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Are You Ashamed of the Gospel?

Written By Grayson Pope, USA

Grayson Pope (M.A., Christian Studies) is a husband and father of three, and the Managing Web Editor at Gospel-Centered Discipleship. He serves as a writer and editor with Prison Fellowship. For more of Grayson’s writing check out his website, or follow him on Twitter.

I share the gospel like it’s a gift card at a kid’s birthday party—an obligatory present I hope they don’t open in front of me. Know the feeling?

If so, then we’re in good company.

Timothy, the mentee of the Apostle Paul, was a young man in over his head and out on his own. He was being sent into the marketplace, the town square, and people’s homes to tell them that Jesus was crucified, buried, then rose from the dead after three days and that this was good news for them, who were sinners by nature and separated from God.

When the Culture “Doesn’t Need” the Good News

Timothy was known to be a reluctant leader who was often timid and fearful. We learn this because Paul specifically writes to remind him of the power we have in the Spirit of God to overcome timidity (1 Timothy 1:7). Timothy also seemed to be prone to sickness (1 Timothy 5:23), and was young for his position of influence (1 Timothy 4:12).

On top of all of that, Timothy was being asked to take the gospel of Jesus into a culture that didn’t want to hear about it. The people of Ephesus were living in one of the wealthiest places in the world. Many of them would have been living comfortable lives and were perfectly content to appease the gods so they could continue their pursuit of pleasure and happiness.

Things were going pretty well for the Ephesians, so who needed God? Who wants to hear about a suffering God that was killed on a cross then raised from the dead, and is now calling us to lay our lives down and follow him?

No wonder Timothy was timid and tempted to be ashamed of the gospel.

And no wonder we’re timid and tempted to be ashamed. Surely you see the parallels in his task and ours? Like Timothy, you and I are called to take the gospel to work and into people’s homes in a time where many are apathetic or hostile to what they think of as Christianity. They’re not quite sure what it is, but they know they don’t want anything to do with it because they’re doing just fine. After all, they’ve got a roof over their head, a job that pays, and a smartphone in their pocket. Why add God to the mix when things seem to be going okay? Why can’t they just keep pursuing the American Dream?

These cultural pressures make it seem so difficult to share Jesus with our neighbors and friends and family. When it feels hard, we must remember why it’s good news, because that will help us combat the lie that people are doing okay without the gospel.

 

We Must First Remember the Gospel

Fortunately, we have a record of Paul’s advice to Timothy. In his second letter to the young Timothy, Paul writes,

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel (2 Timothy 1:8-10).

In this exhortation, Paul tells Timothy to remember the gospel. He was reminding Timothy of the gospel he believed, and he was calling Timothy to preach it to himself, for it is in remembering the gospel we believe that we receive the power to proclaim it.

Are you ashamed of the gospel? Are you afraid to tell people about Jesus? Then remind yourself of the God who saved you.

When I’m fearful of sharing the gospel, I must remind myself of what I was like before knowing Christ—I was dead in my sins in which I once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, carrying out the desires of my body and mind, and was by nature, a child of wrath (Ephesians 2:1-3). But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved me, even when I was dead in my trespasses, made me alive together with Christ—by grace I have been saved (Ephesians 2:4-5)!

As we preach the gospel to ourselves, we are reminded of its powers and God’s grace, and it gives us the strength to preach the gospel to our friends, family, coworkers, and neighbors.

 

We Must Remember Who Empowers Us to Share

There’s another piece to us shedding any shame that might weigh down our desire to share the Gospel. Later in 2 Timothy, Paul tells Timothy exactly where he gets his boldness from when he says, “…I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me” (2 Timothy 1:12).

An important part of Paul sharing the gospel boldly was remembering that God was the one behind it. Paul knew the power and majesty of the One he believed in, and his faith convinced him that as he sought to transmit the gospel to the nations, God would guard his efforts to do so.

Just as Paul was, we too, are entrusted with reaching more people for God’s Kingdom. Our confidence can grow when we remember that as we walk out that incredible commission, it’s God’s power that is guarding our efforts to share the good news with others.

The courage to share the gospel comes from the gospel. God gives us the gospel, saves us by the gospel, then gives us the power to share the gospel.

Father, keep the taste of your grace always on my lips and let me not shrink from lavishing it on your children. Remind me of the grace and mercy you poured out on me as I go and pour it out for someone else.

 

This article was originally published by Gospel Centered Discipleship. This version has been edited by YMI.

Jesus Doesn’t Celebrate the 4th of July

When my plane touched down at my port of entry to the United States after four months of studying abroad, I made my way with the crowds to the customs and immigration line. Right away, my eyes fell on the label for a special, dedicated line that read, “US CITIZENS”.

