The Lamb of God

Yesterday, a few of us met together to continue reading John 1, this time focusing on verses 19 through 34 focusing on John the Baptist and what he said both about himself and about Jesus.

At one point, we read verses 35 and 36 which say:

The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”

So we talked for quite a while about what this means, that John called Jesus the Lamb of God. We were reading the scripture in a few different languages, so our first problem was that we had some translation issues between the languages to understand the meaning of this term, but then we had a few different ideas about what this meant, so I thought it would be useful to follow up this discussion to understand further this idea that Jesus is the lamb.

A lamb as a sacrifice

Looking back into the Old Testament, the lamb was frequently considered an animal that would be used as a sacrifice before God. If we look at the story of Abraham going to sacrifice his son Isaac, we can see that Isaac asks his father a question, directly implicating the use of a lamb for sacrifice:

Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

Genesis 22:7

God called his people to present offerings to him as a sacrifice. There were several different types of sacrifices, including a fellowship offering, a sin offering, a guilt offering, and others.

Regardless of the type of sacrificial offering, we can see that the lamb was frequently an animal that was offered as part of those sacrifices. In fact, each day started and ended for the Levites, those that carried out the sacrifices before God in the tabernacle and in the temple, with a sacrifice of a lamb:

“This is what you are to offer on the altar regularly each day: two lambs a year old. Offer one in the morning and the other at twilight. With the first lamb offer a tenth of an ephah of the finest flour mixed with a quarter of a hin of oil from pressed olives, and a quarter of a hin of wine as a drink offering. Sacrifice the other lamb at twilight with the same grain offering and its drink offering as in the morning—a pleasing aroma, a food offering presented to the LORD.

“For the generations to come this burnt offering is to be made regularly at the entrance to the tent of meeting, before the LORD. There I will meet you and speak to you; there also I will meet with the Israelites, and the place will be consecrated by my glory.

Exodus 29:38-43

The blood of the lamb for protection

We can also see in the scriptures that God uses a lamb, and most specifically it’s blood, for protection of his people.

God commanded Moses to return to Egypt, the land where he had grown up, and return to the palace of Pharaoh to tell him that God says that he must let the Israelites go out from Egypt and be freed from their slavery. Through nine different plagues, God demonstrates his power to Pharaoh and punishes him and the Egyptian people for the hardness of Pharaoh’s heart as he does not allow the Israelites to go free from Egypt.

On the tenth and final time, God unleashes the worst plague with the worst consequences. In the night, God goes throughout Egypt and kills all firstborn males, whether of Pharaoh, of the people, or even among the animals. However, God had commanded Moses to have the Israelites slaughter a lamb and place the blood of the lamb on the doorframes of their houses.

Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs.

Exodus 12:7

By doing this, God would “pass over” their homes and not enter the homes of the Israelites to kill their firstborn sons. In this way, then, the blood of the lamb became a protection for the Israelite people.

“On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.

Exodus 12:12

The blood of the lamb for forgiveness

For the Israelites and the levitical sacrificial system, there were several different types of animals that were used for sacrifice. These included bulls, goats, lambs, and birds, depending on who was sacrificing and for what the sacrifice was being given.

If we look at the establishment of the sacrificial system for the forgiveness of sins in Leviticus 4, we can see that a lamb could be offered by common people for the forgiveness of their sins.

“‘If someone brings a lamb as their sin offering, they are to bring a female without defect. They are to lay their hand on its head and slaughter it for a sin offering at the place where the burnt offering is slaughtered. Then the priest shall take some of the blood of the sin offering with his finger and put it on the horns of the altar of burnt offering and pour out the rest of the blood at the base of the altar. They shall remove all the fat, just as the fat is removed from the lamb of the fellowship offering, and the priest shall burn it on the altar on top of the food offerings presented to the LORD. In this way the priest will make atonement for them for the sin they have committed, and they will be forgiven.

Leviticus 4:32-35

God presents a lamb

So, given all of this background from the Israelite people, I think it is now important to focus on the fact that John says that Jesus is the lamb of God. Up to now, we have seen that people have sacrificed these lambs, presenting them to God for their sacrifices, for their protection, and for forgiveness of their sins.

But now, we see that John says that Jesus is God’s lamb. The people aren’t bringing a lamb to God. God is bringing a lamb to the people! That is a completely different thing to what has happened up to this point. So what is God doing?

We can begin to get a picture of what God is doing by reading from the prophet Isaiah. He talks about a man who would be killed – maybe we could say sacrificed? – for the sins of others.

