Christ saving, loving and nourishing the church.
  • Colossians 1:24-25 – The church suffering as the body of Christ. (cf. Acts 9:4)

The main ways the body picture seems to be used are:

  • Union with Christ, salvation
  • Union with one another, unity in diversity, serving one another and building one another up

I don’t see much mission here. Nothing about being Christ’s hands and feet in the world. Paul could easily have extended the metaphor in that direction but he doesn’t. The only explicit mentions of contact between the body and the outside world are about sin and persecution. When Paul talks about his mission – it’s all about preaching the gospel (Rom. 15:14-21; 1 Cor. 1:17; 9:16; 2 Cor. 4:1-6; 5:20; Col. 1:25-29; 4:3-6). When he talks about us doing mission together he uses metaphors of farming, building, business and warfare (1 Cor. 3:6-15; Phil. 1:5, 27; 2:25; 4:3; 2 Tim. 2:2-6) but not the body. Which is not to say that Christians shouldn’t be involved in alleviating all kinds of physical suffering etc. but it’s a reminder:

  1. that we need to be careful about our categories and vocabulary (esp. ‘mission’) and not press justifications for social action from texts not talking about that;
  2. that we need to look for the purpose of biblical metaphors and be careful not to cut them free of their context and run with them in all directions.

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Blessing

Galatians 3 gives a great definition of the gospel:

8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.”

Clearly there’s a very important connection between Abraham and blessing and gospel. Now there are various ways you can go from here…

One way is to go back to Genesis 12 and say, look at the blessings Abraham was promised – “I will bless you and make your name great” (Gen. 12:2) – and look at all the physical ways in which he was blessed: “Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold” (13:2 cf. 24:35). So it’s very simple, the gospel is being blessed with lots of camels.

Or maybe I focus on Gen. 12:3a: “I will bless those who bless you and him who dishonours you I will curse”. You can clearly see this worked out in the life of Abraham (e.g. Gen. 12:10-20; 20:1-18) and his descendants. So then the gospel is victory over your enemies and favour with the powerful.

Or a slightly different way to go is to focus on “and you will be a blessing” (Gen. 12:2) or “in you all the nations of the world will be blessed” (Gen. 12:3b). This can then become the lens through which we view the whole Bible story – it’s the story of God bringing blessing to the whole world. That’s the gospel and that’s our mission, to partner with God in extending this ever-spreading blessing to the world. And the word ‘blessing’ here often becomes a very broad, flexible, catch-all category – it’s about ‘transformation’, ‘happiness’, ‘shalom’, ‘healing’, ‘redeeming the whole creation’.

The problem with all this is that Galatians has been left behind. Surely the best commentary – the divine, authoritative interpretation of Genesis 12 – is Galatians 3. If we’re not careful we start looking through the wrong end of the telescope. Instead of Galatians 3 being our lens on Genesis 12 (and in fact most of the Torah), Genesis 12 (and not a particularly careful contextual reading of it) becomes our lens (or rather filter) for the whole of the rest of the Bible.

What does Galatians 3 say the blessing of the gospel is?

  • Justification. “And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” (Gal. 3:8) The blessing is being declared righteous. Not by works but purely by faith in Christ Jesus (Gal. 2:16). The old sinful nature crucified in Christ’s death and a new life and status in Him (Gal. 2:20-21). And Abraham is the great example for us – because of his wealth? because of his victory over enemies? because of his obedience? No – because “he believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness” (Gal. 3:6). In an earth-shaking statement for a Jew, Paul continues: “Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham” (Gal. 3:7). Justification by faith.
  • In Christ. In Galatians 3:10-14 Paul turns to Deuteronomy and Leviticus, showing their fulfilment in Christ taking (in fact: becoming) the curse of the Law on the Cross. “So that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles” (Gal. 3:14). The promised Abrahamic blessing is found in Christ. It is not so much something given to us by Christ, an object external to him, a package of benefits that you get when you sign up to Christ – No – it’s about being found righteous and uncondemned in Him; it is about being blessed in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms.
  • Sons of God. “For in Christ you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptised into Christ have put on Christ… and if you are Christ’s then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” (Gal. 3:26-29) These verses join up a lot of stuff: justification through faith, Abrahamic promise and Sonship. The premier blessing received through faith, the premier blessing in Christ, is to be sons of God, adoption. The blessing in Christ is to be in Christ. With the same status as Christ. With the same love from the Father as Christ. These are unbelievable things to say. As sons we are heirs to the Abrahamic inheritance (3:29; 4:1,30) – that is the inheritance of the kingdom of God (5:20) – but that is for the future (note: ‘will inherit’). The blessing for now (and eternity) is to be called children of God, one with Christ, participating in the Godhead, filled with the Spirit who calls out “Abba”.

