Missions: a Call to Worship

1 Chronicles 16:23-27 (NIV)  Sing to the LORD, all the earth; proclaim his salvation day after day.  24 Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples.  25 For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods.  26 For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the LORD made the heavens.  27 Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and joy in his dwelling place.

In the passage above, King David, assisted by Asaph, calls upon the people to worship the God who created the universe. He deserves to be worshiped because He alone is God. All the other gods are idols. They are false gods. God called Israel that they would proclaim the greatness of His name to the other nations. Israel’s faith was neither meant to be private nor exclusive. God’s intention was that through Israel’s obedience and devotion to His ways, other nations would come to the knowledge of His love, justice and holiness.  This too is our mission as the church of Jesus Christ. We are called to declare the name of the One true and living God through our words and actions.

For some Christians worship and missions are two important but unrelated activities of the church. We tend to limit worship what is done when believers are gathered and missions to what believers do when they are scattered in the world. I think there is some truth to that but there is still more. Worship and missions are interconnected. The One true living God is the object of both worship and missions. None of them is a mere human endeavor. One leads to the other. Worship is both the fuel and goal of missions. John Piper famously said that, “Missions exists because worship doesn’t.” As such, missions is a call for the people who are estranged from God to return and worship Him.

A call to worship

When Moses encountered God in the burning Bush, God sent him to go back to Egypt. His mission was to “Go to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me” (Exodus 8:1). God’s desire is that all people get to worship Him. We were created to worship God, but Satan also competes for our worship. People turn away from God when they fail or refuse to worship Him alone. So, when we worship we are declaring to the enemy, Satan, that only the Lord is God who is worthy of our worship. And when we witness, we are calling people to return and worship the One true and living God.

Food for Thought:

How can you, as part of your church community, be engaged in declaring the praises of the One true God among those who do not believe in Him? 

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What did Jesus Do?

During my college days, I used to like the WWJD wristbands and tee-shirts. I think that whoever came up with the “what would Jesus do” idea or movement had very good intentions. They must have wanted Christians to have the right kind of Christ-like attitude—and perhaps corresponding actions—in every situation they encountered.  But the truth is that we cannot know with certainty what Jesus would actually do in each and every situation we encounter. Jesus’ actions almost always shocked everyone, even those closest to Him. They were unconventional and counter-culture.

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But there was also something predictable about Jesus in whatever He did; He wanted to please the Father. I think that the more realistic motivation for us is to ask “what did Jesus do,” or WDJD if you will. He touched as cleansed lepers, ate and drank with sinners, was anointed by former prostitutes. He reached out to those regarded as the riffraff of the society. He loved those who rejected Him. He died for those who crucified Him.

What did Jesus do? He forfeited His divine privileges, came down to our level, and suffered for our sake. He was not indifferent to human rebellion and predicament. He was not judgmental. He gave His own life for ours. That is the life He lived for us to emulate. He laid down His life for us, so we ought to lay it down for others (1 John 3:16). And yes, he told us “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them” (John 13:17).

 

The “What” of Worship

1 Chronicles 16:8-11 (NIV)

Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name;
make known among the nations what he has done.
Sing to him, sing praise to him;
tell of all his wonderful acts.
10 Glory in his holy name;
let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
11 Look to the Lord and his strength;
seek his face always.

Delight…

If you were asked to define what worship is, what would you say? Would you define it in emotional terms by how you feel about God? Would you approach it academically by avoiding the emotional and subjective undertones?  Warren Wiersbe defines worship as “the believer’s response of all that they are—mind, emotions, will, body—to what God is and says and does.” The Word of God commands us to love Him with all of our heart, soul, strength and mind (Luke 10:27). Worship is all about delighting in all that God is and does.

Reverence…

Worship is reverential by nature because we acknowledge that the One we worship is greater than everything else—and He is therefore worthy to be loved, feared and obeyed. The other reason why true worship must be characterized by awe is that although God has revealed Himself to us, we can never fully comprehend Him. The more we draw closer to Him the more we desire to know more about Him.

Witness…

Worship also involves telling of God’s greatness and His deeds to the nations; to those who are still estranged from Him. When we truly worship God we radiate His glory to the world. The Bible says we are “we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.”  For some the aroma will be life-giving while for others it will be repugnant.  Although we cannot control the results of our Christian witness, our responsibility is to make the greatness of our God known.

