A wasted life

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“And people who do not know the Lord ask why in the world we waste our lives as missionaries. They forget that they too are expending their lives… and when the bubble has burst they will have nothing of eternal significance to show for the years they have wasted.”

~ Nate Saint

In honor of Plymouth Brethren missionaries, Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Roger Youderian, Ed McCully and Pete Fleming, who were killed by the Auca Indians, January 1956.

Thankfulness is a funny thing…

Thankfulness is a funny thing.

By its very nature the giving of thanks cuts straight across the self-focus of the human heart. When we are thankful for something, we acknowledge that we are in someone else’s debt…

…that there are good things in our lives for which it just doesn’t seem appropriate to pat ourselves on the back. We pause for a day at Thanksgiving to think about the blessings we enjoy – the way our lives, with all their challenges, trials, and disappointments, are actually much better than we could have accomplished for ourselves in our own strength, and much better than we know we deserve.

And that seems to be the case even for unbelievers. Even the most prideful person will admit, if he’s honest with himself, that, strangely enough, it feels good to be thankful. We enjoy giving thanks. Something just feels…right… about it.

Storm-Bay-Kiama-with-the-KIama-Showground-opposite-surrounded-with-Norfolk-Island-Pine-trees-Image-Credit-Gerringong-Australia-PhotographyAnd that’s because we’re tapping into the reality that life isn’t most ultimately about us and making much of ourselves. We’re catching a glimpse of the reality that absolutely everything that we have – from our job to the air we breathe – is owing to the goodness of Another. You see, we are designed to humble ourselves in the presence of Someone infinitely more worthy than us. And we are designed to give praise and thanksgiving to Him for the comforts of this life. The pleasure we feel in thanksgiving is a parable from the God of the universe that teaches us that our glory is not the goal of our lives, but that His glory is.

And so if you’re reading this and you’re not a believer in Jesus Christ, can I ask you to stop and think about why, at this time of year, it feels right to deflect the glory? Would you pause a moment and think about why in the world that is? You truly feel, and therefore say, the words, “I’m thankful for ______.”

But have you ever asked yourself whom you’re thankful to for those gifts? Indeed, that they are gifts and therefore have come from a Giver?

God’s H.E.A.R.T

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Thom Rainer (a US pastor and writer) prays evangelistically using the simple acronym, “GOD’S HEART”. I think it’s excellent. Maybe this pattern will help you as you pray evangelistically too:

G = Pray that believers (beginning with yourself) will appreciate God’s grace. When we really appreciate what God has done for us, we naturally want to tell others about Him.

O = Pray for believers (beginning with yourself) to live in obedience to God. If we’re not walking in obedience to God, our disobedience hinders our prayers (Isa. 59:1-2). Remaining in Christ really does matter when we pray (John 15:7).

D = Pray that believers (beginning with yourself) will decide to tell others. Evangelism doesn’t just happen. Telling the story of Jesus is a choice… an action…a decision. We often know we should do evangelism, but decide not to do it. Pray that won’t happen.

S = Pray that believers (beginning with yourself) will speak the gospel fearlessly and clearly. In fact, that’s the way Paul taught us to pray in Ephesians 6:19-20 and Colossians 4:2-4.

H = Pray for your non-believing friend or loved one to have a receptive heart to the gospel. Apart from Christ, people are dead in their sin (Eph. 2:1), held under the devil’s sway (Acts 26:18). Only God can make our hearts open to the good news.

E = Pray that their spiritual eyes will be opened. Our non-believing friends or loved ones are blinded to the truth of the gospel (2 Cor. 4:3-4), and the “god of this age” does all he can to keep them in darkness.

A = Pray that they will have God’s attitude toward sin. Understanding God’s remedy for sin begins with understanding our sickness. We’re all sinners (Rom. 3:23), and we must see our sin as God sees it – as wrong against a holy God.

R = Pray that your non-believing friend or lovedwill repent and believe. The message of Christ is clear: we must turn from our sin and trust Christ for salvation (Mark 1:15). God gets the glory as He frees nonbelievers from the domain of darkness (Col. 1:13).

T =  Pray their lives will be transformed. When God does that, the non-believing world takes note.

