Missional

What’s your purpose? (Mark 1:35-39)

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We all have moments when we wonder what our purpose and reason for being are. Why did God create me? For what am I here on this earth?

These are great questions to ask because it would be such a shame to live our lives, not knowing where we are heading. In Mark 1:36-37, Simon has gone out looking for Jesus because everyone was looking for him. Jesus’ response is one of someone who knows his mission and reason for being because he tells Simon in verse 38 that he needs to go to the other towns to preach as well because that is why he came.

God created us to love him, to know him, and to glorify him. That is our reason for being. The Bible also tells us in Ephesians 2:10 that God created us for good works that he planned for us to do. I have always loved that verse because we can become overwhelmed by all the need around us and not know where God wants to use us, but this verse tells us that God has specific things he wants each of us to do. By doing the things God has planned for you to do, you will be loving him and glorifying him. The result will be that you will get to know his voice as he leads and guides you along the path he has set.

The key to knowing your purpose is in Mark 1:35. They had to go looking for Jesus because he was in an isolated place, praying to his Father. He came out of that time confident; knowing what he needed to do and not pressured by others to do what they thought was best.

The Bible tells us that we have a purpose, but we need to spend time with our Father, asking him what he wants us personally to do. I encourage you to spend time thinking and asking God to show you what it is he has created you to do. He has placed you where you are for a reason. In your job and in the place you live, God has a purpose for you being there. Perhaps you are sick at home, God knew you would be there and even has a job for you to do. If you are struggling with feeling insignificant, know that God has a reason for creating you and having you in the season you are currently living.

Imagine the impact we as Christians would have on the people around us if we all did the things God planned ahead of time for us to do.

Decide every morning that you will ask the Holy Spirit to lead you and show you what he has planned, and prepare to be amazed.

Nadine is one of the elder’s wives at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.

A Mission Worth Your Entire Life (2 Timothy 4:5-22)

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As we reach the end of this combined study of 1 & 2 Timothy, there is so much to say. I need a blog for each point in this section! There is a lot to be said for the relational dynamic in the gospel advance as seen in verses 9 to 16 and in 19 to 21. There is a lot to be said about the continual need to believe that God will help you persevere in the faith in the face of overwhelming challenges, as seen in verses 16 to 18. I also think there is much to say about our agency in the mission of God – as Paul is so clearly aware throughout this book and this chapter that the gospel advance will continue long after him, and its spread is not dependent on any one person for its success.

However, I think that all of these topics fall under Paul’s words in verses 6-7, as we see the heart of the man who gave everything he had for the mission of God.

I grew up reading stories of “wide eyed radicals” and “dreamers of the day”; men and women who would give up their whole lives for the mission God had called them to.[1] Whether it was reading books like  ‘Jesus Freaks’ and ‘The Heavenly Man’, or various biographies from giants in the faith such as Amy Carmichael, Hudson Taylor or Olaudah Equiano; these stories of radical living and lifelong sacrifice stirred my faith in a simple truth; Jesus is worth everything we have to give.

Paul fits this mold of “wide eyed radicals”. Perhaps the original in the early church movement. 2 Timothy 4 constitutes his final words, in the final chapter of his final book, in his final moments this side of glory. It is a summary of a lifetime of service to God and His bride, and as we lean in, we will discover some amazing truths to fuel our perseverance in the mission…

 “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

 – 2 Timothy 4:6-7

Paul here is drawing from Old Testament sacrificial language to convey the summarizing thought of his earthly life. There was nothing left, no reserves, just a complete emptying out of everything Paul had to give to the mission of God, because of his passionate devotion to God. It’s not a sacrifice to earn the Father’s approval, or to attain spiritual salvation. Paul’s sacrifice is joyfully and enthusiastically offered up precisely because his approval and salvation has already been graciously given! He lived with a sense of joyful significance, as he was included in God’s gloriously good purposes for all creation. It’s the response to salvation, not a prerequisite for salvation.