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The Role of the Holy Spirit in Transformation

Acts 23:10-11 (NIV)

The dispute became so violent that the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them. He ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force and bring him into the barracks. The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”

Whenever we talk about Christian outreach and transformation, we tend to think in terms of budgets, strategies, or methods of presentation.  One of the pitfalls of some Christian workers is to think that evangelism is primarily our job—that it is about what we do. But we need to know that we are not the ones who take the Holy Spirit to the world. He is already there. He is already working. At the very beginning, the Word of God tells us that the Spirit of God was active in the work of creation. Like a bird, He brooded above the waters (Genesis 1:2).

Let’s let us do a brief survey of the book of Acts to look at the role of the Holy Spirit in changing people’s lives. On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit breaks barriers between the different people who were gathered in Jerusalem. The essence gift of new “tongues” (which were actually human languages), was to facilitate the hearing of the gospel. Everyone who was gathered in Jerusalem heard the message of the Gospel in their own language (Acts 2:7-11).

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In Acts 8, the Holy Spirit leads Philip to the road that leads to Gaza. When Philip gets there, the Spirit again leads him to a chariot in which an Ethiopian official is traveling. Meanwhile the same Spirit has already prepared the official to receive the gospel. Philip is simply following the Spirit’s leading.

In Acts 10, God instructs Peter to go to Caesarea to preach to Cornelius, a Roman official, who had been earnestly seeking for the One true God. As Peter is still processing the implication of vision he had received, the envoys from Cornelius arrive at Peter’s house requesting him to take the Gospel to this official. When Peter gets to Cornelius’ house, he finds a full house with Gentiles (non-Jews) non-believers who are eager to hear the gospel. Peter starts preaching but the Holy Spirit interrupts his sermon; the Holy Spirit comes upon the listeners—before they have even said the “sinner’s prayer”—and they all start speaking in tongues (Acts 10:44-46). God is orchestrating everything.

In chapter Acts 23:11 Apostle Paul has been arrested, some Jewish leaders are plotting to kill him but God reassures him not to fear because he would also testify for Jesus in Rome. While the circumstances under which Paul will be testifying for Jesus are less than desirable (no one would want to be in jail for any reason), God still uses them to accomplish His purposes. God is sovereign. He is at work. We are co-workers with Him.

Turn the Other Cheek?

Acts 22:22-28

22 The crowd listened to Paul until he said this. Then they raised their voices and shouted, “Rid the earth of him! He’s not fit to live!”

23 As they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air, 24 the commander ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks. He directed that he be flogged and interrogated in order to find out why the people were shouting at him like this. 25 As they stretched him out to flog him, Paul said to the centurion standing there, “Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn’t even been found guilty?”

26 When the centurion heard this, he went to the commander and reported it. “What are you going to do?” he asked. “This man is a Roman citizen.”

 

The soldiers are about to flog Paul in order to get a confession out of Him. But he immediately raises a protest because he is a Roman citizen who has certain privileges and protection according to their Law. It was illegal to scourge Roman citizen before he was tried. This scourging was so brutal that it could easily lead to death. Paul, who was born a Roman citizen, had a higher status than the one who simply bought his freedom.

This passage raises a question of how believers respond in cases of injustice. Are there issues of injustice in your community—neighbourhood, church or workplace—that you think need your attention and action? How can your faith in Jesus Christ help you to respond to such issues?

As I read Paul’s protest to the Roman soldier, one question that comes to my mind is, “aren’t Christians supposed to ‘turn the other cheek?’” How should Christians respond in cases of persecution and injustice? Are we supposed to protest, resist and fight for our rights? Or should we keep silent, hoping that our suffering will highlight our Christian witness. What is the best way to honor Christ? Certainly, there are no easy and straightforward answers to these questions. We, however, can find some pointers from the scriptures.

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In the above passage, Paul puts it to the Roman soldier whether it is lawful for a Roman citizen to be flogged before they are charged. Paul is aware of his rights as a Roman citizen. Although Paul is under arrest, he knows what his rights are and he is not afraid to stand up for them. As Christians, we have an obligation to keep the laws of the land. But if such laws are repressive or inconsistent with God’s Word, we should use whatever legal ways available to us to challenge such laws.

We, however, need to ask God for wisdom. There are times when the right thing to do is to keep silence and endure suffering for the cause of the gospel. There are other times when our faith in God demands that we speak up for our rights and of those who are marginalized. The ultimate goal of every decision we make should be to honor Christ with our lives and actions.