Anticipation and delight swelled up inside of me. I was home! This was my country! There was familiarity here . . . and predictability! I could speak my own language, use my cultural references, and finally be free from working so hard to communicate every moment of every day. Right then, I embraced my identity as a US citizen with enthusiasm, walking with my head held high through the special line, labeled just for me.

In recounting my travel experience, I’ve often joked that this moment was the time I’ve felt most patriotic in my entire life. While my appreciation for my country that day had more to do with the fact that “America” and “home” were synonymous in my mind than any sort of extreme patriotism, it does still cause me to think about what I value about my citizenship, and more importantly, how much I’m valuing it.

I live in a country where sometimes, Christianity and our national identity are so tightly wound, the two seem to conflate. In church, we celebrate military holidays, and we hang American flags. In school, children recite a pledge that declares the US as a “nation under God.” The declaration—the very document that marks our annual 4th of July celebration of independence—mentions God as man’s Creator.

When the line between faith and nation gets too blurry, it’s easy to (intentionally or not), begin to place faith in institutions, principles, or political parties that are imperfect and can distract us from the ultimate kingdom we owe our allegiance to—God’s!

So, as I consider my country and all that it means to me, I’ve found that it’s helpful to constantly check my loyalty—whether it’s to a country, people group, celebrity, sports team, or the like—against two standards that can help us focus our delight and satisfaction where it belongs.

 

1. Thankfulness that leads to humility, not pride

A big part of the 4th of July celebration for me has always been to think of all that is great about being a citizen of the US. I’m thankful that we have freedom of speech to protect the right to voice unpopular opinions. I never want to take for granted the religious liberties I’m afforded, or the heroic sacrifices that have been made by servicemen, women, and their families that allow me to live and work in peace. I owe a deep sense of respect to those who have fought for the freedoms I enjoy.

But as I revel in the blessings that God has poured out, I remind myself that none of them are mine to claim. When we experience blessings, it’s easy to start convincing ourselves that we actually deserve them, and begin to expect more of them. Expecting blessings can make us feel entitled to them when, in reality, we’re not.

So as I think about my country, I want thankfulness to lead me to humility instead of pride, remembering that I don’t earn or deserve any of these blessings. James 1:17 reminds us where good gifts (including blessings) come from:

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”

I pray that my thankfulness—not just about my country, but in all things—turns my eyes to the One who gives perfect gifts. I will direct my thanks to God because of the great mercy He has given me. Every single good thing that I experience is from God. He is the only one worthy of my heart’s praise.

 

2. Assurance of where our truest allegiance lies

Even in the midst of decking out in red, white, and blue every year and celebrating how far our nation has come, I can’t help but acknowledge that there remain great injustices. Especially in 2019, marriage, sex, and life—which should be held in a sacred light—have been marred and contorted by society’s modern ideals. Centuries of institutionalized racism means that the impact of discrimination based on race is still active, causing all sorts of injustices and undue burdens.

These sobering realities are a stark reminder that my country, and every single human-built entity, is so broken—plagued by the curse of sin in this world. No country, institution, or political party can address our needs and heal our wounds fully—only God can. And this means that my full allegiance and hope should be in God alone. Paul reminds us in Philippians that our true citizenship—the one we should be most focused on—is in heaven (Philippians 3:20). After all, the gospel story is all about how God saved us so that we could be a part of His heavenly kingdom—the kingdom of light and of His Son (Colossians 1:12-13)!

So this 4th of July, as many of us take time off from work, travel to attend parades and celebrate being an American, let us remember our identity in Christ first and foremost. May it keep our national identity from becoming an idol, and inspire us to adopt God’s global-minded concern for loving and serving others. And every day for everyone, may all of our other loyalties fall into their rightful place, paling in comparison and leading us into thankfulness and assurance of our place in God’s global body.

 

Lord, let Christians’ identity as members of Your eternal kingdom drive them to seek Your will in loving and serving their neighbors both near and across the globe, always holding their heavenly citizenship before any other loyalty.

Tired of Bad News? You’re Not Alone

“Where is the evidence of your love?”

His words pierced my heart.

“Where is your love for the broken, for those who face injustice?”

I felt offended and hurt by my friend’s quick and harsh reproach, and wanted to remonstrate in my self-righteousness. But my breath caught in my throat, because deep down, a part of me knew that he was right. Where was the evidence of the love of God I proclaimed to identify with and embody?

To be sure, I love those around me who are easy to love, like my family, friends, and fellow believers, and I make effort to pray for and reach out to those around me who are going through difficult times.

But how about those whom I have no particular reason to love—like strangers living halfway across the world?

The conversation with my close friend forced me to examine my life with a clear and sober eye, and to ask myself, “What have I been doing?” More specifically, what have I been doing, in the face of crises around the world—the suffering, persecution, and injustice faced by hundreds of thousands of millions of people?

Nothing. Not only was I not doing anything, I didn’t want to know anything.

