In these past blogs, we’ve looked at how Advent affects our spiritual/physical senses. I wrote first about having eyes that see with a bi-focal view of Christ’s first and second comings, framing our faith with hope. We then discussed the right use of our mouths –to communicate God’s Gospel of love to a world that is truth-famished. Finally, we spoke having ears for God – the listening posture of the disciple who seeks to do all Jesus says.
I want to end this series by speaking about our feet – that is, our call to walk after the Holy Spirit in the footprints of Jesus, into world mission.
One of my heroes was the great Indian itinerant evangelist, Sadhu Sundar Singh who lived in the early part of the 20th century1. His missionary feet took him all over India and Tibet (and overseas on trips to Europe and other parts of Asia). Everywhere he went, he drew strange looks, the tall Indian dressed as a Hindu sadhu (or holy man). But Singh was a disciple of Jesus, preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ everywhere he went. ‘I want to bring the water of life in an Indian cup’, he once said.
Vision of Jesus
Born in 1889, Singh was gloriously saved as an intense young man of 15 on the verge of taking his own life. He was heartbroken at the time since losing his beloved mother. In his anguish, he failed to find inner peace in his forays into his native Sikhism and Hinduism. On the morning of his planned suicide, he desperately cried out to God. At that point, his room filled with light, and he saw a figure he did not recognize, who said to him: “I died for you. For you and for the life of the world I gave my life.” On seeing the scars of the risen Christ, Singh knew it was Jesus and gave his life to him.
Disowned by his father for converting, Singh decided, after a period of prayer, he to take to the Indian road as a sadhu for Christ, traveling from 1905 without any possessions, and trusting God to provide his keep and lead his way.
He spent the early part of his ministry reaching out to villages and towns in Northern India. Small Christian communities in the North were surprised to see a Christian sadhu with saffron robe and turban and bare feet blistered by the dirt roads. They called him the ‘Apostle with the bleeding feet.’
Missionary to Tibet
But Singh was not content to stay in India and began to look further a-field to the land-locked country of Tibet, the first of a number of missionary forays he made there in 1908. It was a hard journey through the Himalayan mountain trade routes passable only in the summer months. There, he faced persecution at the hands of staunchly Buddhist Tibetan tribes.
At one town, Singh later recounted how he was sentenced to death by the chief lama and thrown into a dry well, one arm painfully wrenched from the fall. The well was covered over, and he was left in darkness for 2 days, in the midst of rotting flesh and bones of others of a similar fate. In desperation, he cried out to God.
Two days or so later, the cover of the well was removed, and a rope lowered. With great difficulty, Singh hooked it around himself, and was winched out of the well. Lying on the ground, the fresh air revived his weak and starving body. He looked around but found no one. Nor did he have any more pain in his arm. The next day found him back in town preaching again to the astounded people of the town.
The sadhu would later tell of many other similar supernatural experiences. But his life and ministry was more than the miraculous. Ultimately, it was the manner and message of his life – and feet – that enabled him to communicate a vision of Jesus that many in India found easy to relate to and understand.
It’s all about Jesus!
Above all, Sadhu Sundar Singh never forgot that Jesus was the centre and treasure of his life. He neither let a measure of global fame, the lure of a more comfortable life or the plaudits and criticism he received from various Christian corners, distract his focus on Christ.
He wrote: “Now I have no desire for wealth, position and honor. Nor do I desire even Heaven. But I need Him who has made my heart Heaven. His infinite love has expelled the love of all other things. Many Christians cannot realize His precious, life-giving presence, because for them Christ lives in their heads or in their Bibles, not in their hearts. Only when a man gives his heart shall he find Him. The heart is the throne for the King of Kings. The capital of Heaven is the heart where that King reigns.”
When Christ likewise has true ownership of all the rooms of our hearts, then our feet will likewise be fitted with the readiness of his Gospel of peace, to go where he sends us, to speak of his great salvation. Making disciples who listen to his voice and abide in his Word, we will make a people ready for his return.