I would like to conclude this devotional with Paul Tripp’s rather uncomfortable questions. “How balanced has your gospel been? Have you been an advocate for grace, but silent in the face of injustice? Have you been comfortable with the segregation of the Christian community or with subtle personal prejudice?”

 

The Shepherd’s Heart

 2 Corinthians 12:14-18

Now I am ready to visit you for the third time, and I will not be a burden to you, because what I want is not your possessions but you. After all, children should not have to save up for their parents, but parents for their children. So I will very gladly spend for you everything I have and expend myself as well. If I love you more, will you love me less? Be that as it may, I have not been a burden to you. Yet, crafty fellow that I am, I caught you by trickery! Did I exploit you through any of the men I sent to you? I urged Titus to go to you and I sent our brother with him. Titus did not exploit you, did he? Did we not walk in the same footsteps by the same Spirit?

 

One of the widely used Biblical metaphors for spiritual leadership is that of a shepherd. Ezekiel talks about good and bad shepherds—referring to Israel’s kings and religious leaders. David is described as a shepherd of the people of Israel; Jesus described himself as a “good shepherd” and charged Apostle John to “feed my sheep.” Apostle Paul exhorted the Elders in Ephesus to “be shepherds of God’s flock.” Apostle Peter calls Jesus the “chief shepherd.”

In these analogies, there are underlying qualities of a spiritual leader. For instance,
shepherds provide for the sheep. They are supposed to ensure that people under their leadership are fed on the Word of God. The Word of God provides spiritual nourishment and the basis for discerning God’s will for one’s life. Just as a parent wants the children to appreciate healthy food over junk food, the pastor’s role is to train the believers to discern truth from error based on God’s Word.

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Leaders should also have genuine interest in the welfare of their people. The parable of the lost sheep reveals the heart of the Shepherd who risks everything, including His own life to bring the wayward sheep back to the fold. The pastor has an unenviable responsibility of rebuking and disciplining believers who do not live according to God’s Word. But at the same time pastors should also comfort and restore those who have been bruised by the consequences of sin. All spiritual leaders are under-shepherds who should emulate the Master-Shepherd who laid down His life for the sheep.

Grace for the Least Likely

Acts 22:1-11

Then Paul said: “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. I studied under Gamaliel and was thoroughly trained in the law of our ancestors. I was just as zealous for God as any of you are today.  I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, as the high priest and all the Council can themselves testify…“About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, ‘Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?’ “‘Who are you, Lord?’ I asked. “‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied.  My companions saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of him who was speaking to me. “‘What shall I do, Lord?’ I asked. “‘Get up,’ the Lord said, ‘and go into Damascus. There you will be told all that you have been assigned to do.’ 

A Former Persecutor (1-5)

God’s Grace is amazing! Grace actually makes more sense to the least likely—the underdogs, those considered to be dregs of the society, the irreligious lot, and many other misfits.  The famous hymn sums up the nature of grace: “Amazing grace…that saved a wretch like me.” Every believer in Jesus Christ has in one way or another experienced this prodigious grace. Of course every story is different. In today’s passage, Apostle Paul is re-telling his story—for completely different reasons.

He stands trial before the Jewish religious leaders. These were, most likely, his former colleagues before he gave his life to Jesus. In fact his religious credentials were better than most of them. As a young Pharisee, he had been mentored by an outstanding religious expert, Gamaliel. Before his conversion, he was at the forefront of persecuting followers of Jesus Christ but now his life has been transformed.

Every believer in Jesus Christ has in one way or another experienced this prodigious grace.

He has found the better way. The former persecutor of the church is now on the receiving end of the wrath he once meted out to those who followed Christ. God’s grace is truly amazing. If someone like Paul can now unapologetically stand for his faith in Christ, we can all be encouraged to pray for those who now fiercely persecute the church.

Are there people you hesitate to pray for, maybe because of their hostility towards the Gospel? No one is out of the reach of God’s love.

The Turning Point (6-11)

Paul now shares how he came to believe in the Person and the message of the One he now uncompromisingly proclaims. His encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ was as dramatic as his life would eventually turn out to be.  If there is anything that ever happened to him, it was a realization of his utter worthlessness without Jesus Christ. He, who once was powerful, was blinded and needed the assistance of his guards to get to Damascus.

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All of us who believe in Jesus have had our turning points. Some of them were dramatic while others were ordinary. In all this, it was the Lord who drew us to Himself. Now that we have been saved by His grace, we have an obligation to live for Him.

 

How did you come to know the Lord Jesus Christ as your savior? How has your life changed since then? Take time to thank Him.