He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.

Isaiah 53:7

This man’s life is made to be an offering for sin and he is compared to a lamb who is being led before the slaughter. While this man isn’t specifically identified within the prophecy here in Isaiah 53, we can see that it is fulfilled in Jesus.

At the end of his life, Jesus is led by the Jews to the Romans but does not defend himself. He lived a perfect life and was without sin. He was even pronounced innocent by Pilate, his judge, and yet he remains silent when Pilate asks him if the charges that the Jews have brought are true. Jesus is the man described in Isaiah 53 who would be taken like a lamb to the slaughter to be killed as a sacrifice for the sins of the people.

The lamb is worthy

Finally, we see Jesus presented as a wounded lamb through the prophetic revelation that John received and the we read in the book of Revelation. The time of judgment has come and the members of God’s throne room are looking for the one who is worthy and able to open the scrolls that would read out the plans of God’s judgment. The only one that was worthy was the lamb of God.

Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. The Lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. He went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people.

Revelation 5:6-8

Again, we see a picture of a lamb who has been killed, consistent with the picture of the lamb throughout the scriptures and consistent with the prophecy in Isaiah 53.

In this case, though, we see a picture of the lamb as one who is worshipped. He is the lamb of God who has purchased, with his blood, people from every tribe, language, and nation. This means that God has rescued and saved these people from their sins and from a final judgment that would send those that are dead in their sin to a terrible death apart from God.

And they sang a new song, saying:

“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased for God
persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.

You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth.”

Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they were saying:

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise!”

Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying:

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be praise and honor and glory and power,
for ever and ever!”

The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.

Revelation 5:9-14

Jesus is the Lamb of God

John the Baptist identified Jesus as the Lamb of God, demonstrating that Jesus would be a sacrifice presented by God to the world. This lamb would be given as a sacrifice for our sins to offer forgiveness for the people for their sins, if only they would believe in him and have faith that his blood and sacrifice will be a sufficient payment for their sins.

Monkey Mind Pong

Neuralink is a company started by Elon Musk. They have been working on making a chip that connects the brain directly to the internet.

I heard Elon Musk on a podcast not too long ago say that he feels that we are already cyborgs as we carry around a smartphone in our hands. He said that the problem is that the interface is too slow because we communicate with two thumbs. He says that even typing with our thumbs is a step down from the ten fingers that we have previously used as we typed on our computers.

Musk has talked about this for the last few years. Think about what he is saying in this video…

So Neuralink has been taking its first steps in the direction of making the mind connect to the computer. Take a look at what this monkey is able to do with its brain.

Jehovah’s Witnesses and Jesus

Where we are, we have found quite a few Jehovah’s Witnesses on the streets of Catania and in the refugee camps. They seem to primarily be trying to go after Nigerian Christians, representing themselves as just another group of people who follow Jesus.

Recently, I met a believer who had fallen prey to them and was meeting with the JW folks online through Zoom. In following discussions, I explained to my friend that the JWs do not see Jesus as divine. They do not believe that he is God that has come to earth. Here is a page on their website that mentions this in particular:

What do Jehovah’s Witnesses believe? – See point 3. Jesus

Here are three brief thoughts that come to mind after considering this perspective:

If Jesus is not God, John 1:1-3 cannot be true as Jesus could not have been there in the beginning, creating the heavens and the earth as the book of John says:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

John 1:1-3

If Jesus is not God, Luke 1:35 cannot be true. Jesus was born of a virgin as a result of the Holy Spirit placing the Son of God within Mary. Jesus is referred to as the “holy one”, a reference that cannot be made unless Jesus is himself God.

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.

Luke 1:35

If Jesus is not God, the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is invalid. God offered a perfect sacrifice in Jesus. Only if Jesus was divine, only if he was God himself, could Jesus be a perfect sacrifice to provide forgiveness for our sins. From Hebrews:

But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

Hebrews 9:11-14

A Relationship Based on the Gospel

I was recently talking with a friend about how I have typically tried to do my work. I was explaining that I had been working with people from an unreached people group and that I typically try to connect with someone personally, but then fairly early in the relationship, share the Gospel with them so that they understand who I am and what I am about. Based on this, the person can have a clearer picture of the nature of the relationship that I am hoping to form.

My friend asked, “But what if sharing the Gospel will drive them away?” It is a good question, and not an easy one to precisely figure out what to do.

