The Courage to Say “I’m Sorry”

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Probably you know what it’s like to have people you don’t actually know, but who you know of, because you move in the same circles and you have a lot of common friends.

Having been missionaries in Eastern Europe for many years, there are many people whom my wife and I don’t know personally, but we know of them, because we’ve been in the same places at different times, or we’ve met once or twice before.

During my recent trip to Ukraine, I met one of these people: a long-time missionary in Kyiv named Cara Denney. On this trip, however, I did get the chance to spend some time with Cara and really enjoyed getting to know her. We have a lot of friends in common, but this was the first time we’d ever really talked.

As Cara was telling me part of her story, she said something that was very profound: she was telling me about how she had a strained relaitonship with her mom for many years, but after she became a Christian, she was able to forgive her mother in light of how Christ had forgiven her.

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32)

It was a few years after that, that her mother approached her, and finally apologized for the pain and suffering she had caused Cara earlier in her life.

Now here’s the good part: Cara told her mother at that point, “Mom, I forgave you years ago!” — to which her mom replied: “I know. That’s what gave me the courage to say, ‘I’m sorry’!”

“I forgave you years ago.”
“I know, that’s what gave me the courage to say ‘I’m sorry.'”

That story reminds me of a few things:

  1. It is the kindness of God that leads us to repentance. (Romans 2:4)
    The fact of God’s love for us displayed in Him acting to save us through Christ — while we were yet enemies! (Romans 5:10) — shows us that God deeply loves us, and this kindness and love gives us the courage to come to him and confess our sins, knowing that they have already been dealt with in Christ and that we will be welcomed in and received with open arms by the Father.
  2. You don’t have to wait for someone to say they are sorry in order to forgive them.
    Some people will never say they are sorry. But if you hold onto resentment against them, you will be the one who suffers, not them! It has been said that holding onto resentment against another person is like drinking poison and expecting to other person to die. In the end you are only hurting yourself. In order to be free, you’ve got to forgive that person for what they’ve done against you, whether they apologize or not. And who knows, maybe like with this woman, the fact that you have already forgiven them will be the thing that gives them the courage to say, “I’m Sorry.”
    After all, God is the judge, and Jesus has already died for that sin – which means that justice will be served and/or has already been satisfied. Knowing this gives us the strength and the freedom to forgive.

Holding onto resentment is like drinking poison and expecting to other person to die. In the end, you’re only hurting yourself. Forgiveness sets you free.

For more from Cara, check out this article she wrote for calvarychapel.com: Where is God in the Conflict With Russia & Ukraine?

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What Makes Someone a Missionary?

I spent 10 years in Hungary as a missionary. I had a visa and several legal papers for my residence there which stated on them that I was a missionary. Furthermore, I was sent out and supported by a number of churches who supported as a missionary.

This having been the case, I have put a lot of thought over the years into what it is that makes someone a “missionary”. 

I remember working alongside Hungarians in Hungary, doing the same work – and yet I carried the title of missionary, and they were just Christians who were serving the Lord. Every now and then, some of them would say that they too were missionaries then, since they were doing the same work. But what about the other Christians in Hungary who were not with our organization, who did similar work? Were they also missionaries? They didn’t seem to covet that title, but were content to consider their service simply completely normal Christian behavior.  Some Hungarians we worked with received financial support from churches in the West so that they could serve full time at a church. Did that make them missionaries, even though they were serving in their home country or culture?

Some missions organizations use the term “native missionaries” and raise funds in wealthier countries to support national workers who already know the culture and language of a place. The idea is that with the proper training and some financial support to free them up to do the work, these local Christian workers will be able to reach the places where they live more effectively than foreign missionaries. This is especially popular in countries which do not give visas to foreign missionaries. Is the word “missionary” appropriate in this case? 

What makes someone a missionary?

One time when my wife and I had come back from Hungary to visit family and supporters, we were in Carlsbad, CA, and at the beach some young people, probably in their early 20’s,  approached us and started talking about Jesus. They were evangelizing – and when we told them we were Christians, they told us that they had come from somewhere in the Midwest as missionaries to California. They hadn’t been sent by any church community, but believed they were called and so they had come. Does that make you a missionary?

