Long, Long Shadows and A Light


Sin never stops where you think it will. 

Your repeated anger leads to latent bitterness which leads to relationship-destroying gossip.  

Your pornography-viewing leads to unmarital sex which leads to one parent raising a child in isolation which leads to crippling resentment.  

Unchecked sin always spreads, and kills where it does.  Like cancer.  

But one of the beautiful mercies of God is that He has given us a community where sin and its scars can be dealt with.  

The church.  


Churches are little cities of imperfect people, people who have been miraculously remade and who, by the grace of a very real and very compassionate God, continually confess and continually turn from the sins they still commit.  They know who they were (spiritually dead evil people), they know who they are (spiritually alive people being slowly made more and more like Jesus), and they know who God is (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit who love to save sinners).  And because of these 3 things, these little collections of Gospel people are able to bring wicked and broken and scared and angry humans into their midst and minister to them.  Serve them.  Help to stop the bleeding in their lives.  

The world is home to all stripes of sinners who are in different stages of the pain or disarray or death that sin brings along as its trail.  And there is no one else who can get to the root of the chaos or who can apply supernatural salve to the wounds of all this sin like the church can.  She has been given the Good News that can heal and can save people from their evils, and from the evils that were committed against them.  She can rescue them from the worst of the violence and the trouble and the affliction of this world.  

Which is great, because this is not Mayberry.  This is a world of adultery and ulterior motives and hearts who will cast those they love aside for pleasure or power.  This is a world where sin has left some long, long shadows.  Sons deserted by their fathers, marriages in flames because of selfishness, grown men and women who don’t know how to be men or women.  And there in the heart of this world stands the church, giving the hope and the truth and the life that only she can give.  

This world needs her.  The single mothers and the heroin addicts and the workaholics and the shallowest of womanizers need her.  She is a city on a hill.  

She is where they can come for possibility.  For hope.  For adoption into a forever family.  She is where they can sojourn for all of the things that only Jesus can hand over.  

For everyone trapped in what sin has spoiled, churches are households of transforming mercy.  They are families of forgiveness.  They are little peoples of honest confession and honest love and honest Gospel.  

This is a world of long shadows.  Because sin never stops where it whispers it will.   Sin never keeps that promise.  

But the God of the Cross has given a light that can beat those shadows back.  His church holds that light in her hands, for any and all to come see.  

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Enlisted

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“‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,and before you were born I consecrated you;I appointed you a prophet to the nations.’ Then I said, ‘Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.’ But the Lord said to me, ‘Do not say, I am only a youth; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,
declares the Lord.’ Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me, ‘Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant. And the word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘Jeremiah, what do you see?’ And I said, ‘I see an almond branch.’ Then the Lord said to me, ‘You have seen well, for I am watching over my word to perform it.'”

Jeremiah 1:5-12

We’re not Jeremiah. We don’t have the exact promise he did, that we will be prophets who speak God-breathed words (the New Testament describes the words of Scripture as God-breathed, or “theoneustos”). But we are a part of the proclaiming, preaching, speaking, and singing of God’s Word for the world. We are, as the church of Jesus Christ that He built and bought, a part of His mission.

Jeremiah was a prophet with a message to speak, a God-given task to accomplish. But Jesus is greater than Jeremiah. He has more authority than Jeremiah. And Jesus has chosen to enlist us in His mission.

Same Bible, same God, same Gospel. But what Jeremiah spoke of without seeing we proclaim as fully realized: God in the flesh, here to redeem those who will repent and believe. God come, crucified, resurrected, and seated as King.

At the end of His earthly incarnation, Jesus enlisted His disciples, and through their testimony and His Scripture the church, in His mission of proclaiming the Gospel to the ends of the earth. If you are a true Christian, a follower of Lord Jesus, then you have been bought and paid for and grafted into that mission.

Jeremiah was nervous. But Jesus, the ultimate witness and martyr, is not. He knows how this story ends, and He has chosen us to be a part of it.