I explained that I don’t know that I have the right answer in this, but that I can explain how I typically think about these scenarios. As I share my faith with someone else, I want them to be able to understand who I am and the things that are important to me so that they can either appreciate that about me…or not.

And I am happy to do the same with them. If I can understand who someone is and what they are about, then we can have a relationship “in the open”, if you will. They don’t have to guess what I might want from them, and I don’t have to guess what they want from me. It is clear from the start and we can each then evaluate if that is the type of relationship that we want to have with the other person or not.

As I am working in my role of trying to catalyze a discipleship and church planting movement, I want to try to do this with a clear-eyed vision of where I am hoping the relationship will go. With people who do not believe in Jesus, I try to share the Gospel soon after the start of the relationship. My hope, of course, is that they will believe and that we can begin to walk forward together, following Jesus together. If they do not want to do this, we can still continue to be friends and I will pray for them.

On the other hand, if I meet someone who is already a believer in Jesus, I try to share a vision for who we believe God wants us to be and what the Bible teaches us to do. For those that are interested in learning more, I typically try to invite them to continue to go forward with us.

All of this to simply answer my friend that the Gospel and who we are in Christ can be a “filter” of sorts. It is a filter in the sense that we are looking for people who want to learn to follow Jesus as far as he will take us. For those that already know that they aren’t interested in this or having that type of relationship together, that is OK. As I say, we can still be friends and I will still be happy to pray for them. But for those who are not interested in this, we can understand all of this from the beginning.

Requirements and impediments toward a discipleship and church planting movement in our context

On Friday, I talked with one of my teammates about a conversation for this coming Monday. We typically meet on Monday afternoon to talk about our strategy and plan for the week, although given some recent changes with our team, we have taken some time to talk at a little higher level than normal, attempting to think more strategically rather than tactically so that we can consider where we want to go as a team.

As a team, we have defined our goal that we want to catalyze a discipleship and church planting movement among immigrants to the fourth generation. This means that we want to see disciples making disciples and churches planting churches four generations deep, starting with us at Generation 0.

So the two questions are these:

  1. What do we believe needs to happen to see a discipleship and church planting movement started here?
  2. What are the impediments that we have seen so far to catalyzing a movement?

I’m going to take a stab at these from my perspective here in this post…

What needs to happen?

I think there are a few elements that we need to make sure are in place to see a movement start:

Vision

First, I think that there is a great need for vision. I like how Zume Training says this when it says that we need to see where the Kingdom of God is not currently reigning and begin to work in these areas. Here is that page with a video that explains this concept:


As people attempting to catalyze a movement, we need to communicate and help people understand the urgency to see where the Kingdom is not and move into those places with the good news of the Gospel. Without a heart to see the lost saved, we won’t go anywhere.

Dependency on Jesus and the Holy Spirit

As a community, we must live dependent upon the Holy Spirit to give the fruit for the work that we are doing. We have been working long enough now to know that, if God is not leading the work in the area that we are hoping to see fruit, it will simply not happen. We can work and work but we will labor in vain and no fruit will come.

But there is good news in that Jesus said that we must abide in him, and if we will do that, then the fruit will come. If we will listen to what he is saying – if we will stay connected to what he is doing, then we will produce fruit. Jesus said:

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

John 15:5-8

Practically speaking, I think that this means spending time in the Word of God to understand God and what he wants to have happen. We have a great advantage in that God decided to tell us many things already through his Word, so we need to be reading it consistently to allow him and his thoughts to be soaking into us and our thoughts.

I think it also means spending time in prayer, asking God what he wants to happen and asking him to work in each of the areas where we are hoping to see fruit. Jesus taught us to pray, asking God for his Kingdom to come and his will to be done here on earth as it is being done in heaven. We can assume that God’s will is being done on heaven, but we also assume that it is not yet being done here in earth. This is what we are praying to happen.

And finally, I think it means that we need to foster a culture in a community of people that are doing the same. Individually and as a community, we must be connected to the vine so that we will be branches that produce fruit.

Community

In each of the items under what is needed, a community of people is implied, but I wanted to explicitly state it here. If we are going to see a movement, we must have a community of people to work along with us. I don’t necessarily assume that everyone in the community will do everything that we are hoping that they will do. Neither do I assume that they all will become fully-developed disciples of Jesus. But if the community doesn’t exist, we won’t be able to call the people to be part of the disciple-making and church planting movement that we hope to see catalyzed.

