The missionary adventures of the Stimpson family

Posts tagged “gospel

The Gospel is the Power of God, Pt. 4 – Reconciled

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In Romans 1:16, Paul called the Gospel “the power of God,” but how often have we turned it into a tame thing more fit for nursery rhymes and children’s plays?  The Gospel is God’s power to save men!  Only the Gospel could turn a terrorist into an apostle, an atheist into a Believer, an addict into a lover of God, or a gang member into an evangelist.  Only the Gospel could “persuade a strict dictator to retire, fire the army, teach the poor origami,” as the Newsboys put it so eloquently.

Once a week for a while now, I’ve been discussing a new metaphor the Bible uses to explain the power of the Gospel.  If you missed the earlier posts, check them out here.  Today, let’s look at how, through the Gospel, God reconciled us to Himself.

Reconciled

Paul tells us in Colossians 1:21-22, “And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.”

I love this section.  There’s so much going on here, so bear with me as I unpack it a little.

In two verses, Paul shows us the power of the Gospel in a nutshell – who we were, what God did for us, and who we’re becoming.

Here’s the picture of who we used to be: we were alienated, hostile in mind, and doing evil deeds.  These aren’t pretty words.  These aren’t nice words.

When Paul says we were alienated, he means we were shut out from fellowship and intimacy with God, cut off from Him and all His blessings.  The Greek word he uses implies a former state that we’ve departed from as our relationship deteriorated.  The word was used to describe the breaking apart of the marriage covenant through unfaithfulness and to the division of property.  So Paul is not so much saying that God closed us out because He didn’t like us but that, through our unfaithfulness and stubbornness, we let our relationship fall apart and therefore separated ourselves from Him.

He says we were hostile in mind.  I don’t think the English word hostile carries the weight of what Paul is getting at here.  The word he uses is usually translated “enemy” in the New Testament and sometimes refers specifically to the devil himself.  When Jesus says to love our enemies, He’s using this word.  When He says the enemy sows tares in the midst of the wheat, it’s this word.  When Paul says Jesus will put all His enemies under His feet, and when he says that many have become enemies of the cross, you guessed it, he uses this word.  This is not describing someone who was just a little ticked at God, a little hostile.  It’s describing an enemy of God, “someone openly hostile, animated by deep-seated hatred,” implying “irreconcilable hostility, proceeding out of a ‘personal’ hatred bent on inflicting harm,” as the Helps Word-studies on BibleSuite.com put it.

Paul goes on to describe us as doers of evil deeds.  The Strong’s concordance defines these deeds as “bad, of a bad nature or condition,” “diseased or blind” and “wicked or corrupt.”  No matter how good you think you may have been, without Jesus, even your good deeds were based in selfishness, fear of man, trying to prove something or earn something.  Paul says we did evil, corrupt, diseased, wicked works.  BibleSuite.com goes on to describe these evil deeds as “pain-ridden, emphasizing the inevitable agonies (misery) that always go with evil.”

The word Paul uses here that we translate as evil, poneros, is not the only Greek word for evil, but it is the one that specifically emphasizes the corrupting, disease-spreading, pain-ridden fruit that results.  According to Richard C. Trench in his Synonyms of the New Testament, three Greek words are often translated “evil” in the English Bible – kakos, phaulos, and ponerosKakos has to do mainly with the idea of lacking something that would make it worthy, like the wicked servant at the end of Matthew 24 who lacked good character and honesty.  Phaulos deals with the idea that something is good for nothing, worthless, and devoid of any possibility of good coming from it.  Poneros, on the other hand, Trench calls, “the active worker out of evil.”  He goes on to write, “The kakos may be content to perish in his own corruption, but the poneros is not content unless he is corrupting others as well, and drawing them into the same destruction with himself.”  That, Paul says, is the kind of works we were doing before we knew God.

We had separated ourselves from God, we had made Him our hated enemy, we lived to spread evil, agony, and pain in the world, and God chose to reconcile us.  That’s nuts.

Before looking at what the word “reconcile” means, let’s jump to the end of the section first, so we can see the results of His reconciling efforts.  Where are we headed?  What is God creating in us, these former enemies of His?  He wants to make us “holy, blameless, and above reproach.”