When I moved to Longmont I knew some people who said that they were missionaries to Longmont, and raised support for their living expenses and various ministry endeavors, so that they could be free to pursue these things full-time. These particular people had grown up in Longmont and felt called to serve God in their hometown. 

What makes someone a missionary?

Something that has often been proclaimed in evangelical circles is that all Christians are called to be “missionaries” and that the work of missionaries is not something which only needs to happen in far off places with developing economies, there is need for evangelism and outreach in wealthy countries, including the United States as well. One bookmark I saw said: “You don’t have to cross the ocean to be a missionary, you just have to cross the street.”

So what are we to make of all of this? What makes someone a missionary?

A little etymology helps to sort things out:

Missio = send. Thus, to be a missionary is to be someone who is sent.

There is a sense in which all Christians have been sent by Jesus to carry out his mission, which he received from the Father, in his mission field, which is the entire world.

“”For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” – John‬ ‭3:16‬ ‭ESV‬‬

“As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” – ‭John‬ ‭17:18‬ ‭ESV‬‬

“Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” – ‭‭John‬ ‭20:21‬ ‭ESV‬‬

However, some are sent and supported by a local body of believers, led by a sense of calling from God, like Paul and Barnabas in Acts ch 13. It is clear from the Book of Acts, that Paul had an ongoing relationship with his “sending church” in Antioch, returning there after each of his missionary journeys. It seems there there was an accountability, and probably some degree of financial support from the church there which had sent Paul out. 

Here’s how I sort it out: All Christians are called by be “on mission” with God, in his mission field, which is the entire world. In fact, to be on mission is an essential and inherent part of what it means to be a Christian. Therefore, it should be normal for all Christians to do the work of a missionary wherever they live, whether it is their home or not. This is the NORMAL Christian life.

And yet, I feel that we should preserve the significance of the word “missionary” for those who are sent out on a mission by a local body of believers to another place, following the leading of God. There is a way in which to use the word missionary to loosely diminishes the sacrifices and the unique challenges faced by those who leave home and country and follow God’s leading to go to another place, having had a local body of believers confirm this by sending them out. Similarly, there is a way in which the concept of the priesthood of all believers can be taken to a degree which detracts from the significance of a calling to be a pastoral overseer. While we are all called to minister and we are all called to be on mission, these titles point to particular roles.

There is an interesting place in Paul’s second letter to Timothy, where Paul tells Timothy: “Do the work of an evangelist.” (2 Timothy 4:5)  Paul, in Ephesians 4, mentions the “office” or official role in the church of “evangelist” – in other words, it seems that there were some people in the church who had this title. However, it would seem that even though this was not Timothy’s official title or role, Paul was encouraging him to do the work of an evangelist nonetheless. 

I believe the same applies in regard to the discussion of the term “missionary” or “pastor”. If you are a Christian, you may not be an officially sanctioned “missionary” – but you are called to do the work of a missionary nevertheless! You may not be a pastor, but you are still called to do the work of a pastor in your interactions with other people.

Is Christian Evangelism Presumptuous?

Evangelism, proselytizing, seeking to convert people to our faith – these are things which are inherent to Christianity if one is to take the words of Jesus as true and relevant.

However, some – even some Christians – feel that this is presumptuous; that Christians should just do their thing and let other people be drawn to it if they will – but not actively attempt to convert others to their faith.

I found this quote to give a helpful perspective:

A major aspect of the Great Commission is the emphasis that Jesus places upon his authority. This is vitally important, because unless Jesus has such authority how can he give such a command? This is a kingly command which assumes that he is Lord over all peoples. If Jesus is not the King, his Commission is presumptuous and without foundation. If he is King, then the whole of life ought to be subject to his royal authority. The fact that God is King is the heart of the Gospel message.

The authority of the missionary lies therefore in the very person of Christ. If Jesus is the King of God’s Kingdom then the missionary has the right, even the duty, to go to all people. If he is not King, then the missionary has no right to seek to take his religious ideas to others. Is Jesus Lord? This is the vital question.