There may be a few ways that we could connect with community. We could consider developing a community. That is, we could create something, or continue to grow something like we already have been doing with the bike shop or the community garden, or possibly creating a business that could be used as part of the missional work. This would mean that we need to grow that community to such an extent that it becomes a hive of activity around which people will enter and exit.

A second option could be that we enter into an existing community. In some ways, we have already done this with our churches. These are existing communities that we have entered. However, these communities do not necessarily have yet the refugees and immigrants that we are hoping to reach within them so the efforts to date of entering community may not be fully sufficient for reaching the immigrants.

A third option that I can think of is to create a hub, a community of communities, if you will. We attempt to tie together various activities to essentially be, in a sense, a clearinghouse of various activities that people can join to serve and that we can offer to others to receive assistance through the services offered.

C0mmunity of Practice

We want to be a community that:

  • Looks for the places where the Kingdom of God does not yet exist
  • Prays for non-believers and depends on the Holy Spirit to bear fruit
  • Shares the Gospel with non-believers
  • Makes mature disciples of Jesus
  • Starts new churches
  • Raises up new leaders who will teach others to do each of the above

If we want to do these things, then we need to be people who will take action upon what we believe. We must make disciples who will make disciples, and we must start churches amongst them that will start new churches.

As a part of doing this work, we must have a defined set of tools that we teach along with a way that we do church. We need to be able to define what we mean when we say specific words like “church” and “disciple” because these words have consequences in what we are trying to see created.

Local Leadership

The leadership of the work must be or quickly become local. Instead of being dependent upon us to be the lead disciple-makers or in leading a church, we want to be consistently training others to lead.

When we say “local”, we mean that in a few ways. We do, of course, refer to the geography, but we also are referring to the languages and cultures of the people that we are trying to reach. If we want to reach Group X, then we need to find someone from Group X who speaks their language and knows their culture to find persons of peace, share the Gospel, and make disciples within Group X. In this way, the leadership must be local so that it can be continually reproduced within the context of the culture and language where we hope to see the Gospel reach.

Impediments to a movement

In our situation, we have run into a few impediments to a movement taking root. Here are a few that I can list so far that have created challenges in seeing our work go forward.

  1. Preconceived ideas – Attempting partnership with people from other places and other backgrounds, and then describing ideas of a reproducing disciple or a reproducing church, is often met with resistance simply because of preconceived ideas. Just recently, as we read the Bible with a man from Nigeria, we saw that he was immediately taken aback with the idea that God has called us to be his messengers of God’s salvation. This was a result of the fact that this man believed that to be a messenger meant that you needed to be a preacher on TV, reaching thousands, or even millions, of people at once. He couldn’t imagine that this was something that he was supposed to do. As I explained that he was right – that this wasn’t necessarily what he was called to do – he still continued to struggle with the concept, being unable to let go of his preconceived idea of what it means to be a disciple and make a disciple.
  2. Finances – This is an impediment primarily because of the fact that there isn’t work nor opportunity for most of the people that we work with. The theory for movements says that money shouldn’t enter the equation in discussion for workers, and generally I would agree with this. But that also seems to assume that there is some opportunity for work to make money and live in another way. This is a situation that we may likely need to find creative solutions to work around in our situation specifically.
  3. Reliability – Finding people who are reliable enough to show up within a certain time period, or at all, has been an impediment toward seeing growth toward movement to date. We will need to continue to search to find the people who will have a burning desire to see the discipleship and church planting work go forward enough such that they would be willing to show up to study the Word of God or pray in the same way that they might if someone were offering them a sum of money.

The World Has Been Crucified to Me

I had a good meeting yesterday in the park with my friend. He was baptized last summer and we continue to meet together to read the Bible and grow together as we apply what we have learned. He hasn’t had any background in the church or any prior connection to the Christian world, so there are many things that he is learning for the first time, and I am learning anew, through the scriptures and our experiences as we meet and try to walk a life of faith together.

While we met a couple of times on a video call during our red zone lockdown times, we hadn’t seen each other face-to-face over the last couple of weeks. During that time, I had watched the video with my family during our Life Lessons time that we do with our kids about boasting only in the cross of Christ. While we were watching this video together as a family, I thought of him. He is a young guy, just a few years older than the people who listened to Piper that day in 2000. In fact, as I told him, he is about the same age that I was when I first heard this message 20 years ago.

