Here for a Time Such as This!
The Best of Times and the Worst of Times Then!
We live in unprecedented days, friends. I don’t want to sound alarmist or sensational, but we live in days of incredible social upheaval, challenges that seemingly undermine our way of life.
But we are also living in times of incredible opportunities.
In some ways hasn’t that always been the way of the Gospel?
Think back to the times of the New Testament for a moment and you will quickly realize this.
The early Christians were a brand new group known in the societies of their day as “the sect of the Nazarenes” (Acts 24:5) and “followers of the way” (Acts 9:2). They were ordinary people who were muzzling their way into very crowded rooms, full of various religious beliefs including some very entrenched and dominating religions such as Judaism and Emperor Worship.
You try muzzling your way into such crowded field and see what happens.
In those days, it resulted in considerable push back and outright persecution against this new religious group, especially since it demanded absolute allegiance with no accommodation to any other religious expression.
In other words, becoming a follower of Jesus was such an absolute commitment that you could not say Caesar is Lord and Jesus is Lord in the same breath anymore than you could become circumcised so as to be Jewish while claiming to follow Jesus.
So, in many ways, these were the worst of times for the believers but also the best of times because times of great adversity meant all hands on deck and a radical commitment to follow Jesus with “hangeroners” soon having fallen off the wagon.
It wasn’t worth being a half-baked Christian in those days, so you either jumped on the bandwagon or you didn’t bother at all. The cost was just too high.
The result was that a radical group of believers arose, who laid it all on the line as they pushed the Gospel outward in concentric circles.
Obviously enough, people were drawn to this radical faith so that thousands were added to their numbers so much so that the cultural ground tilted toward a Christian worldview.
So, while it might have been the worst of times, it was also the best of times.
The Worst of Times Today!
Now fast forward to the year 2015 and think about the global situation and the shifting sands of our culture and way of life, and you would have to acknowledge that this is also, in some ways, the worst of times.
At one point in our past we felt safe and our way of life felt somehow protected. Our Judeo Christian world would continue and with it the promise of prosperity for all as a birthright.
So much has changed. 9/11 changed geopolitical realities, 2008 changed our economic foundations, and we are still struggling with both.
On the economic front, we have incredibly fragile economies with many of them intricately interconnected. We are barely treading water in Canada, with every sneeze from China sending chills down our spine. Much of Europe is in far worse shape than us.
While we may be facing economic uncertainty, the greatest struggle of our time relates back to September 11, 2001, when 19 terrorists took 3000 lives and caused $10 billion worth of damage in what now is called 9/11.
You can easily link recent events such as the mass upheaval of entire societies in these last months in places such as Syria, Iraq, North Africa and the Middle East directly back to events at 9/11 resulting in hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people fleeing as refugees and in the process changing the social landscape of Europe.
9/11 has ushered in what some have called the clash of civilizations. While that might sound alarmist or sensational, there is no doubt that the hundreds of thousands of refugees (which has been called the biggest migration of people since WW2) is a result of the rise of the militant Islamic State.
With migrating humanity threatening to swamp social infrastructures in Europe, we brace ourselves for a flood of people at both sides of the pond.
We fear the worst, as they bring with them their religion, way of life, language and culture.
In many ways, this is unprecedented and we are entering what seems like new waters.
So, in some ways, these are very challenging times as we see the sands of change shifting under our feet.
The Best of Times Today!
But in many ways these are also the best of times because with these platonic shifts underway, and with it great feelings of uncertainty, come incredible Gospel opportunities both here and abroad.
In some ways. these are some of the most strategic days that we have ever had.
In times of great upheavals come great opportunities, and perhaps God has us here for a time such as this.
This is really similar to the days of the early church. If you think that the first century was the worst possible moment for the Good News of Jesus to come into the world, you need to realize that in many ways it was the best of times.
People were starving for a Messiah and not just in Israel.
The so-called ‘400 years of Silence’ that followed the close of the Old Testament in Israel, left Jews with a profound longing to hear God’s voice again which they did in Jesus.
Even though there were many false starts with pretend-Messiahs, when it became obvious that Jesus was the real Messiah sent from God to redeem humanity, Jesus’ message of forgiveness, rebirth and new life resonated deeply and caught on like wildfire.
Radicalized followers of Jesus just capitalized on this hunger. A great example of this is what Peter did in Jerusalem in engaging people who were stirred up in amazement and wonder at the spectacle of Pentecost.
It wasn’t limited to the Jews. Similar stories of expectations of divine intervention were recorded in various cultures among the Gentiles of their day.
In fact, so great was this longing for a God revelation, that in some cities statues were erected in honor of what became known as the unknown God to express their deep longing, which again these radical Christians just capitalized on:
“22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.” Acts 17:22-23
Sure, it was an incredibly challenging time in terms of opposition, ridicule and persecution, but seldom had there been a more committed group of believers than those first believers.
Persecution only radicalized them even more. Nothing could stop them or even slow them down.
Added into this was the unique infrastructure the Roman system brought to them, which made communication incredibly easy.
When they said that all roads lead to Rome they weren’t kidding! The infrastructure was highly advanced and ahead of its time by a thousand years.
They say that when the Roman Empire collapsed that societies actually reverted back by hundreds and hundreds of years into what is now called ‘the Dark Ages.’
Lost were the routes and highways that linked the four corners of the empire, and made taking the good news of Jesus incredibly easy.
