"For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectable to the world, to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ's sake...To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things."I Corinthians 4:9-11
When you read through the book of Acts, you can not help but be amazed by all that Paul went through in being a missionary for Jesus Christ. As he said to the Philippians, he constantly demonstrated that he was willing to count all things as loss. When he wrote to the Corinthian church, he was facing a congregation with people that deeply questioned Paul and his authority. The circumstance was quite a challenge because Paul had gone to Corinth to preach the Gospel and planted the church there. His relationship with these Christians was challenging to say the least. Not only that, the Corinthians were constantly parading their bad behavior and Paul's letters to the church were necessary for bringing correction.
In I Corinthians 4, Paul is dealing with a group that has become quite puffed up in their own eyes and he is attempting to deal with them. In assessing his ministry and that of the other Apostles, he stated that he had become a "spectacle." Not only that, Paul was dealing with a whole host of ministry problems: hunger, thirst, poor dress, oppostions from all sides, homelessness, revulsion, persecution and slander. It is enough to make one wonder why Paul would be willing to endure such continuous circumstances. "We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things."
Why? Maybe these words help us get to the heart of what Paul was thinking.
"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing."
II Timothy 4:7-8
Paul had no sense of "pie in the sky" about the harsh realities of his life. He had literally suffered much because of his deep and abiding commitment to Christ and the duty of carrying the Gospel to those that were without the hope of Jesus. However, he knew that the pay off for faithfulness and to the grace he had been given by Jesus was all worth it. So he pressed on to the end.
These are some challeging thoughts to me as I consider a Sunday conversation I had with several adults in our church this past Sunday. We all admitted that being faithful in carrying the Gospel is often challenging. When asked what keeps us from sharing the Gospel and we stated:
...we are not comfortable sharing it.
...we are afraid of being rejected.
...we are too busy.
...we are lazy.
...we are afraid of being offensive.
...we don't know how to bring up the topic to people.
...we don't know enough about the Bible.
...we are afraid of letting God down.
After giving our excuses, we all became aware that most of these have to do with us and our own discomfort. Let's face it, none of us really relishes the idea of potentially being in a situation where we will be uncomfortable. In fact, this fear of discomfort appears to become a tool we give the enemy that immobilizes us from trying at all. It seems that we--perhaps, unintentionally--have elevated our fears and excuses to a level that is greater than God. We pray for God to heal our loved ones because we believe he can do so. We pray for God to provide for us financially because we believe that he owns the cattle on a thousand hills. We pray for God to comfort the fears of our children when the "monster under the bed" rears his ugly head because we know that God is bigger than the "boogey-man." But do we really pray for God to help us overcome the fear of rejection or lack of knowledge or discomfort or potentially offending someone in order that we might share the best news ever given to us?
One incredible idea that came out of our discussion was that perhaps we have some wrong thinking about evangelism. (Duh!?!) What if our sharing the Gospel could be a natural expression of our lives with other people that we truly care about. It was Rusty that stated to us that our thoughts about evangelism might change if it was not so much about us and our fears but rather God and "caring about people's future." Boys and girls, that statement alone was worth the price of admission!
We were challenged to begin praying for two people in our lives that we know are far from God. Do you know two people that are not in relationship with God? What will the outcome for their lives be if they are to leave this planet without Jesus? Surely, all of us can begin to pray that God will change these two people that we know. Ask Him to reveal His great grace to them and that the Gospel will be utterly clear to them.
This Sunday at Arabi, we will begin a new Sermon and Discipleship Series: Just Walk Across the Room. The hope and prayer is that we come to understand that sharing the Gospel can be just as natural as a walk across a room and that it can be one of the most joyful enterprises in life. Be at church on Sunday at 10:50 a.m. and be at Adult Discipleship at 6:00 p.m. for the small group time.
Also, don't forget on Mondays in April, we will have Harvest Home Prayer Meetings. These are prayer times in various homes where we gather to pray for God to make us bold witnesses and to pray for those that we know that do not walk with God. Plan to arrive between 7:00 - 7:10 p.m., as we begin to pray promptly at 7:15. Light snacks will be served. The locations are as follows:
April 7 - Pat Story's
April 14 - W.L. and Cindy Farmer's
April 21 - Jane White's
April 28 - TBA
May God take us all on a faith adventure as we seek to take a walk across the room!