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Have you ever been disappointed with how small your ministry is?

Perhaps you’re a mom with little children or a small town pastor with a few dozen people, and every once in a while you get an overwhelming sensation of disappointment with how small your ministry is.

This feeling is only multiplied when you are a missionary overseas.  Recently, a team from my church was able to go on a mission trip to Rome, Italy.  With millions of people living in Rome, only 0.01% are evangelical.  This means that Rome is one of the most unreached cities in the world.

small churchOur team of nine people made up about 40% of the Sunday morning church attendance on the Sunday that we were in Rome.  The church of about 20 was missing a family of four, and any time that happens they lose 20% of their congregation.  Nonetheless, it was an incredible service.  People sang with all their hearts, they enjoyed their fellowship together, and—most of all—they loved hearing God’s word.  Perhaps I’m biased since the preacher was my father, but they got to hear an incredible sermon.  They sat under an expositional feast.  The sermon was about Christ’s humiliation out of Philippians 2.  They were fed and fed well.  The most interesting response came from our team.  We were all a little annoyed that only 14 or 15 Italians heard the message.  Thousands upon thousands were living within a square mile of the location where this was happening, but only 15 got to hear this great exposition.  The preacher had spent hours studying the Greek of this passage, hours working on crafting a message and applying a message for these people, and we couldn’t help but wonder was it a waste?

Have you ever felt that way?

This type of thinking is not only wrong and sinful, but it is dangerous, and we really need to check our hearts and learn to be satisfied with the “talents” that God has given us.  Here are a few reasons why we should find satisfaction in whatever ministry God has given to us.

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Today 52% of Britons are celebrating their week old independence from the EU while their American cousins are celebrating their own independence from Britain. Well, they are celebrating having a day off. Citizenship has varying degrees of meaning to various people. But one thing we all hate is when non-citizens pretend to be citizens. Being caught out can be embarrassing and even dangerous, as was discovered by ten illegal aliens in 2010.passports

The FBI called it Operation Ghost Stories. The mission was to detect and expose the ten Russian deep cover agents who had been living in the USA since the mid 90s.

The spies snuck in unnoticed, and using forged birth certificates they assumed American identities. They bought homes in the suburbs of New Jersey, got jobs, enrolled in universities, and started assimilating into American culture, making friends with people in the government, and even having children together to cultivate the façade of innocuous soccer moms and baseball dads.

Their assignment was to channel classified information to Moscow Center. The problem was that they weren’t very good at it.

Fifteen years into the masquerade and they were still empty-handed. They never transmitted a single shred of classified information. They just seemed to be enjoying middle class suburbia while playing spy vs spy with no real effect. Their tradecraft would later be described in a report as sloppy and amateurish.

They would write messages to each other using invisible ink. You know, like kids do. They delivered information by swapping identical briefcases with other agents on the subway. Oooh sneaky. One spy filled out a form with the following fake home address: 99 Fake Street, USA. I kid you not.

And one of them, Richard Murphy aka Vladimir Guryev, had some really bad luck.

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Over the past few weeks, we have been taking a look at how Jeremiah responded to Judah’s suffering at the time of the Babylonian exile, with the goal of learning lessons on how the believer can respond to suffering righteously. We’ve seen that Jeremiah weeps with those who weep, that he acknowledges the role of sin in suffering, that he trusts in God’s absolute sovereignty, and yet never finds fault with God but recognizes the proper enemy. Today we come to the final, and perhaps the most important, lesson that Jeremiah teaches us on suffering well. In the midst of his intense suffering and deep anguish, Jeremiah does not mourn as one who has no hope (1 Thess 4:13). Rather, he sets his hope entirely on, and rests in, the character of God. He hopes in the restoration of God’s people according to His character and His covenant.

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Do you struggle with lack of assurance of salvation?

child faithPerhaps you’ve wrestled with this issue for some time, and have never come to a place where you were satisfied. So many times we complicate the matter and forget that Jesus said, Matthew 18:3 “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Of course let me say at the outset that I deny the idea that you can simply say a prayer and be saved. Lordship salvation is the only type of salvation and there are no other kinds. If we say that we are Christians but have no love for Him, no love for His people, and no love for his Word, the Bible would call us liars and say that the truth is not in us. In this case, lack of assurance would be warranted. Repentance is a necessary component of the Gospel, because when we truly believe we will repent. But there is a sense in which we overcomplicate the Gospel pretty regularly. And those who are saved are the ones who constantly doubt, and those who should be worried, sleep like babies at night. Continue Reading…

When I was a really little kid a cheesy 80s horror movie hit the big screen. It was called Gremlins. The story is about a boy who finds a small, fury, odd-looking creature called a mogwai that seems as harmless as a hamster. But you discover that if this unassuming little pet stays up past midnight, and has a snack, it morphs into a grotesque, evil, brutally violent monster called a Gremlin! Like I said, it was the 80s.Mogwai

I begged my parents to let me watch it, all the kids at school were talking about it. They wisely refused. The movie was a box office hit and soon spawned merchandise like the fluffy toy version of the mogwai. As compensation for not allowing me to see the movie, they bought me this fluffy toy mogwai to add to the posse of teddy bears on my bed.