Paul also draws from his own writing from earlier New Testament letters, as well as these two letters to Timothy, and he uses military and athletic language to claim that God’s mission was worthy of every sacrifice he ever made. The military language fits the pattern set throughout 1 & 2 Timothy, and in using the metaphors of “fight” and “race” Paul is intentionally using very active and energetic language. His life is an example of what it looks like to be wonderfully consumed with the dreams and endeavors of gospel advance.

If you listen to the tone of the text, you can almost hear the joy and relief in verse 7, as Paul marvels in the wonderful preservation of God in every act of service Paul had ever done. The passive verb in verse 6, “I am being poured out”, is Paul’s way of communicating God is the one who was at work in Paul’s life, empowering every moment and preserving his faith until the end.

Earlier this year I heard two older pastors, at a similar phase of life to Paul, quoting Colossians 1:29, where Paul says “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.”[2] Paul, in both Colossians and 2 Timothy, shows a total dependence on God for his own preservation. It would be arrogant to think that any of his achievements were his own. Paul spends 2 Corinthians reminding us how just how unimpressive and dependent he truly is. There is a great truth here, that Paul has spent his whole life demonstrating. Our perseverance is only possible through Gods preservation. He keeps us. He empowers us. And He gets all the glory.

From these two verses, we can almost picture Paul running through the gates of heaven, hands lifted high, proclaiming the goodness of the Almighty to the roar of all of redemption. Don’t you want that same magnificent moment? No reserves. No regrets. Completing your life on the mission that is worth everything you have to give.


[1] Phrases from Simon Guillebauld’s excellent book, “More Than Conquerors.”

[2] “Ray Ortlund and Sam Storms on Finishing Well in Ministry”. https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/churches-planting-churches/id1069930513

Studying & Engaging with the World Around Us (2 Timothy 3:1-17)

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*Authors Note: We have been looking at the Christmas story these last few days, so it might be worth going back to our last devotional on 2 Timothy 2 so you are familiar with the book again. Paul is writing his final words to Timothy, and is discussing themes of leadership, suffering, perseverance and holiness.

Ever looked in a mirror and not liked what you saw? Ever had that flow of dread run through your body when you saw something that you wish wasn’t there? Maybe your hair was having a crazy day, or the pimple quadrupled in size, or that smudge you thought you’d rubbed off was actually still there.

Reading 2 Timothy 3 is ugly and painful. It is painful because it sounds eerily familiar. In the previous chapter we saw Paul urging us Timothy (and us) to pursue a holy perseverance in the midst of challenges around him, and now in this chapter we get a striking description of those challenges. With surgical precision, Paul exposes societal sin that feels like a modern day commentary of our own cultural moment.

“For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.”

Do you feel the awkwardness of these verses? I visibly shrunk lower on my chair when I read this. It grieved me in my heart, because these are the sins so clearly seen in the world around us. People who care only for their own self-advancement in life. People passionately pursuing money that corrupts the soul. People so desperate for pleasure that they will participate in self-destructive patterns of behaviour. We should not be surprised; the outworking of sin has a familiar historic pattern. Furthermore, we are not facing any new version of sin today that has not challenged the church before. Sin is sin, and godlessness is destructive wherever it goes.

Let me pick up on one of these societal sins that Paul is exposing, and demonstrate why it feels like it is a critique of our society today. “For among them are those who creep into households and capture women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions…” In verses 3 & 4 we see the seeds of violence (“abusive”, “brutal”, “without self control”), but verse 6 seems like contemporary resistance against Gender Based Violence. A society without God is a society in sin, and in a society infected with sin we will always find the sinful pursuit of evil desires, such as we have right now in this country. This passage is hard to read, just as every new story of the abuse of women by men becomes more and more painful to digest. We must connect the current crisis of Gender Based Violence with the spiritual degradation of our society. Look at how Paul exposes and challenges the societal sins of his day. This is a charge and a challenge to us to do the same – we should not stay silent.