He’s making us holy, turning us into saints, no longer separated from God but separated unto God.  Holy like the Temple in Jerusalem.  Holy like the ground Moses was standing on.  Holy like God Himself.  Different, separate, set apart from the world.  The majority of times this word is used in the New Testament it refers either to the Holy Spirit or to the saints, the church.  That’s what He’s after in us.

Blameless, meaning without spot or blemish.  Morally perfect, with no defects and no cause for blame.  1 Peter 2 refers to false prophets and teachers that Peter calls “blemishes” full of lust and deceit, unsubmissive, blasphemers, like irrational animals, born to be caught and destroyed.  God’s making us into the opposite, into those with no stains or spots or wrinkles.  The old person we used to be, who spread evil and pain and disease without even trying, He’s turning into someone who is blameless before Him.

Above reproach.  This is a legal phrase that essentially means if someone were to take us to court, the case would be thrown out because there’s no evidence to support the spurious claim.  Thayer’s Greek Lexicon describes it as, “that which cannot be called into account, unreproveable, unaccused, blameless.”  BibleSuite.com adds, “not convictable when a person is properly scrutinized (i.e. tried with correct logic).”  This is where we’re headed, according to Paul – that if someone were to take us to court for how we’re living, every allegation would be thrown out for lack of evidence.

So whatever God did through the cross, He plans to take these people who hated him so vehemently and turn them into people set apart for Him, without any stain, with no evidence of any guilt or wrongdoing in their lives.

What He did was reconcile us.

The roots of this word go back to the idea of exchanging money, like going from US dollars to Romanian lei.  The idea is that the situation has completely changed.  Where you once had dollars, now you don’t have anything remotely like dollars.  You’ve got an entirely different monetary unit, made of different materials, with different artwork, usable in a different country.  From this root, the word evolved to mean a ruined relationship becoming completely changed into a restored one.  In the New Testament, it’s used to describe a wife being reconciled to her husband after leaving him, in 1 Corinthians 7:11.  When God reconciles us, he takes a relationship that’s been destroyed beyond fixing, and He fixes it completely.

This is the simple power of the Gospel!  What you were no longer applies.  You’re new now.  You’ve been reconciled to God, you’re old relationship of enmity thrown out and replaced by a new one of friendship, headed toward purity and holiness in all things.

Through Jesus, God reconciled us to Himself, restoring our relationship we had broken.


The Gospel is the Power of God, Pt. 3 – Ransomed

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Way back here, I started a series on the different ways the Bible describes the work of the Gospel in our lives.  As Paul wrote in Romans 1:16, the Gospel is the “power of God” for our salvation.  It’s the power of God, something meant to turn whole nations upside-down!

The Gospel is God’s plan to restore and repair everything ruined by sin and the cruelty of man.  He has no Plan B, no alternative worked out in case the Gospel fails.  This is it.  This is His route to glorify His name, rescue His people, and rebuild His creation.

Here’s the next illustration I want to take a look at:

Ransomed

Jesus came to ransom us.  Mark 10:45 says, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  What’s that mean?  To answer that, we gotta go back to the world Mark was writing in, a world shaped by the Old Testament.

In the Old Testament, the concept of ransoming something entails an exchange, paying a price for another’s release, much like the modern-day concept of paying a ransom to a kidnapper.

In the beginning of Israel’s history, God had laid claim to every firstborn male.  Like a 2-year-old around toys, God pointed at the firstborn men and said, “Mine.”  Every firstborn male, He said, belonged to Him and had to be sacrificed.

Since God isn’t a fan of lobster and doesn’t like human sacrifice, however, He allowed for certain firstborn males to be ransomed, exchanged, so they wouldn’t have to die as an offering.  Every firstborn human male was required to be ransomed.  In exchange for their lives, God took the Levites and 5 shekels (about $60) a head.  Firstborn men in Israel could go on living because God took the Levites’ service as exchange for their lives.

Similarly, firstborn male unclean animals (like lobster) were required to be ransomed, since offering something deemed unclean in sacrifice would be unthinkable.  Everyone who owned a firstborn male of an unclean animal was required to pay 5 shekels to ransom each one, so God wouldn’t have to accept your unclean sacrifice and you could go on running your lobster farm I guess.

