The Joy and Privilege of Suffering

Saint Paul

For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. Philippians 1:29-30

The concept of suffering in the Christian experience is not unique. In fact, we could argue the lack of suffering most Christian’s have experienced in recent generations is unique.  Paul had no concept of “not suffering.” It was expected, anticipated, and it was “granted.” Not only is faith a gift from God, but so is suffering. Why does it surprise us today that we would, should, or even must suffer for the sake of Christ and the gospel?

It is time we marvel at the words Paul uses to describe his situation, and consider why suffering is so beneficial to him and to those around him.

I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. Philippians 1:12-14

Paul was in jail at the time he wrote the letter to the Philippians. He is grateful for his suffering. It has given him a unique perspective. Suffering forces a person to depend upon God, and it causes the outside observer to question why one would willingly endure such things? It was no different for Paul.

So what is it about the Christian life that can take joy in reproaches, insults, and derision? For the Christian sufferer, it drives them to Christ. It weakens the bondage the flesh has over them. It leads them to more fervent prayer. It softens them when dealing with other people’s trials. It gives them a better appreciation of what Christ went through. It encourages other Christians to be more steadfast in their own trials. It encourages Christians to be bold in the proclamation of the gospel, regardless of the hardship it brings.

In all of this, Paul said, it especially serves to advance the gospel. The guards saw what Paul endured. They were shocked that he would joyfully submit to his suffering. They were shocked by his continued boldness and patience. Other Christians were perhaps the same way. They were encouraged that Paul’s faith never wavered.

Christian, do you lack boldness? Has your witness lagged? Has your spiritual life become dry? This is something that every Christian will likely go through at some point in his or her walk. We need a boost. We need a lift. Rather than turn to self-help books or gurus, perhaps it’s time we suffered for the gospel.

The gift of suffering helps us to depend on God. This is not to say we should intentionally look for suffering or hardship. As Peter stated, we should not suffer as evildoers, but suffer for doing good (1 Peter 4:15-19). But it is to say that as we live out our lives as obedient Christians, especially in the pagan West, we will meet a culture that is hostile to biblical truth. This will inevitably lead to suffering, and it is a cause for rejoicing, not shame.

A more obvious source of suffering comes from evangelism, whether it is gospel focused open air preaching or 1-1 on the streets, college-campus, abortion clinics, or even with a relative on the phone. As we expose the folly of unbelieving worldviews and contrast it with the consistency of the biblical worldview, we will incur the hostility of the lost. Spurgeon said it well: “If you really long to save men’s souls, you must tell them a great deal of disagreeable truth.”

Telling the truth has always had a way of bringing persecution, whether in Jesus and Paul’s time or our own. We are not to shrink back, but rather to press on, realizing that our Master has followed the same path. Paul and the disciples have done the same. Now it is our turn. Suffering is a gift from God, so rather than be surprised by it, let us rejoice and keep going in the good fight of faith.

Kevin

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God’s Way: Kerruso!

george-whitefield-preaching

My second article for Christ in the Wild Ministries.

Preaching the word of God in the open air is biblical and effective, as I established last week. Today, I want to look at exactly what it means to preach. A good place to start is by defining the term.

From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” – Matthew 4:17

κηρύσσωc: kerysso; to publicly announce religious truths and principles while urging acceptance and compliance—‘to preach.’[1]

The first public proclamation of the gospel is by Jesus himself. Yes, it was also proclaimed by the triune God in Genesis 3:15, but it is not until Christ’s public ministry that we see a clear explication of exactly what this gospel is. And, moreover, it is not until Christ’s public ministry that we see this gospel preached, as opposed to some other form of communication.

Christ’s way is not complicated; it is not fancy; it is straight-forward gospel preaching. Notice it is public, and the word emphasizes a demand to comply with what is being proclaimed. As preachers of the gospel, we are not offering an option to people, but a command to believe the message. The gospel is not meant to “improve people’s lives,” but rather to save souls from the judgment to come. The reason it is a command, not an option, is because it comes from the King of kings and the Creator of the universe. As creatures, we have an obligation to submit to this God and to do what he says. The fact that it is preached further emphasizes the urgency to obey. Paul states in Acts 17:30, “God now commands all people everywhere to repent.”