Paul’s immediate response to the societal sins that threaten to compromise our holiness is to “avoid such people” (v5), having followed his godly example (v10) and to continue living out the truth that we believe (v14) by relying on the bibles power and relevance in all situations (v16). This correlates with Paul’s deliberate and fatherly concern for the holiness of believers that runs throughout 1 & 2 Timothy.

I have been so struck by the way Paul exposes societal ungodliness that I want to suggest that we should have a similar understanding of our cultural moment. In John 17:14-16 we read that as believers we have been intentionally sent into the world by God to make Him known by proclaiming the gospel. The Great Commission of Matthew 28 has made this our core purpose. Therefore, as we pursue this great aim, part of our proclamation must involve a cultural analysis of what societal sin the gospel must confront.

As we consider the society around us, where is the brokenness? Where are people hurting? What patterns of sin are there? What self-destructive behaviors do the people in our communities regularly pursue? What ideologies/political thoughts/worldviews/perspectives of morality to people claim to? Where must the church challenge cultural norms? Who is being marginalized and cast aside?

 In our cultural milieu, we must learn from Paul and use the gospel to challenge Gender Based Violence, the ongoing injustice caused by the legacy of Apartheid, politically divisive rhetoric, growing inequality, a pursuit of sinful and self –destructive passions as well as the elevation of the individual before all other things.

For the gospel to transform people of any culture, the church must endeavor to study and participate in that culture. The gospel can only be good news to the people around us when it is seen as the answer to all brokenness and sin in their lives.  Trevin Wax states: “As we learn to identify the prevailing worldviews of society, we look for ways to present the gospel of Jesus in ways that are more likely to resonate.”[1]

Study the world around you. Participate in it. It will increase the effectiveness of your gospel proclamation to it.


[1] https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevin-wax/3-ways-cultural-engagement-intersects-with-the-great-commission/

Confidence in Challenges (1 Timothy 1:18-20)

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As 1 Timothy 1 draws to a close, lets imagine being Timothy for a moment.

He was a young man who was given an intimidating mission. He had to challenge and oppose existing leaders with no assurance of how they will respond. Paul calls Timothy to “wage good warfare”, which suggests that he will experience trials, opposition, and sacrifice. Paul states that he is on mission to another place, so there is no backup to call upon. Finally, in 2 Timothy 1 we see Paul encouraging Timothy to not be shy or ashamed of the gospel; an encouragement only needed if Timothy was feeling the pressure of his charge. In light of all of this, perhaps we can understand if there was any trepidation in Timothy.

However Paul provides some wonderfully encouraging reasons for Timothy to be of good courage as he steps onto the frontline. Lets look at them together, and draw fresh confidence in the midst of our own challenges:

  • Paul trusted Timothy

As Timothy fought on battleground of gospel advance, he would have read the words “… I entrusted to you…” and I’m sure it would have brought instant assurance. Assurance that would have strengthened him to persevere, because the one who knew him the most had entrusted him. Paul writes affectionately of their intimate relationship, and he also writes of the confidence he has in Timothy to carry out this task. I’m certain this vote of confidence would have warmed his heart and strengthened his resolve.

  • Timothy could rest on prophesies

After this statement of fatherly trust, Paul then reminds Timothy that God has already spoken and equipped him for the mission he was on. Clearly Timothy had received prophetic words at a young age, and Paul says that the mission Timothy had in Ephesus fitted the words that God had previously given him. God was guiding Timothy, empowering and encouraging him into church leadership, and Paul was reminding Timothy of the great assurance this brings. As someone who also received prophetic words at a young age, I feel that I can emphasize and speak for Timothy when I say that prophetic words can excite and energize us to attempt things on the mission field that we know are beyond ourselves. God has intervened – God has spoken – God’s power is inside us! We will not falter and His purposes will be accomplished!

