How does God’s mission get accomplished? The apostle Paul, in writing to the church at Rome in the first century, gave a clear picture of what that looked like for him, and there are things we can learn from his experience as we seek to undertake the work of God in our time. Based on Romans 15.14-22, you can watch the entire worship broadcast below, or just the message below that.
This is an important weekend.
It’s Mother’s Day weekend, yes.
It’s my wife’s birthday weekend, yes. (Happy birthday, dear!)
But it’s also the weekend the church celebrates one of the most important, yet under-the-radar, events of the Christian year: yesterday having been Ascension Day, this Sunday is the day when the church marks the ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In many churches – including my own – it will get but a passing nod. In many more churches it gets less than that. But the celebration of the ascension of Jesus deserves our attention. After all, as Tim Perry and Aaron Perry say in He Ascended Into Heaven (Paraclete, 2010), “Resurrection is the beginning of ascension; ascension is resurrection completed” (6), and, “The Ascension marks both the completion of the Son’s mission and the beginning of the mission of his followers – to bear witness to his triumph” (49).
Any doubt as to the veracity of the resurrection of Jesus was settled when he ascended into heaven. And this, with the great commission, began the work of making disciples, baptizing and teaching.
So Ascension Sunday is a bit like Launch Day: it signifies a new beginning for the church, a new opportunity to commit to the work of making disciples. If you haven’t been doing all you can to draw people to the Lord – thinking like a missionary, as I said last Sunday in my message – then consider this Sunday, Ascension Sunday, a chance for a fresh start. And as Luke’s telling of the ascension hints, we don’t have to undertake that fresh start alone!
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere – in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1.8, NLT).
This Sunday, many churches around the world will mark an important event: it was on October 31, 1517 – 500 years ago – that Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk from Germany, nailed papers containing 95 theses for the reformation of the church to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg. Thus began what we know from history as the Protestant Reformation.
Luther never intended to start a “new” church. He wanted to help the “old” church return to her roots. The pre-Reformation church had become a little too full of itself, spending more time, effort and money on propping up the institution (with all its bells and whistles) than on its true mission, to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching” (Matthew 28.19b-20a, NRSV).
Luther’s mission was not to start from scratch, but to help the church he loved to be true to its biblical roots, particularly in five areas:
- People are justified before God by faith alone;
- People are saved from sin by grace alone;
- Jesus Christ alone is Saviour and Lord;
- The Bible alone is our authority for faith and life; and
- God alone gets the glory.
It wasn’t that the pre-Reformation church had no concept of these things; it’s just that so much had been added on top of them that these basic principles had been obliterated. Luther’s mission was to help put the church back on track with Scripture.
While what we call the Reformation took place in the 16th century, to be fair, the church has gone through a number of reformations since; in fact, the church – we! – do well to experience daily reformation, where we are put back on track with the Word of God.
How about you? Is it your church’s mission to make disciples? Is it yours? Those are questions worth asking as we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.
Today marks the seventieth anniversary of the D-Day invasion at Normandy, France. News and social media outlets are chock-a-block with stories commemorating the valiant efforts undertaken by the allied soldiers, particularly the Canadians.
It has been noted that this likely will be the last time many of Canada’s veterans will return to France to mark D-Day. After all, given that many of them were in their late teens or early twenties at the time, they are all around ninety years of age, and many are growing frail. Unlike their fallen comrades, age has wearied them.
Thankfully, though, their efforts are remembered on occasions like this, and annually on November 11. The goal, of course, is not to glorify war; none of the veterans would have us do that, for each of them knows intimately that there is no glory in war. Instead, they would have us remember, and work for peace. When we remember the cost of war – the cost in lives lost – we are encouraged to live peaceably with our neighbours.
There is a parallel here for the church of Jesus in Canada. Particularly in mainline denominations, we hear of churches closing at a frightening rate. Too often, a church closes, and its building is repurposed: condominiums, loft apartments, small businesses. Its shape and form serve as a memorial to a community of faith that once enlivened that piece of God’s earth.
For me, those are reminders – not of the eventuality of the church’s demise, but of the need to draw people to the Lord, to – dare I use this word? – evangelize. God will preserve his church; it does not belong to another to dictate her lifespan. But in his wisdom, God chooses to use his faithful people to bring growth, new life to his church. We are told in the Great Commission, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28.18-20, NIV).
Just as seeing a monument at a cenotaph causes us to remember those who died for the cause of freedom, and to preserve peace, so seeing a repurposed church building can cause us to remember our responsibility to share our faith with others, if even in subtle ways.
Sow the seed in a way that comes naturally to you, and let the Lord look after the cultivation.
As you read this, I will be en route to Bangalore, India, where I will be providing spiritual direction to pastors and students (and possibly their family members) at the South Asia Institute for Advanced Christian Studies. A team of six of us are helping to equip leaders of churches with new tools for spiritual formation.
This is a new thing for me. And as I’ve told my congregation, it’s way outside my comfort zone. The last few days of preparation were remarkably difficult, because my dear wife and I, in twenty years of marriage, have never been apart for three consecutive weeks before! However, I pressed on, because I know God is in this in a powerful way.
One of the things I know this trip will teach me is just how global the church really is. Never having flown farther than Vancouver before, I know this will stretch my picture of human society and enhance my understanding of what God can do in the world.
In that sense, I will almost certainly receive more than I give in this trip, but I hope to make a contribution to the Asian church as it enriches its understanding of spiritual formation.
God is at work all around the world. While we in the North American church lament the closure of congregations and bicker over points of biblical interpretation and theological practice, the church in Asia bustles with excitement and activity. People come to know Christ every day. And I’m excited that I get to be part of that for just a few weeks.
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28.19-20, NIV). Wherever in the world you go to make disciples, know that the Lord is with you.
Please keep our team in your prayers.