One day I was at a friend’s house for a sleep over, and his parents said we could rent a movie. We rented Gremlins. I didn’t sleep a wink that night, and when I got home I was too scared to go into my room because I now knew what that harmless looking mogwai was capable of if he was fed after midnight. I had nightmares for months, and donated my toy mogwai to some unsuspecting neighbors so that it could torment other little kids and leave me alone.

The Bible talks about another insipid danger which people consider mostly harmless. But what they don’t realize is that it turns into an evil monster when it is fed after midnight. It’s called the sin of anger.

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Having grown up in the densely populated state of New Jersey, I learned to drive in one of the more hostile traffic environments in America. Between the New Jersey Turnpike, the Garden State Parkway, and the occasional foray across the George Washington Bridge or the Lincoln Tunnel into some part of New York City—especially Manhattan—I’ve been in my share of close calls and quick decisions. When you add the fact that I now live in Los Angeles and use some of the busiest freeways in the country on a daily basis, it’s rather a miracle that I’m still alive. In fact, there are often times when I consciously thank the Lord while driving that I was spared from this or that potential accident. I certainly know that my passengers have improved their prayer lives while driving with me from time to time.

Because of this absolutely ridiculous vehicular heritage, I often make it a point to observe the different patterns other drivers follow and decisions they make while I’m driving. Sometimes I even think to myself, imagining what I would have done if a driver lost control or decided to change lanes abruptly, or whatever. “If he made a mistake and needed to jump in front of me, could I get out of his way?” Stuff like that.

Now, some people without the NY/NJ/LA driving heritage might think I’m going a little overboard here. And they might be right. But I realize that in certain situations I might have only a fraction of a second to react. I need to be so prepared with a sound way of avoiding an accident that my reactions are just second nature. Because in the moment, I won’t have time to think clearly and dispassionately evaluate my options. The craziness of the moment simply won’t allow it. At least not where I’m driving.

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Several years ago, Justin Taylor linked to a moving and encouraging account of a pastor coming to grips with the fact that his second child, like his first, would be born with spina bifida. Amazingly, this man has found great comfort in rejecting the common notion that God will merely use this bad situation for good, rather than the biblical truth that He has ordained it for His glory and His people’s good.

Stories like these continue to confirm the reality that we must prepare ourselves to undergo suffering and trials righteously. We need to learn how to suffer well. And, as I’ve said over the past couple weeks, the way we do that is by being equipped with a theology of suffering while not yet in the midst of a particular trial.

And to that end we’ve been looking to Jeremiah’s experience with devastating suffering at the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC, and hoping to glean some lessons on how to respond to suffering righteously. First, we learned that a righteous response to others’ suffering includes suffering along with our brothers and sisters who suffer. Secondly, we learned that we must acknowledge the role of sin in our suffering. Today, we find a third lesson from Jeremiah’s righteous response to suffering: we must acknowledge, and trust in, God’s absolute sovereignty even in the unpleasant and painful circumstances.

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deny selfJesus was known for some outright difficult (even offensive) declarations, and Mark 8:34 is certainly a prime example:

And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

How does this difficult declaration apply to us today?

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It was 1872, and D. L. Moody decided to go to England for a time of learning from the great English preachers of that day. He had decided to merely sit and listen, and not do any ministry of his own.

D. L. MoodyOne pastor named John Lessey, upon hearing that Moody was in town, begged him to preach in his pulpit on both Sunday morning and Sunday night. Reluctantly, Moody accepted the request of this pastor of a medium-sized congregation in London.

The morning sermon did not go well.

The people were not responsive. They were bored and didn’t want to be there.

Moody, although disinclined to preach in the evening because of the incredible apathy he witnessed in the morning, decided to go ahead and keep his word.

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A while ago I met with a prospective seminary student for lunch. As is common for first-time meetings at Grace Community Church, our discussion began with testimonies of how the Lord saved us. This particular brother had a Christian friend whose very welcoming family often shared the Gospel with him and invited him to church. As friendly and as clear as they were, though, the seed of the Gospel fell on fallow ground—until the father of the family had contracted a life-threatening illness. When this young man saw how the family responded to suffering with such confidence, joy, and peace, his heart began to pay attention to the Source of that steadfastness. He began to read his Bible with greater earnestness and listen to the sermons he heard in church with greater interest. Eventually, the Lord saved him.

I tell that story because it only further legitimizes the need for Christians to learn how to suffer well—how to suffer righteously. I mentioned in last week’s post how necessary it is to be equipped with a theology of suffering while not yet in the midst of a particular trial. The fact of the matter is, the heat of an intensely trying time often clouds our vision and our judgment, so that we fail to act the way we know we should. We respond to suffering sinfully because we have not prepared to suffer righteously beforehand, when our vision is clear.

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