As a journalist constantly tuned in to the goings-on in my home country Singapore, I’d become desensitized to bad news. I felt drained of any emotional or spiritual capacity to care about all the daily happenings on our island, let alone the sheer magnitude of catastrophes around the world. I was indifferent and helpless to what was beyond my control.

When my father told me about a church bombing in Surabaya, Indonesia, which killed 15 churchgoers on 13 May, I felt a pang of shock and sadness. Yet my prayer for those devastated by the attack went unfinished in my head, as my attention turned to something else more immediate.

And when I visited Perth, Australia, for a holiday at the same time US president Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un shook hands in Singapore on 13 June, not once did I glance at a screen to find out how the summit went—even though this could potentially be a monumental first step for millions of North Koreans living in both spiritual and material poverty. Even the miraculous Thai cave rescue in July came across as a mere feel-good read, as I barely batted an eyelid throughout the dramatic search and rescue operations spread out across those few days.

With enough happening on our own shores, the refugee crises and political corruption, the terrorist attacks and bombings, the nuclear threats and natural disasters, fellow Christians being persecuted and afflicted for their faith, the inexhaustible list of small-scale injustices to migrants, single mothers, orphans, the poor, the environment—everything just became just too much for me.

I had slowly and subconsciously retreated into my oyster, hardening my heart to the hurts of this world. After all, I justified, there’s only so much I could feel and do with my limited time and resources—especially when world crises are so conveniently distilled into distant images and headlines on a screen as I sit safely ensconced in comfort.

Yet that isn’t the kind of attitude Jesus had, neither is it the kind of disposition we are to have as His followers and as recipients of His salvation. Instead, he wants us to serve the “least important” who are often overlooked by society: by meeting their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs, such as by feeding and clothing the poor, and by caring for and lending a listening ear to the marginalized and forgotten (Matthew 25:34-40).

Even though God clearly calls us to love and serve others—and I’m reminded of this time and time again through His Word—I often have difficulty obeying. Yet James warns us of the danger of being mere listeners who forget His Word, thereby deceiving ourselves; and whose faith, when not embodied in deeds and acts of service, is actually dead. And this frightens me: that my self-imposed ignorance and uncaring disposition is a sign of my self-deception and dead faith.

***

As I was listening to Hillsong’s “What a Beautiful Name” on YouTube, a comment caught my eye. A man had commented, asking for us to pray for Christians in Egypt.

“We are going through difficult times, yet it is times of blessing. Pray for the weak of souls; pray for those who lost a son, father, mother or wife just because they are Christians,” he wrote.

“How lucky we are to taste some of the Christ’s sufferings for our sake. The Lord bless you all.”

I was chastened—but this time, it was by a man living halfway across the globe—a nameless, faceless man undergoing persecution for his faith, yet who was declaring the beauty of the name of Jesus, and standing firm in prayer and praise unto Him, who alone knows every name and face of His chosen ones.

His testimony stirred something within me, and spoke to me of what it really meant to be a part of the body of Christ, as His united people and church, commanded by our Lord and Savior to love and serve others with both our hearts and hands. And this prompted me to reflect on how we ought to respond when faced with crises in the world.

 

Acknowledge

The simplest yet often most overlooked action is to acknowledge that God is powerful, omniscient, and unlimited by all human constraints and constructs. God doesn’t call us to lay the weight of the world on our shoulders, He calls us to acknowledge and surrender it to Him.

That’s what all the holy men and women of God—the kings and prophets, the weak and afflicted—did in the Bible, and what His people throughout the generations have been doing: acknowledging the sovereignty and power of God, and surrendering our helplessness to Him. Doing so reminds us that though the multitude of world crises we face seems unsolvable and unending, they are under His control, within His will, and ultimately for His purposes.

 

Pray

Ask God to break your heart for what breaks His, so that you would care for what He cares about: the oppressed, the unwanted, the vulnerable (Isaiah 1:17). This commandment to care about crises is essentially distilled in the royal law that we love one another, be it those within His church or outside of it (James 2:8).

For this reason, we ought to pray that God would shape our hearts to love as He loves, and to save those in need and  deliver them from harm. Not only that, we are also to pray for His leaders and shepherds who oversee and care for His flock, and for the persecutors themselves. After all, if we trust that God hears and answers us when we pray for our own needs, would He not also take heed of our prayers for others?

As John Calvin once said:

Our prayer must not be self-centered. It must arise not only because we feel our own need as a burden we must lay upon God, but also because we are so bound up in love for our fellow men that we feel their need as acutely as our own. To make intercession for men is the most powerful and practical way in which we can express our love for them.

One simple way to start is by praying for a headline crisis that appears on your newsfeed or newspaper. International Christian Concern also publishes articles about the various happenings and needs of fellow brothers and sisters across the world.