This Advent/Christmas and always, may we have eyes, mouths, ears and feet surrendered to him, as we work and wait and the day of his glorious return.
 Parts of this blog are edited from a previously published article I wrote for Impact magazine. “The Apostle with the Bleeding Feet”, June/July 2008 issue, volume 31, no.3.
In this third of our Advent reflections, we consider the importance of developing a listening ear, in order to grow our faith and vision for the challenges, opportunities and mission of our day.
When I served in the army as part of National Service in Singapore, we were taught one basic rule in order to get-by in the military: ‘All you have to do is make sure you’ve obeyed the last order!’
Easier heard than done though. Similarly, many Christians have trouble hearing or giving priority to God’s voice in their life, let alone obeying it. His still, small voice so easily loses out to the cacophony of voices and noises, including their own, vying for prerogative.
But God longs to find us waiting to meet with him, that we may hear his voice and commune with him daily. Jesus told us that His Father, incredibly, actively seeks those who will worship him in Spirit and in truth (John 4: 24).
Did you know that what God’s first recorded question in Scripture is – it was the searching call: ‘Where are you?’ (Gen 3:9). God apparently has a habit of walking in the garden with them in the cool of the day (verse 8). Adam and Eve, having sinned and hearing the sound of God’s approach, realized in their shame, they were not fit anymore to meet with him. They did what any sane sinner would: they took cover and hid – not ever asking how one plays ‘hide-and-seek’ with an all-seeing God.
But sin does more than keep us shamefully hiding in guilt from an omnipresent holy God. It also deadens our ability to hear his voice. The prophets God sent to Israel found God’s people both hard of hearing and heart.
Jesus often ended teaching moments with an enigmatic challenge: ‘To him who has ears to hear, let him hear.’ Clearly, he was addressing those who were longing to respond to the voice of God, not ignore, refute or question it. Above the din of religious legalism, imperial oppression and the struggle to survive, such followers were ready to hear and heed his word, recognizing them as having divine weight and authority. ‘You have the words of eternal life,’ said Peter in John 6:68.
And as they listened, faith took hold. For the listening ear is a door to a converted soul. ‘Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.’ (Romans 10:17). When the searching voice of God finds people willing and ready to listen, transactions of eternal value are affected.
The very Word that spoke creation into being, finding entrance in the dark chaotic voids within us, does the ever-novel work of creating light and life once more. In Christ, God speaks to us – through the words of Scripture and through the activity of the Spirit.
But these are days when many Christians struggle to hear God. We are so easily distracted by the booming sounds of our own plans, the haunting melodies of illegitimate desires, screaming ambitions and the sheer noise of the world around. Listening does not come easy to us who are at the beck and call of trivia on screens, blue-tooth ear-pieces and the ever-haunting social media.
But Jesus was not so easily distracted – he had ears only for God (see John 8:26, 28), And he expects that we too will learn first to hear his voice (see John 10:3-5).
Witness then the posture of the true listener – of Mary, who to her sister’s chagrin, took the lowly place at her master’s feet, hooked on Jesus’ every word (Luke 10:39). Or of three disciples who find themselves literally floored when, on that unique mountain-top experience with the transfigured Christ, they learn that God doesn’t need advisors or consultants, but servants at the ready – ‘This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!’ (Mark 9:7).
Ultimately, we must learn to listen to Jesus before we can speak or act for him. Listening is a critical precursor to obedience (Matthew 7:24-27, Luke 6:46, John 14:24, James 1:22, etc.).
This Advent season may God help us daily to make space to hear him – to turn off our phones and devices, to listen, reflect and obey his every word and the wonder of his first coming in history, in preparation for his future return.
Last week, we began a series of Advent reflections by noting that all disciples of Jesus are called to a bi-focal view of life that keeps Christ’s first and second comings always in sight.
When all life is seen from this dual vantage point, faith, hope and love thrive.