– D. Burnett, “God's Mission: Healing the Nations”

 

Who Was Saint Patrick?

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I am an Irish-American. My dad’s family is all Irish, and I have an Irish last name. The only really Irish things I remember growing up were eating corned beef and hash and having a big Irish wake after my grandmother’s funeral. I personally feel that the Irish response to death is one of the great things about their culture – they know how to mourn a loss and celebrate a life at the same time.

Today is Saint Patrick’s Day – but who was Saint Patrick?

Well, interestingly enough, Patrick has never officially been named a saint by any church body. Furthermore, Patrick was not Irish! And if you’ve ever heard that Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland – there never actually were snakes in Ireland, so that is just the stuff of legend.

The real Patrick was a Roman Briton born in Wales around 390 AD to a wealthy, noble family. His father was a deacon and his grandfather a pastor. When Patrick was 16 years old, he was captured by Irish marauders and taken to Ireland as a slave. After living there as a slave for 6 yrs, he managed to escape back to Britain. After his return to Britain, he joined a monastery and became a minister, and during this time he was burdened with a desire to go back to his former captors in Ireland and share with them the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So Patrick returned to Ireland in 432, this time not as a slave, but of his own volition – as a missionary.

Patrick was one of the earliest Christian missionaries to travel abroad to spread Christianity. One of the noteworthy things which Patrick did as a missionary was live in solidarity with the Irish people. Patrick wrote that he “sold his nobility” to enhance his commonality with his Irish audience. He spoke their language, and lived among; he became one of them, that he might reach them with the Gospel.

One of the first things that Patrick did was gain religious toleration for Christians from the Irish King. He also sought to evangelize prominent druids, knowing that others would likely follow if high profile druid leaders converted to Christianity. One of Patrick’s emphases amongst those who converted to Christianity was spiritual growth. Within 15 years Patrick has evangelized much of Ireland. In all, Patrick served as a missionary and pastor in Ireland for some 30 years.

One of the long-term fruits of Patrick’s ministry in Ireland was a movement of Irish missionaries that grew up in the generations following his establishment of Christianity in that country. One of these men was Columba (521-597) who was born in an Irish Christian family and became a priest in the church and somewhat of a church planter, establishing many churches in Ireland. At age 42 Columba left Ireland, saying he had been motivated by the ‘love of Christ’ and went to Scotland, where he established a monastery which served as a station for training and sending missionaries into the surrounding region.

Here’s to Patrick the missionary and to the Irish people!

“I never made a sacrifice”

This past Sunday at White Fields church I spoke about how when we give everything over to God, although we often fear what we will lose, the reality is that we always get more than we bargained for. Like Jesus said, it is when we give our life fully over to him that we find true life and really start living. (you can listen to the audio of that sermon here)

One example of this that came to my mind, but I didn’t share on Sunday was a quote by David Livingstone – the 19th century British missionary who gave his entire life in service to Christ, exploring and evangelizing the interior of Africa. Today, as a direct result of his work, sub-Saharan Africa has become a place where Christianity thrives, where 200 years ago it was almost non-existent.

David Livingstone – Missionary and Explorer of the interior of Africa

Livingstone made several trips back to England during his time as a missionary in Africa, in which he would go on speaking tours. He was considered a national hero in England, and was invited to speak at universities and to dignitaries.

One of the questions most frequently asked of Livingstone was how he was able to make such a great sacrifice, as to give his life in service as a missionary. He was an educated man who could have had a comfortable, upper-class life in England, but instead he chose to spend the prime of his life in the bush of Africa.

Here is what Livingstone said in response to this question in a speech he gave at Cambridge University in 1857:

For my own part, I have never ceased to rejoice that God has appointed me to such an office. People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa. . . . Is that a sacrifice which brings its own blest reward in healthful activity, the consciousness of doing good, peace of mind, and a bright hope of a glorious destiny hereafter? Away with the word in such a view, and with such a thought! It is emphatically no sacrifice. Say rather it is a privilege. Anxiety, sickness, suffering, or danger, now and then, with a foregoing of the common conveniences and charities of this life, may make us pause, and cause the spirit to waver, and the soul to sink; but let this only be for a moment. All these are nothing when compared with the glory which shall be revealed in and for us. I never made a sacrifice.