Curiously, donkeys were also allowed to be ransomed, at the owner’s discretion.  A firstborn male donkey headed for sacrifice could be exchanged for a lamb if the owner wanted to make the substitution.  My guess is God gave this as a mercy to poor farmers who only had one family donkey that they really needed to survive.

Jesus ransomed us.  On the cross, He exchanged His life for ours.  We deserve the wrath of God, we deserve punishment, we deserve judgment in Hell for eternity, but Jesus took our place, receiving God’s wrath poured out on sin in our place, paying His own life as our ransom.  We were like a donkey headed for the temple to be sacrificed, when Jesus, our lamb, gave Himself in exchange, so we could go on living.


Evangelism, Grandma Susie Style

Last week, I received a really unusual call.  I had been frustrated about doing a lot of evangelism, developing relationships, meeting people, etc. but so little of it has led to noticeable, lasting fruit yet.  People have been willing to talk with us about God and even meet up a couple times, but it’s been difficult to build strong, lasting relationships with people centered around the Gospel.  Our prayer has been for disciples, followers of Jesus, fruit that remains, to the glory of the Father.

So last week, my phone started to ring.  I looked down at the number, which came up as “Alex Unirii.”  When I meet people, I try to put their name and number in my phone with something that I can remember them by, because in Romania there are so many similar names and I already have a hard time remembering everything.  So I have an “Alex Street Preacher,” a “George Australia,” a “Kaze Elim Church,” an “Andreea British Accent,” and an “Alex Unirii,” among others.

“Alex Unirii…” I thought to myself.  “It can’t be…  That’d be crazy…”

So I answered assuming that it wasn’t Alex who I had met at Unirii, because I never expected him to call.  “Hello?”

“Hello, this is Alex.  We met at Piaţa Unirii last year.  Do you remember me?”

“Yeah, of course,” I said, remembering the odd series of events that had led to our meeting.

“I owe you a cup of coffee, don’t I?  I want to talk more about this stuff you were telling me about, about Jesus and churches.”

And so we decided to get together in a few days.

That’s nuts, I thought as I hung up the phone, wondering at the amazing God we serve.  Last year, when we moved to Romania, our friend Susie, who we affectionately called “Grandma Susie,” came with us for our first month, to help watch the kids as we got situated, learned about the city, and figured out what we were doing.

On her last Sunday with us, we took a cab to visit Missio Dei church, which was meeting a short walk from Piaţa Unirii.  For some reason, the roads around the piaţa were all blocked, and our taxi driver refused to find a way around, preferring instead to drop us off on the side of the busy plaza.

We knew the general direction the church was located in, so we started walking that way, planning to figure things out eventually.  It was a really hot day, painfully hot.  I think we all lost a few pounds of sweat as we walked, and Susie started to feel really weak.  In the middle of the piaţa, we saw a tent with people giving out cups of cool water.

“I need some water,” Susie gasped, so we walked over.

Susie was funny because she unashamedly spoke English to everyone she met in Bucharest.  “Thank you so much, young man.  God bless you for this water,” she told the young guy who handed her a cup.

“You speak English.” he noted, and then, like most Romanians we meet, he asked the obvious question, “What are you doing in Bucharest?”

I don’t remember exactly how Susie responded, because I was preoccupied trying to figure out how to get us all to the church, but it was something like, “This young man and his wife moved here to tell people about Jesus, and I came to help watch their kids for a month.  I’m leaving soon, but they’ll be here for a long time.  You should meet up and hear more about Jesus.”

Alex, the young man, my “Alex Unirii,” explained he was interested and would love to know more, so we exchanged numbers and I promised to give him a call.

Well, over the next 3 months, I called him about 10 times, he answered a few of those times, but we never were able to get together, so then I just stopped calling, figuring he wasn’t interested.

And now here he was, almost a year later, calling me out of the blue like this.

God, this is crazy.  Only You would do something like this, I thought to myself, excited to see what He would do.

Well, last night, I got together with him and his fiancée, I shared the Gospel, I told Him my testimony, we talked about life, food, plans for the future, the church, and, of course, the beautiful Romanian countryside.  Alex shared how he really wanted to follow Jesus, and he really liked the idea of the church, but everything he saw in the church seemed so different than what it should be.  People seemed so concerned about buildings, money, and stuff that didn’t matter, rather than just following Jesus.  We agreed that things shouldn’t be that way.