Practically, this requires an intentional allowing of God’s redemptive acts to shape our present, and to order our everyday lives by godly means – i.e. devotion to Christ by means of grace, discipleship after Christ in Christian community and on-going mission with Christ into the world – for His greater ends of God’s glory and Kingdom come.
God’s storied interventions into our sad histories have profound meaning and impact on our identity and purpose. For one, it puts us in our rightful place.
Our lives become primarily not about us. (In truth, they never were.)
The self-centered sin-laden script of our lives is supplanted in Christ by His greater story of sacrificial love that saves. The world is His canvas to paint and restore. History is really His.
“God is not the supporting actor in our stories; we have bit parts in his.” 1
In fact, each time we gather for communion as His people, we remind ourselves of this: “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.”
Such words are declared by God’s people after the consecration of the elements in the Anglican liturgy for Holy Communion. It is an ancient confession of the mystery of our faith. 2
They, of course, recall the Apostle Paul’s injunction in 1 Corinthians 11:26 – where he fuses past, present and future with meaning around our common table, with Christ as both exalted host and spiritual meal.
The season of Advent accentuates this reminder of an overshadowing transformative canopy of hope and love infusing the life of faith – a greater story than our sinfulness and brokenness perceives or allows.
For He indeed is the brim and base of our journeys round, the true horizon of our pilgrim wanderings, the Promised Land of our final hope and arriving.
God’s meta-narrative told in Scripture in 4 Acts (Creation, Fall, Redemption and Renewal) is the truest story there is, no matter what the world protests and proclaims. It is our making and becoming.
It is the only story we the church are divinely given to tell a world full of fear, the fake and the frivolous.
The saddest reflection I can make on this COVID-19 stained year is how little and to so few I have shared what I know and been graciously given by Christ – the greatest story never told?
For Jesus demanded we make disciples of all peoples in Matthew 28:28-20 – it is the lasting overarching task on us his church.
As the late John Stott argued, “His authority on earth allows us to dare to go to all the nations. His authority in heaven gives us our only hope of success. And His presence with us leaves us no other choice.”
Indeed, there is no higher purpose in life than to do the Father’s will; no work with greater significance than that which witnesses to and glorifies the Lord Jesus Christ; no lasting legacy that does not have God’s eternity in view.
He came to die so we, the condemned might be free; the dead in sin come to life in Him. He lives again, is ascended and will return to judge and rule. A Story of stories – timely, timeless and true.
This Advent and Christmas, will you and I, empowered by His Spirit, go the extra mile to tell his Gospel story loud and clear – with words that are backed up by our works and lives?
1 Vanhoozer, “Letter To An Aspiring Theologian: How of Speak of God Truly.” In First Things, August/September 2018. http://www.firstthings.com/article/2018/08/letter-to-an-aspiring-theologian.
2 Versions of this statement (called the Memorial Acclamation) are found in Eucharistic liturgy of many historic churches. In the Liturgy of St James, the principal liturgy of the Syriac Orthodox Church, after the priest blesses the bread and wine, the people respond with a similar acclamation: “Your death, our Lord, we commemorate, Your resurrection we confess and Your second coming we wait for. May Your mercy be upon us all.”
This Sunday past we entered the season of Advent. I hope in the next 4 weeks to provide us with reflections on the theme of waiting and working.
We live between two comings of Christ.
The incarnation and the parousia1 of Jesus Christ are the historical book-ends within which God’s eternal and indefatigable purposes for redemption and new creation are accomplished in time.
Jesus’ first coming as an atoning servant-saviour, and his second as all-conquering king of God’s kingdom, are the magnetic poles by which we, God’s redeemed people, set our course and navigate amidst the tumultuous and treacherous seas of our time.
At Advent, we have the opportunity to consider afresh the return of Christ not simply as future hope, but a vital fact that bears down on our present faith and work.
For the Second Coming is the central promise that will consummate God’s great redemption. Without it, His kingdom will not fully come on earth as it is in heaven. “For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” (1 Corinthians 15:25).