A Message from Ukraine

Maybe you have heard about what’s happening in Ukraine – where upwards of 25,000 people have taken to the streets in anti-government protests. 

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A friend of mine who is a pastor in Ukraine spoke at our church here in Longmont a few months ago (click here to watch that video), and today I asked him to write a brief synopsis on what is going on in Ukraine and how we can be praying for them. Here is what he wrote:

“And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it…” 1 Cor. 12:26

You may have seen in the news recently that Ukraine, a former Soviet republic sandwiched between Russia and the European Union, is in the middle of massive street protests.  These protests were originally in reaction to the president breaking his promise to sign an association agreement with the EU.  People were angry and began to protest on the main square of the capital, Kiev.  After a few days on Nov. 30th, the president tried to end the protest with a massive show of violence, sending out special forces and riot police to beat peaceful protesters with batons.  They struck in the middle of the night when the fewest number of protesters were there to resist.  They beat both men and women indiscriminately and savagely, though the protesters posed no threat.  The president hoped that he would be able to put a stop to the people calling him to accountability for his broken promises.  He was wrong.  The reaction was the opposite and the next day many more people joined the protest.  This became no longer primarily a question of economics or which countries to build alliances with, but an outcry against human rights abuses, violence and oppression.  
Last night the president sent in troops and police again to try to clear the main square, though with more restraint as far as violence goes.  They attack began around 1:30am local time, again when there were less protesters to resist.  Many believers across Ukraine began praying.  We called each other, sent texts, waking one another up to stand before our mighty God and Savior and ask for Him to intervene.  It looked like this was the end of the protest and there was a thin line of protesters holding back a flood of riot police.  But then little by little people flocked to the square from all over Kiev in the middle of the night.  Soon the numbers were even.  Then the protesters were the majority.  By a miracle of the grace of God and in response to the prayers of His people, the protesters endured through the night and are still there.  The morning found a renewed protest and masses flocked to rebuild the barricades the police and special forces had torn down during the night.  
But the conflict is not over.  Tonight promises to be an important and difficult night on Independence Square in Kiev.  The protesters are more organized now, talking about organizing shifts for the night watch, but even then it will not be easy.  Also, the temperatures dipped down to almost 5F during the night last night.  Many of our brothers and sisters in Christ, including many pastors, are on the main square and will spend the night there ministering to the people and praying for God’s protection and peace and that His justice would triumph.  Near the beginning of the protests, some pastors set up an inter-denominational prayer tent on the square and people are coming to pray and even receiving Christ during this difficult time!  
The Word of God calls us to stand in unity and solidarity with both our brothers and sisters in Christ and with the oppressed and weak.  In this case, there is great overlap in those two categories.  I would beg you to stand together with the church in Ukraine before God and intercede at this pivotal moment in the nation’s history.  

Please pray for the following points:
1. Not against any party or person per se, but for the nation of Ukraine, that God would pour out His blessing and mercy on this people.

2. That God, who is not a God of disorder, but of peace (1 Cor 14:33) would establish His peace, order and justice in this land.

3. That God, who hates the hands that shed innocent blood (Pr. 6:17) would protect the people from violence and bloodshed, regardless of political affiliation.

4. That God would bless those currently in power by bringing them to repentance and the knowledge of Him and that they would rule in submission to God and turn from their wickedness, that we might live quietly and peaceably. (2 Tim. 2:2)

5. That the people would not be cursed in turning their hope to yet another man or political party in this time of trouble, but would be blessed by putting their hope in the Lord. (Jer. 17:5-7)

6. That the true enemy of man, Satan, who desires to steal, kill and destroy, would be cast down and that his plots would not prevail. (Eph. 6:12)

7. That, as our Lord Himself taught us to pray, the kingdom of God would come and His will be done on earth as in heaven. (Mt. 6:10)

Thank you for standing together as one body with your brothers and sisters in Ukraine.  God bless you and God bless the people of Ukraine!