“I want to help you,” he kept saying.  “Right now, I need to find a job, but I want to help you any way I can.  Money, translation, showing you around, anything.  I want to help.”

After almost three hours that passed as quickly as 15 minutes, I felt like I had just met our Romanian counterparts, two people who I felt closer to than made natural sense.  We come from different worlds, we barely know each other, they’re just beginning to search for God, but He began knitting our hearts together last night, and I’m excited to see where He takes things from here.  To start with, Alex and I plan to get together once a week to go through the Gospel of John together and talk about what it looks like to follow Jesus, so pray that God leads him into a real relationship with Himself in the process.

Before we parted, I prayed that God would guide them, protect them, and continue to work in their lives.  When I got done praying, Alex shook my hand and told me, “Thank you for showing us the path,” and I left, in awe of our all-powerful God who can draw people to Himself even through a cup of water on a hot day almost a year ago.

And that, my friends, is evangelism, Grandma Susie style.


The Gospel is the Power of God, Pt. 2 – Redeemed

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The Gospel changes lives.  The fact that Jesus came, died on a cross, and rose again is more than a fairy tale, more than a nice story to tell kids at bedtime, more than simply some well-written material for Easter plays.  The Gospel is everything.

The Gospel is God’s answer to every problem in our hearts and our world.  Every weakness, fear, disease, cruelty, depravity, confusion, and sickness finds its answer in the Gospel.  Paul called it “the power of God to salvation” in Romans 1:16.

Back here, I started a discussion of some of the ways the Bible describes what the Gospel does in our lives, beginning with the concept of adoption.  If you haven’t read it, go back and take a look.  It’s good stuff.  🙂

Now let’s go on to the next one.

Redeemed

Luke records Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father, speaking of the ministry of Jesus in Luke 1:68.  He proclaims, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people!”

To understand this concept of redemption, you’ve got to go into Zechariah’s world as a 1st century Jew raised on the Law and the Prophets.

The concept of redemption shows up repeatedly in the Old Testament.  Over and over again, God is said to have redeemed people.  He redeemed Israel from bondage in Egypt.  He redeemed her from exile in Babylon.  He redeemed people from death, from oppression, from violence.  And in the same way, Zechariah is saying, He is coming in Jesus to redeem us from sin.

Now dig a little deeper and things get even cooler.  In Leviticus 27:13, it says that if someone dedicates an item to God, consecrating it, and they later realize they want it back, they can have it, but they have to redeem it by paying what it’s worth and addding 1/5th to it, making the item theirs again, to do with as they please.  God redeemed us through the cross.  Though we gave ouselves up to the service of sin and darkness, God paid to redeem us through the blood of Jesus.  He bought us back so we could be His again.

Alright, that’s sweet, but let’s keep going further, where things start to get really cool.  In the Old Testament, each family was given land.  This land was their inheritance from God, passed down through the generations, a special gift to them alone that was meant to bless them and serve as a reminder of the covenant God had made with them.

Losing this special gift from God would be a huge disgrace, not to mention the fact that survival in an agrarian society would be next to impossible without your land.  So God provided a way so that, if someone was forced to sell their land due to financial hardship, when they got back on their feet, either they or a family member could come along and redeem it, buying it back and restoring it to its rightful owner.  We were that abandoned plot of land, and Jesus redeemed us through His blood.  He bought us back from the enemy and gave us to our rightful owner, God.  We were His to begin with, and though we had sold ourselves to another, He paid to make us His again.

So what if things went really badly, so bad that you had to sell yourself into slavery to pay off your debts?  Then a family member had the obligation to redeem you if they could, to pay the price for your freedom, so you wouldn’t have to be a slave any longer.  Though you had ruined your life, wasted all your money, and sold yourself into slavery just to survive, a loving family member could pay for your release, and you would be free, redeemed.  Jesus did this on the cross.  He paid for our release from slavery, though we had willfully sold ourselves into it by our own bad choices and hatred of God.