The bridegroom must return for his bride; the king come home to claim his rightful inheritance.
Jesus’ teaching and various parables bear that out2. He is coming back, so ‘keep watch.’3 That is, be ready and expectant.
But what is the point of watching if His return is inevitable?
We watch and wait in hope, so we do not despair. In the midst of all the uncertainty, challenge, suffering and fear in today’s broken world, God’s tomorrow is not in doubt.
And we long for that day to come. Maranatha is one of the earliest recorded prayers of the first church.4
There is an intimate link between watching and waiting. Watching is the posture of expectant waiting. And biblically, waiting time is not the same as wasting time. It is active, not passive, as we look to sync our daily lives with God’s timetable and plan for our world and his people.
Secondly, while we watch and wait hopefully, we work faithfully. We focus our minds on action and steward our calling as missionary disciples toward a lost world (1 Peter 1:13; Matthew 28:19-20).
The Welsh preacher G. Campbell Morgan wrote:
“Waiting for God is not laziness. Waiting for God is not going to sleep. Waiting for God is not the abandonment of effort. Waiting for God means, first, activity under command; second, readiness for any new command that may come; third, the ability to do nothing until the command is given.”5
This ultimately is what the season of Advent reminds us – God was faithful to the patriarchs and the prophets to fulfil his word to send Messiah at just the right time (Galatians 4:4). He will come still a second time, with signs and wonders preceding, to judge the living and the dead and to establish his kingdom rule forever, completing our salvation (Hebrews 9:27, 28).
The return of Christ calls us then both to a hopeful waiting and a faithful working. Even so, come Lord Jesus.
1 ‘Parousia’ in Greek literally means ‘presence’. It is used often in the New Testament, among other words, to denote the second coming of Christ – see 1 Corinthians 15:23; 1 Thessalonians 2:19; 3:13; 4:15; 5:23; 2 Thessalonians 2:1,8; James 5:7,8; 2 Peter 1:16; 3:4,12; 1 John 2:28.
2 Matthew 24; Mark 13 and Luke 21:5-36. See also various parables including Luke 19:11-27; Matthew 24:46-51; 25:1-13; 14-30 and Mark 13:28-37.
3 Matthew 24:42; Mark 13:37; Luke 21:36
4 Aramaic phrase, translated ‘Our Lord, come’. See 1 Corinthians 16:22b; Revelation 22:20 and the first-century early church text – the Didache 10:6. (www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/didache-hoole.html).
5 Article ‘Waiting for God’ by G. Campbell Morgan, accessed at http://articles.ochristian.com/article14291.shtml
5) The Principle of Serving.
There is no part of the human body that was not created for a purpose. Each limb, each organ, every major system, indeed every cell has a purpose. It is possible to live after the loss of some, but each of the manifold parts was created to be supportive of the whole. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. As it is in the human body, so it is in the church. The constituent living cell is a believer, and every healthy cell in the body has a purpose.
The Apostle Paul writes of the church as the body of Christ, and the Apostle Peter gives us the image of a living temple. Whether we think organically of the body, or more structurally of the temple (though remember it is a “living” temple), each believer has a part to play. None are to be passive, even if hidden, because each is needed for the common good. To serve the Lord means not only to serve among his people, but also to serve his people.
We argued in an earlier post in this series that every believer is to find the work that the Lord has created them to do, that is their unique and particular ministry. As the journey of faith unfolds, this early work, or ministry, often becomes the primary calling of their life. But here we are describing a different element of the healthy church, not vocation. We are describing a willingness to be used, even outside of ones gifting. This serving is the readiness to do whatever needs to be done. This serving posture is for all.
To begin the journey of a Christian is to learn that we are to be stewards of all that God has entrusted to us. Central to this is to begin to exercise the common grace of serving others. We discover that Sunday worship is vital and normal, but we also learn to work, pray, and give for the spread of the kingdom of God. When we learn to tithe, that is to return a tenth of our financial resources to the Lord, we are serving the body. When we begin to take part in daily intercession for the mission and ministry of the local church, we are serving the body. If we agree to do some simple act of service for a member in need, we are serving the body. In such ways we learn not to hold back from the needs of the church. We offer ourselves to fill a gap. We serve the body of Christ.