Jesus’ example provides us with all we need to know about what to do as preachers, but we see many other examples throughout the Scriptures. To deny the reality and necessity of biblical, open-air preaching is to deny the truths of Almighty God and his prescribed way of getting his message to the masses.

Repentance, Grace and the Kingdom of God

As theologian Leon Morris explains, an emphasis on repentance and grace in our open-air preaching is also imperative.

Not only did Jesus begin to preach, but Matthew mentions two topics of his preaching: repentance and the coming of the kingdom. Jesus began with the same emphasis as John the Baptist. This makes sense, because repentance and the Kingdom of God go together: if the kingdom of God is near, then clearly people cannot be complacent. They must prepare for that kingdom, and that means repenting of their sins. Jesus, like John the Baptist, calls on the people to realize they are unfit for the kingdom of heaven and to repent accordingly. Such preaching is a clarion call to action, not a recipe for slothful complacency. We should not overlook the importance of this call to repentance at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, since everything else follows from that. Matthew has often been seen as one who stresses the importance of good works, which is true. But this must not be held in such a form that his emphasis on grace is missed. From the beginning, Jesus took it for granted that people are sinners, and accordingly his first message was that they must repent. Only so would they know the forgiveness he came to bring.[2]

Question 76 of The Westminster Larger Catechism asks, “What is repentance unto life?” Answer: “Repentance unto life is a saving grace, wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit and Word of God, whereby, out of the sight and sense, not only of the danger, but also of the filthiness and odiousness of his sins, and upon the apprehension of God’s mercy in Christ to such as are penitent, he so grieves for and hates his sins, as that he turns from them all to God, purposing and endeavoring constantly to walk with him in all the ways of new obedience.”

This is why repentance unto life must be preached. John Newton summarizes, “My grand point in preaching is to break the hard heart, and to heal the broken one.”

As open-air preachers, we have a message from the King, and we must go proclaim it. There is no further justification necessary. I will deal with the how-to of open air preaching in future articles, but let us pray that God opens our eyes to the glory of the simple proclamation of his gospel to sinners.

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? – Romans 10:14

 

Kevin

[1] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 416.

[2] Leon Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press, 1992), 83.

Isaiah 55:11 & Evangelism

Isaiah 55 picture

I’ve been given an opportunity to write blog posts for Christ in the Wild Ministries, these will primarily be focused on evanglism, so please check out the ministry.

One of the consistent criticisms in evangelism regards our “success” rate. The unbelieving cynic or worse, the professing Christian, often looks to pragmatism to measure success. If it works, then it must be effective. At Christ in the Wild Ministries, Isaiah 55:11 drives us to labor for the Lord no matter the outcome, knowing that God determines success.

God’s measure of success can be summed up by one phrase: faithfulness to his Word. When proclaimed accurately, the gospel message is always “effective.”

The 55th Chapter of Isaiah is a general call for sinners to come to Christ for salvation. The faithful evangelist is 100% successful no matter the outcome. While we should seek the Lord and work diligently for souls to be saved, the outcome is in the hands of Almighty God, not the evangelist.

What could be more encouraging to our gospel labors than perfect success every time we proclaim the gospel?

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. – Isaiah 55:10-11

It is important to include verse 10 with verse 11 because we see the picture God draws about how evangelism works. Similar to the parables of Christ, we see the natural world being used to draw spiritual implications. Water falling from the sky, seeds sprouting from the earth, and bread produced for food, show us the simplicity of the evangelist proclaiming the word of God, proceeding from God’s mouth to the ears of the hearer. We act as ambassadors for Christ, pleading for the souls of the lost to be reconciled to God.