In that message, Piper says that you don’t need to be rich, good-looking, or very smart to make a difference in the world. Instead, he said that, if you truly do want to make a difference in the world, you need to be gripped by an idea that is great, that is eternal. It needs to hold onto you in such a way that you live by it, that you are consumed by the idea.

So that leads to the question: What is that idea? What do we need to know that would allow us to truly make a difference that will not only be significant now but last for eternity?

In our conversation yesterday, we went back and read through the verse that Piper used in his message that day in 2000. Ironically, in the sermon, through all of the language that Piper used in his explanation, I even found his talk a little difficult to follow toward the end as he was explaining this verse, so I thought it would be helpful to my friend to break down the verse and understand what it says, understand what it means, and think about how we could apply it to our lives. Here is that verse:

May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

Galatians 6:14

It is a relatively simple sentence, but I suggested that we should break it down further into two smaller parts, so that is what we did:

May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…

We started with the word “boast”. What does that mean? A synonym could be that we are bragging. Why would we brag? Typically, we would brag because we have something in the world that others would want, or would want at the level that we have. It might be money, fame, power, position, or a possession. These things are pretty universally desired by people in our world today. As men and women in the worldly system, we want these things and so, if we attain one or more of them, we might be inclined to boast in one way or another to other people about what we have achieved or what we have attained.

But here, the apostle Paul is writing and says, “May I never boast” unless it is in the cross of Jesus. Piper says this is like boasting that I am going to be killed in the electric chair, or I am going to be lynched. If I am boasting in the cross, I am finding myself bragging about death.

But that is the exact opposite of the reasons that we would brag to someone else in our worldly system. We brag or boast because of a sign of success that I have obtained like money, fame, power, or position, not a sign of defeat like death! Yet Paul says that he wants to never boast unless it is in the cross of Christ. How can this possibly make any sense at all?

To understand this, let’s look at the second part of the verse:

…through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

Paul says that the world has been crucified to him. What does that mean? I believe he is talking about the system of the world, the pleasures of our world. The things that we believe signify and show that we are a success in this world, those are the things that Paul says have been crucified to him. Those things are now dead to him. The things that the world values no longer have any value to him.

If that is the case, what is he living for? Paul is saying that he is living only to brag about what Jesus has done and this is what his life is now oriented around. He wants to not live according to the values of our world today. He doesn’t want to be considered to be a success according to the standards of our world. He wants to be a success within the Kingdom of God and be judged by its standards. He wants to live in the way that Jesus has called him to live, as someone who is subject to the King, who is Jesus, and teach others to do the same. Only in the things that Jesus has done, paying the price for us through his blood – the price of a sacrifice to offer forgiveness for our sins – only in these things does Paul want to boast.

Together with my friend, we talked about needing to be gripped by this idea, as Piper said in his message. What would that look like to live in such a way that we don’t value the things that the world values?

My friend continues to grow in his faith and has a desire to move forward in his faith walk with God. He wants to make a difference with his life and seems to understand, at least intellectually, what we talked about. Now we will need to continue to walk together to learn how to apply these things in our lives as the Holy Spirit leads us. As he works within us, and will work through us to help others also become disciples of Jesus.

We must even go on to help even more people be gripped by these simple yet profound ideas that will allow us all to truly make a difference in this world that will last for eternity, only because what we have done, we have done for our Savior and King Jesus.

Learning the basics of money

Last night, as part of our Life Lessons, we discussed that you won’t really learn in school, at least not in K-12 school, very much about money. And yet, this may be one of the most important topics, one of the things that can be most practically used in our world today, and one of the things that we could even apply to our lives spiritually – either for good or for bad.

I told the kids that since this is not something that they are going to learn elsewhere, we are going to have to take the responsibility to learn these things on our own.

We started with an overview video, just to give them a sense of the universe of things that we need to discuss and learn together. It was difficult for them to follow because of all of the terms, so we just took three of the points at a time and talked about them, discussing the terms and the basic concepts along the way, attempting to simplify the ideas along the way to remove the mystique that comes with al of the terminology. Here is the video we watched:

So I think that we are going to, over time, start working through the concepts one step at a time. It will be a long time before we finish but we will intersperse several other life lessons along the way so we should be able to mix it up and keep things relatively fresh. Here’s to an adventure into the world of finances!

The Role of Suffering in the Kingdom of God

I was recently reading Matthew 10 with some others here in Catania. Jesus selected the 12 disciples and immediately sent them out to tell others about the Kingdom of God. There are some interesting things that I see here in this chapter, specifically related to suffering and persecution as he sent them out. Here are a few of those observations:

In verse 8, Jesus says, “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.” Jesus is sending his disciples to the places where there is disease and the demon-possessed.