And to what end? Why does it matter that all learn the principle of serving? Because the Lord who created us calls us to this. We are part of the family of God, and we share in the common life. We have received so we can give. We have been blessed so we can be a blessing. Our model for this way of life is Jesus Christ our Lord.The one who came down from heaven to save us, gave himself for us. We are servants of the servant Lord. The whole body of Christ is to grow up into the head, into Christ. It cannot do so unless every part is working together for the common good. All are called to be a serving disciples.
Used with permission, https://joncshuler.wordpress.com/
Observation #4: The Church is organized to make disciples.
When whole towns and villages are changed, when the social and economic patterns
begin to be altered, when the governing structures begin to be rethought, the gospel of
Jesus Christ has come in reformation. The gospel spreads like a wild fire, and it is
unstoppable for a season of God’s choosing. So it was in the 6th, 12th, and 16th
century in Europe. So it was during the Great Awakening of the 18th century. And
always ordinary believers learn to live so that the gospel spreads easily. They learn to
be disciple-making disciples.
In all such eras believing people meet regularly in small enough groups that the true
nature of the church is experienced day by day. This is the hidden reality whenever the
church of the Lord Jesus is experiencing spontaneous expansion. Large worship
gatherings reveal something of this true nature, but it is in the small villages and homes
of believers, that the truth is daily confirmed and lives transformed. Not because of
these small gatherings, but because the very nature of the kingdom of God is
relationally transmitted. Mothers disciple their daughters. Fathers disciple their sons.
Brother disciples brother. Friends disciple friends. The life of the church is not the work
of a clerical and professional few, but the work of the whole body.
For the church of Christ Jesus in the West to see this occur again, by the grace of God,
reformation must come. The church and its leaders must be willing to rethink how she is
organized. Do her current structures assist the effective spread of the kingdom of God
or do they inhibit it? What must be reformed?
Of all that must undergo rethinking and reforming, nothing is so evident as this: the
social architecture of the local church must be redesigned so that every believer learns
to be a disciple-making disciple. Church structures that do not assist this, in a
reasonably effective and timely way, must be rethought. The current patterns that have
evolved over centuries in the West must be radically revisited. What do they achieve?
Are they producing what the Lord of the church desires?
The Final Command of the Risen Christ Jesus to his church was to “make disciples of
all nations.” This was a command that was about the way his people lived for him. It
was something that would occur as they lived ordinary lives, transformed by his grace.
How was it to be possible? It was possible because it was natural and simple.
The historian Glenn Hinson, after surveying the rise of the church in the first centuries
concluded that “the church of Jesus Christ out organized the Roman Empire, one
household at a time.” Small familial units of disciple-making disciples were the hidden
reality behind the spread of Christianity, and where this truth re-emerges and becomes
a normal way of life for Christians, another season of reformation begins.
Used with permission by joncshuler.wordpress.com
Next Week: Foundational Principles (Internal).
Believing that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is for all people.
It is natural for men and women who first encounter the love of God in Christ Jesus, who repent and welcome him into their lives, to want to convey this Good News to their immediate friends and neighbors. It was this desire that led Andrew to go and find Peter, and Philip to go and find Nathaniel. This first instinct is inspired by the Holy Spirit, but the fullness of God’s intention for the spread of the gospel is greater. He cares for all the peoples of the earth, and he desires that they know and walk in the liberty of the children of God. Whenever reformation comes this truth comes to the fore.
Today in the West many see all cultures and religious traditions as equally valuable and good. They should be left alone. But the love of God, as it has been revealed in Christ Jesus, is meant to be taken to every corner of the globe. This amazing news, manifest in the life and death of Christ, is Good News for every people and nation. No one is to be excepted.