And then there’s the concept of the kinsman redeemer.  Read the book of Ruth to get a good visual of this.  If a woman found herself a widow, without a husband, a home, or sons to take care of her, then the nearest of kin had the obligation to redeem her, to take her as his wife, raise up children for her dead husband, provide for her, love her, and be the husband that she used to have.  It’s a weird idea to our modern minds, where women can date, find a husband on-line, get any job they want, get college degrees, and fly space shuttles, but in ancient Israel, a woman without a husband didn’t have a whole lot of options waiting for her.  She had no way of finding a new husband, and if she remained single, my guess is she’d have to either find some friends or relatives to mooch off of or resort to begging, slavery, or prostitution to survive.  The kinsman redeemer was there to spare her from that life and to make sure she could have as normal a life as possible.

Redemption.  It’s the idea of restoring something back to the way it should have been all along, before things went bad, whatever the costs may be.  Jesus redeemed us.  Though the cost was astronomical, He bought us out of slavery, He paid for us to be His again, He became our kinsman redeemer who gave us everything so we didn’t have to be at the mercy of fate and enemies much bigger and stronger than us.

This is the power of the Gospel, that when we were worthless and lost, without family, land, or even our own freedom, Jesus came and redeemed us with His blood.  We were like the Prodigal Son, we had wasted all our money, sold ourselves into slavery, and we deserved the hard life and judgment of sin we were under, yet God, through Jesus, redeemed us.  He paid to make us His again.  He redeemed us from our slavery and set us free.


Through the Foolishness of Preaching…

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1 Corinthians 1:21 states, “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save those who believe.” (Good ol’ KJV)

In context, I think Paul is referring here to the content of our preaching being seen as foolishness in the eyes of the world, not the mere fact that we’re preaching it, but street preachers the world over have used this verse to explain why they preach open-air, even though it seems offensive, foolish, annoying, or old-fashioned… and in that vein, I will use it too.  🙂

I get it that not everyone reading this will preach open-air, and probably a lot of you are even offended by the mere thought of it.  I used to be just like you, so don’t worry, I’m not gonna get offended if you don’t wanna jump up on a street corner and start shouting about Jesus.  But regardless of your persuasion, I enjoy it, and street preaching has never been classy or high-brow in the eyes of the world.  It has, however, been one of the main ways the Gospel has spread, throughout history and the Bible.  If you read the Bible without judging it through your modern perspective, I think you’ll have a hard time finding a  method of spreading the Gospel that is more prevalent than open-air preaching.

I don’t want to provide a justification for street preaching here (read some good articles here and here), but to give you just a handful of verses on the topic…

  • Proverbs 1:20 – “Wisdom cries aloud in the street, in the markets she raises her voice…”
  • Judges 9:7 – “When it was told to Jotham, he went and stood on top of Mount Gerizim and cried aloud and said to them…”
  • Jeremiah 11:6 – “And the Lord said to me, “Proclaim all these words in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem…”
  • Isaiah 29:21 – “…lay a snare for him who reproves in the gate…”
  • Matthew 3:1 – “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea…”
  • Luke 16:7 – “And [Jesus] came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people…”
  • Acts 2:14 – “But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem…”
  • Acts 17:17 – “So [Paul] reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there.”
  • Acts 17:22  – “So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said…”

Charles Spurgeon once said, “It would be very easy to prove that revivals of religion have usually been accompanied, if not caused, by a considerable amount of preaching out of doors, or in unusual places.”

George Whitefield said, “I believe I never was more acceptable to my Master than when I was standing to teach those hearers in the open fields.” and “I now preach to ten times more people than I should, if had been confined to the Churches.”

John Wesley wrote in his journal once, “I preached on the green at Bedminster.  I am apt to think many of the hearers scarcely ever heard a Methodist before, or perhaps any other preacher.  What but field-preaching could reach these poor sinners?  And are not their souls also precious in the sight of God?”

Anyway, our friend Alex Grigorescu invited us to join him in some street preaching near Piata Obor last week.  I was excited to go, hearing horror stories from other ministers here of the dangers of street preaching.  I overheard one seasoned missionary saying, like a salty old sailor talking about the whale that got the best of him, “If you wanna prove your stuff, just get out on the streets and do some preaching.  You’ll find out what you’re made of real quick.”  Others told me stories of having angry dogs let loose on them, boxes of knives thrown at them, and the usual rude comments and angry gestures.  Needless to say, I was excited.

