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.

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.

Reading the Creation Story

Today, as I mentioned in my previous post, I started reading through the Bible with my friend who has been a believer for only about 6 months. We’ve read the Bible a lot over the last several years, although most of what we have done previously has been reading through the Gospels as well as the new believer lessons that our team uses with people who have said that they want to believe and follow Jesus. I felt like it was important for him to understand the bigger picture, the larger story that God has been telling from the beginning so he could have a solid Biblical picture of what God has been doing, leading to Jesus, and ultimately now to us.

We read Genesis 1 today, talking about how God created the earth. Here were a few notable parts of the discussion:

  • God seemed to have systematically moved through the process of creation, developing each component of the creation of the earth and the heavens in a step-by-step way.
  • God created man and woman in his own image. We are loved by God and considered to have great importance to him as carriers of his image and his likeness.
  • We were given two commandments directly from the beginning: To be fruitful and multiply and to have dominion – oversight – over the birds, the animals, and the fish of the seas. We have been given a great responsibility for all of these.

New Regions for Phase 2 Training

This morning, I was able to work through two additional regions for the Phase 2 Training:

As I noted in my last post, the intent is to continue to develop the list of these countries so that we can be praying through them, having some basic information to work from and a basis for which we can pray in addition to the people that we know and have met from these countries here where we are working. It is probably also important to understand that I am primarily including those countries whose people we meet here in Italy on a regular basis. I haven’t necessarily included all of the countries, for example, from East Africa, but if they are a regular part of the population that we connect with, I will include them in these lists.

January 8 2021

West Africa for Phase 2 Course

I’ve been working on the Phase 2 Training course, specifically trying to think about how to introduce the complexity of all of the different nationalities, tribes, languages, and backgrounds that we work with here in Catania. My initial plan was to try to work through it by region – for example, West Africa, East Africa, North Africa, etc. The peoples in each of those areas are very different, and see themselves as different, despite living on the same continent.

I think I’ve arrived at the idea of introducing these different nations and people groups through our times of prayer. Our weekly prayer calendar already reflects prayer for specific nations and their top people groups by population, so as people come in to train and work with us, I think they can learn about these different nations and peoples in preparation for our times of prayer and then experientially as they meet them during the day.

I’ve created a template per country that uses various resources for Geography, Culture, and Spiritual background information, and just started to fill it in. It certainly doesn’t feel complete, but for the breadth of people that we are working with, the likelihood that we will ever learn any of these in-depth, especially when we are meeting them in a third culture in Italy, seems low to me. Here is what I created for West Africa to date with more to come in other regions of the world.

Prayer Walk

On Friday, we have been going for a prayer walk, praying specifically for Muslims in our area given that their Friday (Jumu’ah) is similar to our Sunday in that they go to the mosque for congregational prayers and a teaching by the imam.

We know the imams in each of the mosques and have enjoyed spending time with them and sharing with them. During this prayer walk, we met an assistant imam at one of the mosques. We had previously given him some food as part of Covid relief, so as we were outside of the mosque praying today, he saw us and called and greeted us. We spent a few minutes talking and he invited us to come visit the mosque next week, so we’re hoping to take some time together one afternoon next week to visit their prayer time and then sit and visit together, hopefully having an opportunity to share our hope in Christ with them as well.

Abiding in Christ

We have been working to disciple a man that was baptized in this last year. As part of our discussion in the afternoon, we read John 15:1-8 and talked about what it means to “remain” or “abide” in Christ, as some of the translations say. As part of that process of abiding, we discussed three ways that we believe that we can do that:

  • Reading the Word of God
  • Obeying what Jesus tells us to do
  • Praying and hearing from God

There are probably other ways as well, but these were the ones that we identified and discussed. The result of this conversation is that we’ve decided to start meeting for a short time each day, even online as needed, to read God’s Word and pray together. This particular man has no background with the Bible, so I’m looking forward to see him grow as he learns what the Bible says.

Dancing Robots

I’m generally pretty fascinated by advances in technology. I love seeing how sciences and technology advance to do things and create a world of new opportunities and help people and economies in new ways.

I do also think that there is reason to be concerned. As you think about advances in robotics and Artificial Intelligence, it isn’t a long leap to begin to think about how the world of the movie Terminator could be too far away. Even Elon Musk has spoken strongly of these things in the past.

But sometimes it can just be a little fun as the robotics companies show off some of their most recent advances in their abilities of the robots. Boston Dynamics recently released a video of their robots dancing to the song Do You Love Me. Enjoy!

Earthquake Tracking

Last night around 8:30, we had an earthquake here in Sicily. It was down to the south of us near the coast by Ragusa, but some of our friends here in Catania felt the quake all of the way here in Catania. Some friends from our church sent this website to us from the National Institute of Geophysics and Vulcanology so we can track the quakes if and when they happen: http://terremoti.ingv.it/

Facebook Rejects “Love Your Enemy” Ads as Dating

Even though it is frustrating, this was also a funny thing that happened as I have been developing the Come Follow Me sites. Yesterday, I developed an advertisement for Facebook based on Jesus’s teaching in Matthew 5:43-48 to love your enemies. Facebook rejected the ads on the grounds of their dating policy. HA!

When I saw the rejection initially, I laughed because I thought that it was just the algorithm messing up. But then I appealed the ruling, presumably to have a human look at the ad, and it was still rejected! Well, on to the next one, I guess…

Just for posterity, here are the videos and the landing page for those ads:

English – https://comefollowme.it/post/3542

Italiano – https://vienieseguimi.it/post/1588

Fran├žais – https://viensetsuismoi.it/post/310