  • Timothy already experienced gospel power himself

Finally, Paul references the ‘faith’ and ‘good conscience’ that he first states in verse 5. The purpose of the repetition is to remind Timothy that he has already experienced the awe-inspiring power of Gospel transformation! This transformation produces attributes in us that wouldn’t otherwise be there, and this is God equipping us for what He has called us to. Timothy’s faith and conscience is proof of God’s Spirit working in Him, and Paul says, “by them you may wage the good warfare.”

One of the many, many reasons I find Jesus compelling is that Jesus doesn’t sell us an unrealistic view of life. He clearly prepares us for the various challenges we face in a fallen world, and for Timothy this looked like arrogant teachers shipwrecking their own faith and causing others to wander away from gospel truth. However God, through the words of Paul, provides various sources of encouragement that increases our confidence and empowers us to face our challenges head on.

SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:

  1. What mission / purpose has God given you in your current season of life?
  2. What challenges are you going through right now as you try to live out this mission?
  3. How does the gospel truth found in Paul’s words build confidence in you?
  4. From this passage, what do you think is the purpose of God encouraging you to greater confidence?

LEADERSHIP NOTE:

Paul doesn’t boost Timothy’s confidence by talking about his qualities and strengths. Fresh from recounting his own unimpressive and humbling testimony, Paul only speaks of what has happened to Timothy. God has given Timothy a loving father figure to mentor him, prophetic words to guide him and gospel transformation to empower him. Confident leaders are NOT confident in themselves. Confident leaders are confident because DESPITE of themselves, God is gracefully working through them for His great glory.

Gospel Clarity, Certainty, Confidence & Responsibility (Romans 10:12-21)

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Clarity, Certainty, Confidence & Responsibility

I love the remarkable inclusivity & certainty of Romans 10. Paul is determined to make two things abundantly clear;

Clarity

1. That ‘everyone who believes’ (Romans 10:4), ‘everyone who believes in Him (Jesus)’ (Romans 10:11), that ‘there is no distinction’ (Romans 10:12) between various groups of people ‘for the same Lord is Lord of all’ (Romans 10:12), that God will ‘bestow His riches on all who call on Him’ (Romans 10:13), for ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord’ (Romans 10:13) will be saved!

It could not be clearer; the Gospel is the good news to whoever believes in Jesus. The Gospel is the most significant unifying force in the world! Nothing else unifies human beings in this way. We all have a common problem (sin), and God has made His solution to our problem available to everyone who will believe. Which leads to the second matter Romans 10 makes abundantly clear…

Certainty

2. That everyone who believes in Jesus ‘will be saved’ (Romans 10:9), the one who confesses this belief ‘is saved’ (Romans 10:10), such a person who believes in Jesus ‘will not be put to shame’, but God will respond to their faith by ‘bestowing His riches on all who call on Him’ (Romans 10:13) for those who call on Jesus’ name ‘will be saved’ (Romans 10:13).

What assurance! What confidence and clarity the apostle Paul is writing with. There is no uncertainty, no qualifying statements such as “if…” just absolute pronouncements of what God will do in response to anyone who puts their faith in Jesus Christ.

No wonder Paul was not ashamed of this Gospel; no wonder he believed that it really was the power of God to save people (Romans 1:16). Do you share his conviction? The conviction that the Gospel is for all people and that you can share the Gospel with confidence knowing that anyone who simply believes in Jesus will be saved by Jesus from their sin and will be welcomed by God into eternal life with Him?

Personal Reflection:

How assured are you of your salvation? God wants you to be assured and at peace if you have put your faith in Jesus if you have believed the Gospel that’s on display in the book of Romans. Do you battle wondering whether you genuinely are accepted by God or not? Read Romans 10 again and again, be fortified by the inclusivity and certainty.