 

Do

Support those who are actively involved in the work of solving these crises and helping the needy, whether through prayers and supplications, raising awareness of such issues, helping with funding and donations, or volunteering in a suitable capacity. As Paul wrote in Galatians 6:10, we are to do good to everyone as we have the opportunity to do so, especially our fellow brethren. And this means acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with the Lord (Micah 6:8).

I’m still learning to do just that—starting with aligning my will with the Lord’s, by praying for those beyond my immediate social circle, attending my church’s monthly prayer gathering, and committing to the Lord people and situations beyond my control.

 

As we learn to acknowledge our limitations and God’s omnipotence, as we make the intentional choice to pray for His will, healing, and salvation over this world, and as we do what we can with what we have, I pray that God would open our eyes to see how He is without rival or equal in this world, and that we would fall in worship before Him, in spirit, truth and deed.

Can I Really Make A Difference?

Written By Tay Boon Jin

 Boon Jin has been a staff with Singapore Youth for Christ for the past 15 years. She now serves in Malaysia—reaching children through the teaching of English.

“50 Inspirational Quotes On Making A Difference”
“Quotes About Making A Difference (153 quotes)”
“The Power of One”

There is no lack of websites that encourage people to make a difference. One of the most common quotes which often pops up comes from the 35th President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, who said, “One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.”

Although most of these quotes are not given in context, it is not difficult to guess what they’re pointing towards. Poverty, war, crime, discrimination, and abuse of our environment are but some of the perennial issues we often read about in the news.

We sense the urgent need for a cure to the issues plaguing us. Yet, the problems our society face seem too big and complex, the resources needed to solve the problems too immense. “Can I make a difference?” becomes empty rhetoric and unachievable.

Of course, we’ve read of how some people made a huge impact individually. However, we may struggle to believe that what they achieve is actually attainable for us, too.

 

 The Root of the Problem

If we view the world from the big picture that God Himself has painted for us, we cannot but be persuaded that the root of all our problems is our sin. Thus, in some sense, there’s nothing that anyone can do that can make a real and permanent difference. The fallen state of our world makes human effort futile; the permeating effects of sins cannot be undone. In fact, each of us as a sinner contributes to the problem, in both large and small ways.

But God gave the solution to the world’s problem: the Lord Jesus Christ. He so loved the world that He sent His Son, who came in a humiliating fashion to take our punishment for us (John 3:16). If God holds the solution, perhaps the only difference we can truly make is to point someone to the solution by the word we preach and by the way we live.

When God makes us right and brings us back to Him, our perspective of the earthly life will change. A man may remain poor, but he no longer measures his worth by his wealth (or lack of it). A man may live in a war zone, but he trusts God for the peace in his heart.

 

Having the Right Motivation

That said, this does not change the fact that the social problems we face are tangible and affect us at every level. Neither does it mean that Christians should avoid all form of social good and humanitarian work. But perhaps we need to re-examine our motivations.

Jesus told this lesson in Matthew 25:31-40: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

In this passage, our Lord Jesus illustrates how a follower of His ought to respond to the needs in this world—by helping out in a very practical and tangible way. But Jesus doesn’t say this because He wants His disciples to change the world. Instead, the reason He gives for us to serve others, even the “least” of all, is this: By doing so, we are serving Jesus Himself. That should and must be our motivation as we go about doing social good. We are to live Christ-centered lives so that the world will be attracted to Jesus.

As we look at great men of faith who have gone before us, we see countless servants of God who have left their homes to sow the gospel seed in foreign lands. They did not go because they thought they could change the world; they went because God called. Some did not live to see the fruit of their labor; in fact, some gave their lives that the fruit may be borne.

In my recent phase of life, God has given me opportunities to minister to a poor community in another country. My initial encounter with this community got me thinking hard about how to meet their needs. Some of the ideas that sprang to mind included ways to alleviate poverty, put all the children through school and keep them there, guide the youths to find a clear and good purpose in life, and even provide employment for the adults. These were all good goals, but I soon realized that they were beyond my means. It was discouraging to know that I could not provide the help that they needed.

It was then that I was reminded of Jesus’ words that the smallest effort to the least is by no means insignificant. I began to look at how I could help the individual: provide socks and shoes when a kid went to school in slippers, provide a month’s breakfast when a kid stopped going to school because he had no food to sustain him through the morning’s learning, provide information to unemployed parents whenever I knew of factories that had job vacancies.

As each of these recipients thanked me for relieving them of their worries and needs at those points, it gave me opportunities to testify to them that God was the one who had provided. Some of them even thanked God with me.

So let’s continue to labor on in helping others practically and spiritually. Let’s take heart that God will bring about this great work of sanctifying His people to live lives that glorify Him. And ultimately, let’s be encouraged that God will bring about perfection in the world when Christ comes again!