Well, to skip to the end of the story, it was a lot more mild of an experience than I expected.  Maybe there’s something wrong with me, but I honestly was hoping for more anger, demonic manifestations, and fits.  A riot would have been really nice.  🙂  Half joking.  Though I have always liked Acts 17:6 – “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also…”

We did get a few people shouting, “Go back home!”  “We’re all Christians here!”  “I was born Orthodox and I’ll die Orthodox!” and some Romanian phrases I haven’t learned yet, probably because they’re a little more vulgar.  Most people just ignored us, a lot looked quietly mad, a few shouted at us, and a handful were really open to the message.

Overall, it was an OK experience.  I’ve had times of street preaching that were a lot better and times that were a lot worse.  I honestly felt like I didn’t make a whole lot of sense at times, but some people were genuinely interested in hearing us preaching.

My favorite moment was when I passed a tract to a young man from Sweden who quickly asked in English, “What’s this?”

Let me preface what follows by saying I normally answer more intelligently than I did on this occasion, but for some reason everything got jumbled in my head and came out kinda’ mixed up.

Hear me out as I offer some lame excuses.  I wasn’t expecting someone to talk to me in English, so all I had in my head were Romanian phrases I had been reciting silently to myself.  Besides, I didn’t know how much English this guy spoke, so I was trying to think through what words he would be familiar with.  On top of that, I figured he was Romanian,  and Orthodox, so I was trying to answer in a way that was sensitive to his cultural background and wouldn’t just instantly make him closed to the Gospel.  It was really noisy and people were everywhere, shouting, talking, running, and it made it hard to think straight.  I was cold and my brain wasn’t working so well.  All these factors combined to clog my thoughts and trip up what I was trying to say.  At least, that’s the story I’m sticking with.  🙂

Regardless, I include this here first for your amusement, second for your instruction on what not to say, and third for your encouragement.  If God can use this, He can probably use you.

“What’s this?” he asked.

“Uh, well, it’s the message of the Gospel,” I answered, feeling a little like Ned Flanders.

“What’s that mean?” he asked.

“Umh…” and this is where things got really stupid as I tried to explain the Gospel in a way that Orthodox Believers could grab ahold of without just ignoring it as “not Orthodoxy.”  So I sputtered out something like, “It’s about Jesus, that He died for us…  There’s Hell, and it’s real, and we all deserve it.”  I don’t think I succeeded in explaining the Gospel in a way anybody could grab ahold of.

“I don’t want to go to Hell,” he said somberly.

“No, that’s good.  I mean bad, Hell is bad, but it’s good you don’t want to go.”

“What do I have to do?” he asked.

“Just tell Jesus you want to live for Him, that you’re sorry for the sin in your life.  And live for Him,” I explained poorly, resorting to Christianese and bumper-sticker slogans.

“It’s that easy?”

“Yeah, pretty much.”

After asking if we were Mormons (boy do I get tired of this question!), he had to run, but he gave me his phone number and said he wanted to get together and talk more about following Jesus.

Please pray for this Swedish college student, that God would continue to speak to him and lead him into a relationship with Himself through Jesus.  And pray for me to make a little more sense next time!  🙂


The Gospel is the Power of God, Pt. 1 – Adopted

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In Romans 1:16, Paul writes, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”  The Gospel is the power of God for salvation.  I’ve been meditating on this idea lately, thinking about how we can so often turn the Gospel, this thing of dynamic power that’s meant to turn the world upside-down, into a small thing that’s easy to digest and grab hold of, packaging it in bumper-sticker slogans and T-shirt phrases that are easy to remember and equally easy to forget.

But the Gospel is the power of God on display, His infinite grace working in the lives of finite men.

Over the next few months, once a week, I want to look at some of the metaphors and illustrations the Bible uses to describe the power of the Gospel, skipping over some of the usual ones like “saved,” “born-again,” or, if you’re in Romania, “pocaiti.”

So today, let’s look at the first one…

Adopted

Galatians 4:4-5 says, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”  Through the Gospel, God takes us and makes us part of His family.  We were orphaned, without a father, left to our own, and God found us, took us in, and made us part of His family.