Calvin commenting on verse 11 says: This doctrine must be frequently repeated and inculcated, that we may know that God will do what he hath spoken. For this reason, when we hear the promises of God, we ought to consider what is his design in them; so that, when he promises the free pardon of our sins, we may be fully assured that we are reconciled through Christ. But, as the word of God is efficacious for the salvation of believers, so it is abundantly efficacious for condemning the wicked; as Christ also teacheth, “The word which I have spoken, that shall judge him at the last day.”

A powerful statement, to say the least, and we can have the assurance we are not laboring in vain, nor will our time be wasted, though barely a soul comes to Christ through our ministry. We can look back to Noah, Jeremiah, even Isaiah himself and understand that God was accomplishing his plan through “unsuccessful” ministries.

Go forth in the power of the Spirit, knowing that effective ministry is in the hands of a Sovereign God, no matter the outcome.

Kevin

It’s Almost Time to Go

A_New_Mexico

In less than two weeks we leave Iowa for a distant land. Okay, that might be a little dramatic, but it is a long ways from Iowa, and it is a different culture and climate. Not one we are unfamiliar with because Jen and I have both lived in New Mexico before, but our girls have never lived there. We’ve spent a lot of time in the Land of Enchantment with vacations and such, but this will be real.

It is a beautiful and remote place that will take some adjustment. For now, it’s exciting, and it’s scary. We are leaving twenty-eight years behind us, and the girls are departing all they’ve ever known. They are anxious, I’m sure, and not surprising.

Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and ,in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” – Genesis 12:1-3

I won’t attempt to carry this narrative too far, because I’m no Abram. I can, however, relate. Abram is not a young guy anymore. Where I see the blessing here is that we’ve been confident throughout this process that God was calling us to New Mexico, and it was more than just circumstantial evidence. Did it seem providential?

God uses providence to accomplish His will, and while I don’t take it to mean I always understand God’s providence, I can look back and say, “wow, you know, that sure seems providential.”  We trust the Lord has plans for us as we travel to this far place and look forward to new adventures along the path we are walking.

So Abram went, as the LORD had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan. – Genesis 12:4-5

So, we are setting out, we are following the instructions given to us, as best as we can discern them, and we trust the Lord has a land awaiting us. We never know what is ahead, but we can trust it to our God to richly give in the way He sees it is best.

If you think about us, please pray for us. Pray, we continue the path the Lord has shown us, pray we continue to trust Him, and that we remain faithful to call that we have been called.

We leave a lifetime of friends behind, a precious time of blessing and trials. We never trust in those, simply rejoice that we’ve had an opportunity to walk through them and that we’ve walked through them with those we love.   We will miss so many, it’s impossible to name them all, but we look forward to those that will impact our lives in the future, and thankful for those that have impacted us in the past.

Kevin

 

 

Measure Twice, Cut Once

Measure-Twice

If you’ve ever built anything or been involved in contract work, you have heard this statement. It makes perfect sense, how many have measured once and cut twice? How many feet of perfectly good lumber have been wasted because of the violation of this rule?

There are standards and disciplines represented here; plumb lines keep houses square. Measurements save time and money. Accuracy in building means you have a well-constructed structure which can stand the test of time. This is not rocket science. We believe these things if we use common sense, but do we apply these other areas of life? I specifically mean, spiritual life?

What is the measurement by which our lives are measured? The tendency is to measure ourselves by others, or worse yet, by what our mind tells us about ourselves.

Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding. 2 Corinthians 10:12

This could be good or bad. If it allows a comparison to a godly brother or sister, it humbles us, but it could inflate our ego. We need a consistent standard to not only judge those and things around us but most importantly, to judge ourselves. We don’t always think rightly.

Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. John 17:17

This is the appropriate way to judge, by the truth. The word is truth, Christ is truth, let’s compare ourselves to him, his word, and our lives will be transformed by the power of his grace and his mercy. This requires no secret formula, no special revelation, only reading, meditating, and understanding the Bible.

Kevin