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:
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.
God is changing lives here in Romania. I’d like say it’s all because of us, but very little of it is. We’re doing good work, I think, but the reality is that we’re a very small part of things that God has been doing for a long time and will continue doing with or without us. There is a growing hunger among the younger generation for something that is deeper and more real than they’ve experienced in the past. While many are still satisfied with dead religion, going through the motions, the party lifestyle, or pursuing material gains and educational achievements, there are many who are opening their eyes to the true life Jesus offers.
We’ve met a number of young people in their teens and twenties who have given their lives to Jesus, some very recently, and are shining brightly as lights for Him. I asked a few of them to share their stories on the blog over the next few weeks, because God is changing lives here, and I know you’ll all be excited to read some of what He’s been doing.
So this is Cristiana. She’s a member of Missio Dei Church, has become a really great friend of ours and the kids, became a Christian about 6 years ago, and loves Jesus with all she has. And here is her story.
>> Can you briefly describe the process God used to bring you to Himself? Specifically, what were you like before you knew God, what did He do to lead you toward Him, and how has life changed now?
My story actually started at the beginning of high school when I think I was about 15 years old when I met Gabriela. It makes me laugh now, but then there was a strange feeling we both felt that we knew each other and for the following 2 months we tried to figure out why we felt this. It’s been a mystery until now, but it proved to be the ‘triggering’ factor of a heavenly friendship that changed my life forever.
I was raised in a family with a strong orthodox background; I used to be a church-goer since I was a kid, learning by heart a lot of prayers and trying to do as many good deeds as possible, hoping God would find me good enough at the Judgment Day and accept me in Heaven. There were nights when I would just speak freely to God about my feelings and concerns without truly knowing the God who loved me so much and wanted me to know His tender heart and what He did for me. It’s like I was sensing there must be something more to Christianity than just what I was taught.
I started to talk to Gabriela about Christianity and soon she realized I really wanted to know more. She told me about Jesus, the Cross, my sins, forgiveness etc. I crumbled on my knees in April (about just 6-7 months later) telling God I had no idea what He wanted from me, but that He could have His way with me. We started to read the Bible and I recall becoming more and more in love with Jesus, and maybe the most obvious fruit of the Holy Spirit in my life was the abundance of JOY that I was experiencing!!!
Before knowing Jesus I was just an ordinary kid, believing in an impersonal God that would strike me someday for not being good enough, believing a guy or a successful career would make her ‘whole.’ I was a girl who was very ambitious, with a strong character and extremely determined to become ‘someone’ someday.
Praise God I was given a new identity, a new life, a new reason to live and breathe and wake up in the morning! I received newness of life from Jesus! I’m not pursuing the things I used to pursue anymore as I am head over heels in love with my Jesus and I know He is the only One that can fill me.
>> Of everything God used in the process of bringing you to Himself, what do you think was the most important factor?
The most important ‘factor’ was Gabriela. She really loved me and accepted me just the way I was. Her love and tenderness changed my heart and made me question what was different about her. She simply lived out the Gospel when she was with me. She shared life with me, she would give up things for me, and she would be by my side even if everyone was against me. Gabriela showed me how Jesus was like by the way she related to me. Jesus is tender and full of love and never leaves our side, even if all are against us, even if we want to give up ourselves, He never give up on us. This is LOVE- the Love of my life
>> What part of you would you say God has changed the most since you’ve become born-again?
The part that God changed the most since I’ve become born-again is my personality. I used to be very impulsive (and stubborn) especially if something unjust was happening around me or to someone I deeply cared for. To give you a funny example, Gabriela took a not so excellent mark in a subject, and she was crying because the professor was very subjective when putting marks and he also had a reputation for being really harsh — everyone was kind of scared of him. But when I saw my friend crying, I rushed to his desk with her paper in my hands demanding in a strong voice that he change Gabriela’s mark because I believed he was mistaken, arguing with him for 20 minutes. I was very brave but in a wrong way.
I’ve seen a lot of progress here, but I still have to grow and resemble Jesus even more accurately.
>> What was your perception of Jesus before you became born-again? In what ways has this changed?
I didn’t know too much about Him except that He was the Son of God, both the way He was born and died. Eventually, my perception changed and I understood His nature, His heart, and His motives for coming to a sick and dark world, the fact that He wanted a relationship with me and He would rather die than live without me. Jesus revealed Himself to me as:
- My Defender – the One Who stands for me and protects me
- My Helper – If I need a hand, I need look no further than His own, that I can put my burdens on His shoulders as He is strong for me
- My Friend (loyal no matter what) – If hard times come, He will be by my side, if accusations come against me He knows the truth about me, if I lose my health or my physical beauty, His devotion to me will be unchanged. He is with me always and forever
- My Counselor – If am struggling to see the truth/the way He will be the One who will guide me
- My Encourager – No matter what, He has words of life for me. Only He can speak to the depths of my heart, only He can tell me who I am and nobody else
- My Thoughtful – I am always on His mind, engraved on the palms of His hands. Jesus thinks always of how I can be strengthened, encouraged, blessed and built stronger. He always thinks of special ways to express His love and faithfulness to me
- My Lover – the One who is trustworthy with my inmost feelings, thoughts, and concerns. The One who handles my heart with the most care and handles my inmost person with delicacy and softness
- My Sharer of Sufferings – If I encounter any difficulty He is willing to carry it for me. He feels my pain because my pain is His pain, my tears are His tears, my heartache is His heartache, my sufferings are His sufferings
>> What was your perception of the church before you became born-again? In what ways has this changed?