Confidence

Because it is clear that the Gospel is for everyone who will believe in Jesus, and because we have certainty regarding the power of the Gospel to save completely all those who believe in Jesus we can and should share the Gospel with an incredible confidence knowing that it is the power of God to save people (Romans 1:16).

Responsibility

People will not believe unless someone shares the Gospel with them (Romans 10:14-17), and it is the responsibility of every generation to reach their generation with the good news about Jesus.

So, who are you investing in relationally, reaching out to, living in proximity with so that you can share the Gospel with them? How will they be able to believe the Gospel without you sharing it with them at some stage? Remember that ‘faith comes by hearing’ the word of Christ (Romans 10:17) and God has placed you in the lives of people, in proximity to people who God wants you to share the Gospel with so that they can hear and believe.

Don’t hide behind the often quoted nonsense that says; “preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necesary”; when Scripture makes our words necessary! “It’s simply impossible to preach the Gospel without words. The Gospel is inherently verbal, and preaching the Gospel is inherently verbal behaviour.” – Duane Liftin

The Gospel is the announcement about the good news of WHO Jesus is and WHAT Jesus came to do and offer to all those who will believe in Him. That announcement, those words of life must be shared by people living out transformed lives which put that Gospel power on display through their lives, but the power to save people is the good news about Jesus not the good news about your behaviour.

May the Gospel’s clarity & certainty fortify us giving us the confidence to take up our responsibility to share it will all those God has sent us to in our everyday lives.

Who is Jesus? (Matthew 16:13-28)

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Every person on the planet has to answer that question at some point in their life.  Jesus is the central figure of all of human history, Jesus is the one person of whom it is not possible to have no opinion of or to ignore forever.

Those around Jesus in the crowds and amongst the pharisees, even the disciples themselves were all trying to work Jesus out!  A man claiming to be God’s Son, the promised Messiah?  Could it be?  And if you think about it for even a moment, I believe that the vast majority of us would have been the same quandary.

Jesus knows this, and so probingly He asks the disciples; “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (Matthew 16:13)  The answer is diverse because the theories were diverse – no one really had a good handle of who Jesus was. 

Some said Jesus was John the Baptist raised from the dead (Matthew 14:1-2), some thought Jesus was the fulfilment of an Old Testament prophecy (see Malachi 4:5) or maybe Jesus was in fact Jeremiah or one of the other prophets..?

All those responses were interesting but Jesus, getting right to the point then asks His disciples; “But who do you say that I am?”  There’s no wriggle room here, they are on the spot… 

All of us will face a moment just like this one at some point in our lives – “Who do you say that I am?”.  In that moment there will be no referencing others, just the need to give an account for what we have believed about Jesus for ourselves.

I am certain there was a moment of silence before the disciples all felt a wave of relief wash over them as they heard Peter limbering up to speak first…

“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” – Peter said to Jesus (Matthew 19:16)

Nailed it!  Peter in a moment of revelation given to Him by God Himself (vs17) sees Jesus in splendid clarity.  Jesus is the Messiah (the meaning of ‘Christ’), Jesus is the begotten Son of God. Truly God, truly man – what a mystery revealed.  Peter didn’t just see Jesus in that moment, but Peter also believed what He saw about Jesus.

Who do you say Jesus is?  You can delay your answer for a period of time.  But in the end of the day, everyone of us will have to answer that question ourselves before Jesus.

So, what’s your answer?

I pray that you might have the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that You may know Jesus fully (Ephesians 1:17) and I pray that you might have power to grasp the magnitude and magnificence of Jesus and His love for you.  So that you like Peter would be filled with revelation knowledge of Jesus, and that as a result you might be filled to overflowing with the fullness of God in your life! (Ephesians 3:14-19)

Jesus is the Messiah, the only One worthy of all our worship and adoration.  May you see those truths, may they transform you from the inside out, may they impact your life 24/7 and forevermore. 