But this is no Cinderella story where the stepsister is mistreated and hated but the real sisters get the perks of family living.  Through Jesus, God has made us sons and daughters, with all the same family privileges the real Son gets.

The word “adoption” Paul uses here is a Greek word made up of two smaller words (also Greek, believe it or not), meaning “son” and “to set in place, to make, to establish.”  Literally, it means He made us into His sons.  We’re not orphans taken in by the state.  We’re not street kids befriended by a kindly old man.  We’re not even, technically-speaking, adopted, where we still have a birth mother and father who might try to track us down some day.  We’re changed.  Those who weren’t sons have been brought home and made into sons.

We’ve been made into sons.  We’ve been “son-ized.”

Here in Romania, we’ve come in contact with some pretty impressive Americanizing.  If you’re just coming out of your 1950s bomb shelter, Americanization is the phenomenon of American culture influencing nations all over the planet, for better or worse.  It’s the reason why, here in Bucharest, you can go to an American restaurant, eat American food, hear American music on the loudspeakers, and hear people speaking the American language of English, all while discussing American movies and wearing American t-shirts.  It’s why Parcul Herestrau here has a statue in honor of Michael Jackson.  Thank you, America.

Yet, despite all the Americanizing, all the aspects of American culture that are evident here, this is very much not America.  This is Romania, and though parts of American culture are influencing this nation, Romanians are still Romanians.  They will never be Americans, no matter how much MTv they watch, how many Nikes they wear, how many Hollywood movies they download, or how well they learn to speak English.  Americanizing can never delete the fact that this is Romania, filled with Romanians who have their own culture and their own way of thinking and their own contributions to give to history.

When God adopts us into His family, He doesn’t just influence our culture from the outside, like Hollywood sending its movies all over the planet, infiltrating society through images and stories.  God changes us deep down inside.  God doesn’t just influence us so we begin to act like sons, talk like sons, think like sons, feel like sons.  No, he makes us sons.  And sons, by their nature, act, talk, think, and feel like sons.

The Gospel is the power of God to turn us into sons of the King.


Sharing Jesus with the Play-doh Girl

I realized tonight that it has been a month and a half since I last wrote anything for the blog and all my ideas for posts are quickly becoming outdated. Since Jake recently shared about some ministry we did over the holidays, I thought I would throw in one more experience.

While Christmas shopping with our family at Cora, which is comparable to Target in the States, Mae, Isaac, and I happened to be looking at a Play-doh display in the store when a young woman walks up and starts speaking to us quickly in Romanian about the things in the display. When I stop her and explain that I don’t speak Romanian well, she switches to English and explains that she’s there as a representative of Hasbro to answer people’s questions about all the new Play-doh products this year.

But, since I had no life-shattering questions about this expensive moldable plastic, she was full of questions about America, where we came from, what it was like there, why was I in Romania, what do I think about Romania and Romanians, etc. (Side note: almost every Romanian I meet asks me what I think of Romania, with a sense of earnestly desiring to know my opinion.)

I answered her questions, and she kept asking me more because she said she loved my accent (who knew American English could sound interesting to anyone?), and she would ask Mae lots of questions, because she loved hearing her cute little girl voice. Finally, she got to asking about what our family was doing in Romania. After explaining that we were Christians and that we wanted to tell people about Jesus, she asked me something like, “So, Christianity…is that like Orthodox or what is it?” I was a little taken aback, because most people here know quite a bit about Romanian Orthodoxy, but she didn’t really even know what that was about beyond the name, and she asked as if she’d never heard of Christianity before.

I felt this love of God for her in my heart, because she didn’t know about the love of Jesus and all that He came to do for her, so I briefly explained about Jesus and how He’s not just a religion but someone you could know. She seemed interested, but then other customers kept coming over asking her questions and interrupting, so she needed to get back to work. I offered to get together with her again, answer any more questions, let her practice English, whatever. Unfortunately, I haven’t heard from her again, but I was encouraged that God can take whatever seeds we sow, and He can water them and grow them in people. I pray for her still; her name is Mihaela, and I am excited that God can draw people to us wherever we are, even shopping at a department store.