Verse 9 – “Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you…” Jesus tells them that they shouldn’t take money with them. It turns out that they must depend on the local people to make things work.

Now we go down to the heart of the matter… it doesn’t get any better!

Verse 16 – “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.” Jesus is telling his disciples that they should expect danger on the mission that he is sending them on.

Verse 17 – “Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues.” The disciples are going to be beaten.

Verse 19 – “But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it.” The disciples will be arrested and brought before governors and kings.

And if you thought that was bad…

Verse 21 – “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death.” Families will work against one another. Brother against brother. Father against his child. Children against their parents…and all to the death.

Verse 22 – “You will be hated by everyone because of me…” You will not be liked. You will be hated.

Verse 23 – “When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another.” Plain and simple, you will be persecuted.

Verse 38 – “Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” Jesus tells his disciples that they have to carry the instrument of their own death on their backs. If they don’t, they aren’t worthy of him.

Verse 39 – “…whoever loses their life for my sake will find it…” Jesus calls his disciples specifically to die for him.

All of this is in the context of Jesus sending out his disciples to find the person of peace and tell them about the Kingdom of God. I think this means that if we are sent by Jesus, be prepared to suffer.

And yet, there is another part of the Bible that talks about what our attitude should be as we suffer and as we face trials. Here is James:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

James 1:2-4

I think that we sometimes read over these verses a little too quickly. So, if I am understanding James correctly, even in all of the suffering and persecution that Jesus said that we would have, we are to consider it pure joy! God is trying to help us grow and mature through these trials, through the suffering and persecution, so consider them joy as you live through these times. God wants to do something in you and through you, and without the trials and without the suffering, the Word and the work won’t go forward. But we can expect both the trials and the suffering when he does send us, and through those things, God’s Word and his work will go forward.

Milestone: Phase 2 Training Course

Over the last few months, we have been investigating the possibility of bringing people to Catania as part of a training program for new missional workers, teaching them to do the things that we do and then sending them along to other locations in Italy to engage the unreached.

Yesterday, I finished the first draft of the training course. It is a year long, and if you’re curious, the draft is here:

My teammates are looking at the course now and giving me feedback for edits and updates. We’ll then be taking this to various agencies and organizations that partner with churches to send those that are called overseas to reach the unreached. As they come, we will then train them here using this curriculum and then send people along to other cities in Italy where there are immigrants from across the world in an effort to catalyze discipleship and church planting movements in those locations as well.

For what it is worth, as a team, we discussed that just calling it Phase 2 Training probably isn’t what we want to do, so we’re considering names. I nominated a name today that we’ll see how it goes:

Tyrannus School

or in Italian:

Scuola di Tiranno

This comes from Acts 19, verses 8-10, where it says that Paul taught this disciples at the Hall of Tyrannus and then everyone in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord. Here is the specific quote from the book of Acts:

Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God. But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. So Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord.

Acts 19:8-10

I think that this generally describes what we are hoping to accomplish here in Italy, and beyond. Using the school, from the one location, sending people out to share the Gospel with both the Jews and the Greeks of our time and place, so that they can offer the hope of Christ to everyone.

Boast Only in the Cross of Christ

About 20 years ago, someone gave me some DVDs from the 2000 OneDay conference by Passion at Shelby Farms. I watched John Piper’s talk from that day and his opening stories showing the contrast between the two women who died in Cameroon and those in the Reader’s Digest article hit me like a ton of bricks and stayed with me. Many times in the years following, I felt like I was on the path toward being the “shells” people. It was a rut that I wasn’t sure that I would ever be able to leave.

Thankfully, God gave me another opportunity to serve him and both my wife and I were gripped by the idea of seeing the unreached reached.

Last night, for our Life Lessons time with our kids, we watched this same talk on YouTube. It is here:

I believe that all of us want to have our lives count for something. Piper says that we don’t have to be good-looking, be particularly smart, have a lot of money, etc. Instead, we need to be gripped by a few ideas that are great. We need to allow them to take ahold of us and consume us where we can’t seem to shake them regardless of our circumstances.

Being gripped by the vision of the cross of Christ, taking our joy in the fact that Jesus bought for us every good thing that we have instead of having what we deserve, and helping others to take their joy in him, and live for him as well…those are the things that change the world. Everything else will pass away sooner or later.