A couple of things that flow from this:

  1. The prosperity gospel is onto something very important. It is wrong to fix on physical blessings as the main thing. And it fails to read Scripture as all about Christ. But it is  absolutely right to insist that the gospel is blessing. The good news is actually good news. In our concern to avoid the prosperity gospel and stick to the ‘old gospel’ we can end up saying, “Look, you don’t want to go to hell do you? So believe in Jesus and you won’t go there. Following him is going to be really hard and you might have to stop doing lots of fun stuff but at least you won’t go to the hot place when you die.” I caricature. But there is a real danger that we actually buy the devil’s ancient lie that God is not really good, the world is good, sin is fun, God might be necessary but he’s not really that great to be around. So you might as well wait till your death bed to convert. That’s a lie. Jesus is really really good. The gospel is about blessing – the sweetness of complete forgiveness, being saved by Jesus and united to him, being utterly known and utterly loved as God’s children.
  2. Mission is not about bringing some vague blessing to the world. If we are New Testament believers, it is about bringing the gospel of Jesus to the world – the gospel of justification by faith alone in Christ alone. This will in turn lead to a lot of transformation on every level of society, but the cutting edge of mission is the proclamation to fellow sinners of Christ crucified.

Discuss…

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Covered all sorts of stuff today. Praise God for teachable humble engagement with the Word. The theme that seemed to emerge through the day was about our wretchedness and Christ’s wonderful salvation.

“Daily I abhor my sin. Daily I adore my Saviour.” (John Stott)

“I remember that this: that I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Saviour.” (John Newton)

In the morning Bible studies we were encouraged by Paul’s Christian experience in Romans 7: “Wretched man that I am! …Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord”. Then in Isaiah 6 we saw the prophet having a similar experience: “Woe is me!” (cf. the 6 woes in the previous chapter) as he see the Lord (Jesus) high and lifted up (cf. John 12) in the place of atonement.

In Job 2:11-3:26 we saw the wretchedness of Job – this time not a wretchedness from guilt but suffering as the blameless servant of God – an honest window into the dark night of the soul and ultimately a picture of Christ in Gethsemane with his useless comforters, of Christ on the Cross, enduring the forsakenness, the hopelessness of hell, suffering worse than death.

Christine introduced Augustine in 30 minutes and it came out clearly that most of the heresies the great pastor-theologian fought (Manichaeism, Donatism, Pelagianism) had an insufficient appreciation of human (and Christian) sinfulness (and there are certainly assumptions in that direction in our Kenyan context). Augustine, through his reading of the Scriptures and his own experience knew the true wretchedness of the human condition.

Then Harrison led the most meaty session of the day as we grappled with the doctrine of salvation, especially from Ephesians 2, seeing again the wretchedness of our natural state and the wonder of our sovereign deliverance in Christ – from hell to heaven. (Harrison’s paper on the doctrine of salvation written when he was an apprentice himself in 2006 is here).

After a Jinsi Ya on Interview Preparation Skills, Sammy gave us some very helpful guidance on being Steadfast in the workplace.

Finally we looked again at Ephesians and found that Paul’s mission was…

  • simply “preaching the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8);
  • inextricably linked with the Church – the spectacular wisdom of God, the body of Christ, the unity of Jews and Gentiles (Eph. 3:10);
  • inextricably linked with suffering (Eph. 3:1, 13).

Pray for today (Wednesday):

  • That these doctrines would not puff us up but do their real job of completely humbling us and turning us to rejoice in Jesus.
  • For James Wainaina, myself and others speaking on Pastoral Ministry, Shaping a Sermon and lessons from Luther and from the East African Revival.
  • That the apprentices would be seeing things for themselves from the Word.
  • That there would be plenty of relaxation and fun too (we don’t want to take ourselves too seriously!)

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