Lost also was the unifying international language of Greek spoken everywhere that allowed for the communication of the good news of Jesus to spread in many lands.
It was a unique time in history and it allowed the Gospel to take hold in ways that otherwise never would have.
A Unique Moment in History
What I am suggesting this morning is that ours is also an incredible moment in history. The stars are as lined up in our days as they were in their days.
Don’t let the rise of the militant Islamic nationalism scare you, friend. No doubt it is an absolutely brutal regime with tentacles deep in the Mideast, Africa and regions beyond with a very real and serious threat to the West.
Instead, look at it this way: Its brutality gives its evil away. How many moderates and secularists will never join ISIS now that it’s utter brutality and perversion has become known.
Its claim to represent the true Islamic faith has resulted in many people reexamining their faith, and with it openness for the Christian message.
Could it be that this social upheaval, resulting in a loss of faith or at least a second and a more critical look at Islam, among the hundreds of thousands if not millions who are fleeing for their lives may actually be one of those unique God moments in history?
We know from experience that when people migrate into a new culture there is an incredible openness toward new ideas.
Canada is a land of immigrants and these immigrants are responsible for the growth of the evangelical church. If it weren’t for immigrants, evangelism in Canada would be on a steep decline.
While many bring their evangelical faith with them, many others come to faith in Jesus because they have come here with a new openness, and then when someone invites them to a church the result is that people come to know Jesus.
My own story is exactly that. I came to faith only because we came to Canada and I can honestly say that it’s doubtful I ever would have come to know Jesus as my Lord had we not migrated to Canada.
The same thing is being reported among the Muslim refugees.
One church in Berlin has seen its membership jump from 150 to 600 in a short time, with most of its new members being Muslim converts.
These new believers have been baptized in the name of Jesus and wish never to return to their home country to the intense persecution from radical groups like the Islamic State.
While some would be skeptical and assume political gain by converting, the drop off rate among new converts is only 10%.
Pastor Gottfried Martens of the Trinity Church in Berlin says: "I know there are — again and again — people coming here because they have some kind of hope regarding asylum. I am inviting them to join us because I know that whoever comes here will not be left unchanged."
Martens believes the Gospel message is really changing the hearts of these Muslim men and women with 90% continuing on in their faith.
This is Our Day!
This is a unique opportunity to showcase the living God who lives within us and among us. This is our opportunity to tell the world that our God saves!
We can vibrantly witness that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and that as Father He wants all to be saved and come into his family. The Son of God has made this possible by his death and resurrection, and the Spirit of God applies this salvation to our hearts and lives.
In a day where immigration stokes the fire of the evangelical church, we say to God: “Bring your people to this land, Lord, and cause revival to break out among the immigrants and refugees of this world!”
We say to God: “Bring the world to us. We, who are a people of immigrants, open wide our hearts and wallets to what you are doing, Lord.”
“We know that the God of Elijah is the only true God and that there is no God like you.”
“Allah is not God nor is Mohammad his prophet. Buddha is not God. The gods of the Hindus are not God, just like in the days of Elijah Baal was not God, nor were his prophets of God.”
So we are not afraid of the monumental shifting of the sands of time. We see it as a God moment and we want to step into not only God’s dream for the north end, but also God’s dream for the entire planet.
That is what next weekend’s Harvest Mission Fest is all about.
Next week is about us saying that we have stepped into God’s dream for humanity, which is that God does not want “anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” 2 Pet. 3:9
The Harvest Mission Fest is about us using Paul’s words:
“For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.”
While we may not be able to physically go into the entire world, with our financial commitments we are stretching our hands across the world and just look at where our hands reach.
Our hands reach into Paris, France as Sean Fast seeks to engage Muslim Youth from North Africa with the claims that the Biblical God is greater than Allah and that Mohamed is no comparison to Jesus.
Our hands reach deep into Haiti as we support the next generation of potential leaders with a Christ-centered education that confront voodooist’s claims that God is not distinct and can only be known through spirits.
Our hands are all over Thailand as we offer a Buddhist nation the chance to find a God who can be known and who forgives sins.
Our hands are deep in Colombia with farmers given the chance to disengage from the drug cartels with honest work tied into a local community of believers.
Our hands reach even into Sub-Sahara Africa where we provide medical support to Aids widows and orphans that position Jesus as Lord, Savior and Healer.
For a Time Such as This!
At a time when the winds of change are blowing, God has raised us up for a time such as this.
We live in one of the most prosperous nations on earth for a reason, folks.
We have a great responsibility to use our wealth in order that the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is brought into the four corners of the world.
So determine this day how you will partner with God in seeing this happen. When you give your utmost and your best, you will see the same miracle of multiplication that the little boy saw with his few fish and loaves.
There is a Bible-based economic principle that says that if you give your very best to the Lord, no matter how little that is, the Lord will miraculously multiply it to still the hunger for living bread in the hearts of every human being.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a little oil in the bottom of a jar as with the widow in the days of Elijah, or the two mites that the widow in Jesus’ day threw into the temple treasury, or even the few fish and loaves of bread the boy had, the principle is the same:
Share with God your very best, no matter how little it is and see how the Lord will multiply it to so that the Living Bread is brought to nations of the earth.
That is the call on our lives! That is our destiny. That is why we are here for a time such as this!
Scott Street MB Church invites you to write your reflections and thoughts about the weekly messages shared by lead Pastor Jurgen Rausch.