God uses a play on words (the Hebrew word for “almond” sounds like the one for “watch”) to say that He is watching over His Word to perform it. To make sure it happens. To accomplish its purposes. To accomplish His purposes.

God has chosen us, justified us, cleansed us, and commissioned us. He is unchanging but always moving. He is sanctifying, sending, adopting, and conquering. He will send us to all, and some may repent though many reject. Those who hear and believe will join us in worship of our Father’s glory, and those who deny and stay in their sin will receive just judgment. Our God has brought us into this great task.

Let us tremble with awe and move swiftly with joy.

Mission

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Everyone has one.

What do you live for?

What drives your thoughts and actions? What do you hope most for, in the next 2-5 years? What are you most afraid of?

What do you pursue?

What do you live for?

Only one mission, only one purpose is eternal. It has implications and other parts to it, but in the words of the Westminster Confession, there is only one “chief end of man.” There is only one Gospel Jesus came to preach. There is only one mission that will truly satisfy the heart and have a worthwhile impact at the end of all things.

The mission of God’s glorifying Himself by saving sinners through grace.

I went to a small service of a church we pray for today. They had a man who is taking his family to plant churches and preach the Gospel in a city in central Africa. I was thrilled, listening to him. I wanted to join him. I wanted to see people who had never known Jesus surrender their lives to the only worthy God and worship Him with them forever.

I was invigorated.

Afterward, I had to swing by my work to get something I had forgotten. I was still so alive from and in love with the Word and the message of Christ in far away places with lost people. And I walked in to my work and saw everyone there, none of whom truly trust in Christ with their lives, and I thought:

No one here would understand what I’m excited about.

In my line of work, the retail/business environment, you could get someone excited about going to the Congo to start a new business venture. Taking advantage of the expanding cell phone market, for instance. You could maybe even, if he had a charitable/Bono/Red Campaign streak to him, get him excited about going to start a hospital or some such thing. But going, primarily, to preach a message? To make worshipers of Jesus and worship with them?

To preach the Gospel so that people might go from being haters of God to lovers of Him? To tell people about Jesus?

Those who don’t love Jesus in my line of work would see it, though they may not say it, as pointless. Weird. Unproductive. Something that wasn’t worth spending your life and time and money for.

At the beginning of the book of Mark, the writer tells about when Jesus healed a lot of people in the seaside city of Capernaum. He did it all day, including healing Peter’s own mother-in-law. And then early in the morning He went to pray.

Peter came to Jesus while He was praying, and said that there were more people who needed physical healing. More people were looking for Him. And Jesus told him this:

“Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.”

Jesus had a Gospel to preach. A message to proclaim. A Father to glorify. Sinners to reconcile to God.

We work jobs and we raise children and we go to school and we play games and we give to the poor. And we can do all these things well and we can do all of them as Christians.

But they are not, in and of themselves, the point. They are not the Gospel. They are not the chief end of man. They are not, by themselves, the things we were created for.

We were created to glorify God by receiving His grace though we are wicked sinners. And in this life we are a part of His mission to accomplish that.

What is your life about?

Finding “the one?”

Education?

Finding some epic or movie-like destiny for yourself?

Being good looking?

Getting people to like you?

Achieving career goals?

I write this tenderly but with supreme confidence: Those are ultimately small and meaningless missions.

All things were created through and for Jesus. The universe spins and flames and sings to the glory of God. Bringing lost people, people made in His image, to Christ so that they can believe…

That is a reason for living and dying.

I want to be used, spent for that cause. I want to tell the only eternal story and run the only eternal race.

I want to see the Kingdom of God spread as the lost are found and the sinful are adopted. I want to see grace abound and the Gospel change hearts. Jesus worshipped and lived for and followed and adored.

I want to trade in petty dreams and Pixar stories for the only true epic, about the only One worthy of an epic.

What is your life about?

What is your mission?