Before, the church was just the building itself for me. Now, the Church is the Body of Christ, we are His members, His Temple, and I am an important part of this Body as I was given gifts to serve this body, build it strong and edify it. There is never such a thing as an unimportant member. We are the Church.
>> What do your family and friends think of the changes in you? Is anyone else in your family a born-again Christian?
Tough subject. I met with a lot of disapproval from my family and friends, but I was given the grace and strength to get over all the obstacles even though I was basically just a teenager. It’s incredible how He carried me through it all. It never even crossed my mind to give up, though. I was built strong because He called me to be the one who stands in the gap for my family. The one who stands in the gap gets all the blows, and the difficult circumstances allowed in my life made me strong – strong in faith, strong and brave to stand up for what I believe in. But most of all…the trials worked in me Christ’s character and helped me cultivate a deep and beautiful relationship with Him. And I wouldn’t trade that for anything in the world.
I take comfort in the fact that this is God’s will for me and His will for us is just goodness, lovingkindness, and joy unspeakable. When you understand that nothing touches you and happens without His permission, you thankfully take everything from His loving hands, even if it means you are called to walk alone and misunderstood for a period.
>> What’s your goal in life now?
My deepest desire is to know Him more and grow in the knowledge of His love. I want to live brave, I want to see lives changed for Jesus, I want to be Light in the Darkness, I want to let Jesus love this depraved world through me. I want to leave a legacy of faith.
When my reign ends on this Earth, I want people to say: ‘She was all about Jesus. She was a fearless woman. She was Jesus’ hands and feet. She was beautiful, but with no beauty of her own. Rivers of Love and Joy poured out through her. She was His.’
Every Monday night, we head on over to Lalli and Mândra’s house to bring church to a group of Gypsies who wouldn’t get it any other way. Usually, things start out kinda’ chaotic, but God brings it all around in the end and does something cool, and we all leave really encouraged.
One week, when we showed up, no one was there but one older woman hanging up laundry on a clothes line. But soon we gathered others and before long we had a good-sized group assembled, a mixture of a few regulars and a few new people. By the end, we’d had a great time teaching the Bible, praying, and worshiping together.
This past week, in the middle of my teaching, the lights started going out. Well, light. All we had was a bare bulb hanging from the ceiling. For about thirty minutes, the pattern went like this: the lights would flicker off and on then go out completely, everyone would start shouting, a few people would run out of the room, and the younger ones would reach for cell phones, then suddenly the lights would come back on again for a few minutes. It turns out they share electricity with their neighbors, and between the two of them, they were just drawing too much power through the line. It was chaotic and a little crazed, but by the end of it, I challenged everyone who knew Jesus to get out there and do something for Him. God really convicted four people listening, and they asked us to pray that they would be filled with the boldness of God to be His witnesses on the streets of Bucharest this week. Awesome!
A few weeks ago, we walked into Lalli and Mândra’s home only to be blasted by a cloud of cigarette smoke. The air was thick and hazy with fumes. We looked around and there was Lalli, and there was his son Mihai, but we didn’t recognize anyone else. None of the regulars were there, and as we talked with the newcomers, we started to get the impression they were probably not Christians yet. It’s hard to tell sometimes, between relying on translators and the Gypsy culture that’s steeped in religious ideas about Jesus, but we figured we should probably start the night off by going through what the Gospel really is.
So Jason from Canada went through the Gospel very clearly and simply, and an old roofer who was visiting from Târgu Mureş asked us to pray for him. He said he needed more faith, more work, more food, a better house, more peace, and a stronger family. So we prayed.
Afterward, still nobody else had shown up, and by this time Lalli had left, so there were no regulars. Awkward indeed. So we just talked with people and waited for others to show up. Suddenly, out of nowhere, the roofer told us he felt the Holy Spirit’s presence strongly when we prayed with him asked us if we knew about baptism in the Holy Spirit and could pray with him. This time, as we prayed, nothing amazing seemed to happen, but the room just “felt” full of God, and it just “felt” like this old roofer was soaking up all of God’s Spirit he could get. Ben’s hand got unnaturally hot, which was pretty cool. Sometimes that can be a good sign the Holy Spirit is doing something, and sometimes it just means you should take your hand off the stove. Since there were no stoves nearby, we assumed it was the Holy Spirit.
God spoke to my heart Acts 1:8 – “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses.” I shared this verse with the old roofer and encouraged him that he had the power of God and should be a witness for Jesus. He smiled ear-to-ear and kept asking us, “What did you feel when you were praying? Could you tell something changed? Why was your hand so hot?”
Later that same evening, Koko, a young guy who was also a newcomer that night, prayed to turn away from sin and trust in Jesus for forgiveness. Shortly thereafter, the “regulars” showed up and we just kept having a good time.
Welcome to the chaotic world of cross-cultural ministry. 🙂 Check the left side of your brain at the door and continue down the hall.