The first outflowing of this grace will touch those near at hand, but it will soon spread to others from the nations. Strangers and sojourners who live in the lands of the new anointing will hear the truth, and the Spirit of God will awaken in some of them a desire to go back to their own people, to share the joyful news they have heard. New communities of faith will be formed in those places that have never before heard of Jesus the crucified Redeemer. And the faithful church, if there, will re-awaken to the unending command of the Lord Jesus to “go and make disciples of all nations.”
Some will then be called to leave their own lands to take the blessing to others. To find men and women with receptive hearts and share with them a love that will never let them go, and never forsake them.The kingdom of God will break in among them.
Reformation can never come, however, to a church that will not embrace the Father’s heart for the lost. Failure to mobilize to carry that love beyond the walls of their own hearts, their own families and friends, or beyond their own buildings is a sin. When those to whom the gospel has come close their hearts to those who have not yet heard, it is only a matter of time before the forbearance of the Lord is exhausted. He will seek those who will worship and serve him in Spirit and in Truth.
Yet most of God’s people need not go far. The eyes of their hearts will be opened by God’s Spirit to see those they are called to serve right where they live. Their mission field is very near. But they must learn to see as God sees. There are people everywhere waiting to hear the Good News from someone who will share it in love. Someone who will be faithful to reach outside the boundaries of their community of faith. Someone who will not rest while any have not heard in their town or city. When this change occurs in a faithful few, and then a few more, reformation begins.
Used with permission by joncshuler.wordpress.com
Next Week: Observation #4: The Church is organized to make disciples.
Observation #1 – Leaders Are Rarely Seminary Trained.
When true reformation comes to the church of Jesus Christ, it always disrupts the ordinary way things have recently been done. It is part of the very nature of reformation that it only comes because many things have gone wrong. God is intervening because many of his people, and their leaders, have grown cold in the face of these errors. God intervenes to put things right. But in times like these God always has to raise up leaders who will turn their face toward him, and obey what he asks of them – whatever the consequences. This pattern has been seen in all of Church History.
Understanding this reality, goes a long way to helping us to understand the first observation from last week’s post. Reformation almost always begins through the leadership of men not sharing the currently accepted and “normal” way of being trained to lead. They are often outsiders, not thinking the way the majority think. They do not see the current situation the way those in authority see it.
This phenomena may manifest itself in one of two ways. The first of these, and most common, is God raises up leaders trained on a different path than those currently leading. An example from ancient history is the bishop of Rome known as Gregory the Great. Gregory was a Benedictine Monk, and a part of an order founded by St Benedict of Nursia, who died in AD 547. Benedict had established (we would say planted) thirteen small monasteries before he died, all of which were outside of the Catholic authority and leadership structures of their day. Yet in AD 590 one of his followers, Gregory, was made bishop of Rome, and inaugurated a season of lasting reform whose influence is still felt in 2019. He was trained outside the ordinary structures.
The second way this phenomena manifests itself is through a leader trained in the way common in his day, but who has experienced what he believes to be a direct intervention of God in his life. God has shown him a different way for the church to be guided and shaped. When truly God inspired, this leads him, and those who follow him, back to revealed truth already given to the church but neglected or obscured in his own lifetime. He leads in a way outside the “accepted norms,” but consistent with the Word of God. He is a reformer. Thomas Cranmer was such a man. So was John Wesley.
For at least the last 200 years, if not longer, the Western Seminary system has taught men to be men of the mind. To be scholars. It has neglected the formation of the whole man: heart, mind, soul, and strength, putting the Lord Jesus second after knowledge. This has separated many leaders from their people, and has communicated (often unintentionally) to the flock of God that they “do not know enough” to follow Jesus wholeheartedly. They must read more. They must study more. They must have more classes, more programs, more guidance. They must have “expert” instruction to be good Christians. It does not put obeying the Lord Jesus first. It screens out reformation.
Used with permission by joncshuler.wordpress.com
Next Week: Observation #2 – Believing that the Word of God is True.