Lastly, if you already know Jesus as Messiah and Lord of your life, why don’t you choose three people in your life who wouldn’t yet answer Jesus as Peter did.  Why not beginto pray for them.  Start by praying the prayer I’ve prayed for you in the paragraph above.  Pray that they would come to know and love Jesus.  Then in addition to praying, invest in their lives relationally, and look then invite them to contexts that would help move them towards faith in Jesus.

Disqualified? Qualified! (John 4:1-45)

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Life is a sequence of many moments isn’t it? Yet not all moments are equal in their importance for our lives. Some of the moments in our lives are what one could call; ‘God-moments’. These are moments, which are often unexpected in which radical change can happen, faith can be birthed or strengthened, in which we can learn something new about ourselves, God or others.

Today, God wants to bless you. This devotion could be a God-moment in your life. God wants to bless you, to encounter you, change your view of Him, to change you, to pour His love into you, wants to heal and restore you…

Back to the story, this woman at the well is about to have an unexpected God-moment in her life as she comes to draw water at the well but finds Jesus there! After some interaction about Jesus’ thirst, Jesus’ offered her water that would satisfy her thirst forever, she then asked Jesus to give her this water so that she would never thirst again.

Jesus knowing everything about her, asks her about her husband, asks her to call him. She didn’t want to talk about these things, it’s too personal, she tries to cover up this sad aspect of her life. We are often like this woman aren’t we? At first she resisted God’s loving, kind advances, and she tries to hide from the King of Glory. But He’s all-knowing, He knows about all 5 of her previous husbands & He knows of her current sinful relationship with the man who is not her husband but whom she is with.

At this point you might expect Jesus to draw back. After-all, she has been exposed and it’s messy. Yet,
amazingly, graciously, God still pursues her as He pursues you and I. Amazingly, what God knows about you and I doesn’t cause Him to re-coil and run from us.

Yet Jesus stays with her keeps pursuing her in this moment and reveals to her that He is the Messiah (vs26). God accepts us as we are, warts and all, God wants to transform us from who we have been and who we are today into worshippers who will worship in Spirit and truth!

And so in this God-moment the woman has a revelation of God, a revelation of the grace, mercy & forgiveness of God. What she thinks about God, what she knows is re-written in a moment as God reveals His true character to her in this God-moment…

You might have thought that her past and her present disqualified this lady. And yet actually her mess strangely qualified her to speak to others about who God is and what God is like! Having slinked out of town to come and get water, ashamed, at a time when not many others would be there.

Having met Jesus though she runs back into town effectively shouting; ‘Come and see a man who told me everything that I ever did, I think He is God!’ This woman’s shame actually became her proof of who God is! Her shame was what qualified her to testify to who God is and what God is like. In that God-moment, her sin became her God-story of redemption which in turn then showed off the grace, love & mercy of God to her whole town.

In one sense, you and I can’t be entrusted by God to share with others about Him until we have received, encountered, grace from God towards us first. Receiving grace from God qualifies us to tell others about God’s grace and mercy.

God’s grace is that He accepts us, just as we are, warts and all. God accepts us not on the basis of our merit but on account of His goodness and His lavish grace and kindness to us in Jesus. Although Jesus knew every sordid thing about this woman, He still accepted her and forgave her! Jesus came to seek and save the lost, He didn’t come for those who think they’re doing just fine, stuck in their self-righteousness, He came for sinners like me, like you…?

The end of the story is amazing. One woman’s God-moment, one woman encountering Jesus as the God of grace, results in her sharing her God-story with her town so that Scripture then records that; “Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” (John 4:39)

So what are you ashamed of? What do you feel disqualifies you from being used by God, from being God’s agent for change, His channel of grace and blessing to people? Can your sin potentially actually become a God-story which ends up showing off the God of grace?

Ask Jesus to forgive you, to pour His grace and mercy into your life right now and then go and tell the world how great and good and loving Jesus is! Needing grace, doesn’t disqualify you, it qualifies you to share with others about the incredible grace and mercy and love of God.