Who is praying for you to speak the gospel boldly and clearly? Are you praying for other believers to be evangelistic? Are you praying for non-believers? Are you asking God to save and transform a specific person? Even if you’ve been praying for someone for many years, don’t give up. God still responds to the prayers of His people. That’s His heart!  

Firing Squads, Jailhouse Religion and Amazing Grace

We must never forget that much of the Bible was written by murderers who were given a second chance – Moses, David, and Paul. We must never forget that our churches would be empty if we killed everyone who was deserving of death. 

Reformed Bali Nine ringleaders Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran and their six fellow prisoners were shot by a 12-member firing squad in the early hours of Wednesday morning. According to the pastors who were with them in their final hours, the men refused to wear blind-folds and spent their last minutes of life praising God by singing Amazing Grace. Andrew Chan famously became a Christian in jail, and right up until his death he led the worship service in Kerobokan prison. He attributed this change entirely to his religious conversion. But what are we to make of this hope that Chan carried with him right up until his death? Not everyone buys it. “Jailhouse religion” is the derisive term for crooks finding God in the hope of a pardon or better treatment and it’s fair to say that if there is no God then the whole episode looks like a meaningless waste.

Even as a Christian minister, a familiar accusation is that my religion is “a crutch”. I admit that many people are religious, not for rational reasons, but simply because they have an emotional need to believe that there is a heavenly Father that cares for them. On the other hand, we should also admit that many people reject religion, not for rational reasons, but simply because they have an emotional need to not believe that there is a heavenly King we have to obey. Aldous Huxley (author of A Brave New World) freely admitted this: “I had motives for not wanting the world to have meaning; consequently I was able without much difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption….for myself, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation, sexual and political.”

We need to admit that we have a built-in bias. In order to offset that, have you ever taken a long, hard look at the evidence for faith? If an honest judge had to sit in judgment on a claim against in which she knew she had a built-in bias, she would have to work to be diligent and objective in her examination. On the one hand, it means people who have a strong interest in God should undertake a careful examination of the arguments and evidence, so they don’t believe simply out of emotional need. But on the other hand, people who have an indifference to religion should undertake a careful examination of the arguments and evidence so they don’t disbelieve simply out of emotional need.

If Chan was onto something all those years ago when, in solitary confinement, he first sensed God alongside him as he read the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life, then he joins many others who have gone to their deaths in similar circumstances, not glad of the fate that awaited them, but hopeful, even confident that through their death they were in fact being ushered into life. Chan’s God is the God of second chances. Think about how Jesus approached those who had sinned in the Gospels. He highlights such teachings as “judge not lest you be judged”; “I did not come for the healthy but for the sick, not for the righteous but for the sinners” and “you’ve heard it said ‘an eye for an eye’ but I tell you there is another way”. Christ stood relentlessly for mercy, favouring forgiveness over punishment. There is actually an incident in the Gospels where Jesus is asked about the death penalty. A women has been humiliated and dragged before the town, ready to be killed. Her execution was legal; her crime was a capital one. But just because it was legal, didn’t make it right – and Jesus interrupts the scene with grace. In the passage in question, found in John 8, Jesus challenges the mob ready to stone an adulterous woman; famously declaring, “Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone” (v 7). The only one who is left with any right to throw a stone is Jesus – and he has absolutely no inclination to do so. It is this duel conviction that no one is above reproach and that no one is beyond redemption that lies at the heart of our faith. The beauty of it, is that closer we are to God the less we want to throw stones at other people. Of all people, we who follow the executed and risen Christ should be people who are consistently for mercy, for grace and for life.

We dare not forget the story – of a God who so loved the world that Jesus was sent, not to condemn the world but to save it. We must never forget that much of the Bible was written by murderers who were given a second chance – Moses, David, and Paul.

…We must never forget that our churches would be empty if we killed everyone who was deserving of death. And so this week, I both grieve and sing. Because, despite these terrible events I can join them in this prayer – amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!

David Fell is the Chaplain of the Church of England on Norfolk Island, an Anglican Church that loves Jesus, loves each other and loves Norfolk Island.