A Fresh Courage for the Lord

Wednesday 12 July

Bishop Rennis is the Bishop of Singapore as well as multiple congregations in South East Asia.  This year at #Sligo17 he is leading the morning Bible Teaching in the Main Arena.  Here VOX magazine editor Ruth Garvey-Williams brings a summary of his message on Wednesday morning.

God is “establishing” us.  The Father’s goodness is that He wants to establish us, making us strong like oaks of righteousness. The Lord is the chief shepherd of a global flock and His spirit is moving, connecting and reviving all across the world.  This gospel is bearing fruit, despite the darkness of the times. 

From my part of the world (south east Asia), many still see the west as the “Christian” west, especially the UK and Ireland.  But it would be more accurate to say that much of the prevailing culture is post-Christian and to some extent, hostile to Christianity.  God works with a minority group, even a despised minority.   God gives us courage to advance His kingdom in the midst of an alien culture.  That is my topic for today. 

The theme of our studies in Isaiah is “Preparing for Revival”.  On the first morning, we looked at personal brokenness as we encountered the blazing holiness of God and His amazing grace (A Fresh Vision of God).  Yesterday, we looked at the church from Isaiah 42 and we saw that revival requires the church to rise up as the servant of the Lord to transform society by bringing justice - God’s righteous, just and loving rule (A Fresh Understanding of the Church).

Today, from Isaiah 50, we shall see the courage that is needed among God’s people for revival to come.  In contrast to an unbelieving and unresponsive Israel, this prophesy (Isaiah 50:4 - 9) about servant of the Lord is completely and perfectly fulfilled in Jesus Christ but it can be continued in our lives too.  This is what we are called to be as disciples of our Lord Jesus.  What kind of servanthood is God bringing into our lives today as He revives His church to be a light to the nations?

Servanthood flows from intimate communion

The first mark of a disciple is a daily time with God, morning by morning, with a heart that is ready to receive, cherishing His word. The Lord comes to us daily and we are to show our discipleship by responding to Him, by learning from the master.  We are not learning just “concepts”, we are learning out of relationships.  It is like a coach with the athlete.  It is the rich development of values in the crucible of life.  This is so necessary for ministry. 

Whatever our ministry, it involves the use of the tongue - to speak the word of truth to others.  It is only through intimate communion with God, through word and prayer.  Mother Theresa’s motivation was to “adore Jesus”.  Our quiet time is being with Him, hearing His word TODAY and as you adore Him, He sharpens your word.  He will give you the word, so you might know how to sustain the weary.

People everywhere need a word of life and a word of encouragement.  The world is crying out because they have not found the way of life.  They are weary and exhausted, trying to make life work.  Nothing befits the disciple of Jesus better than bringing comfort and encouragement - words of life.

But this intimate communion is also necessary for your identity.  We don’t escape the psychological need for affirmation and reward.  Too often the name of the church drags down the name of the Lord.  But when you walk with the Lord, you hear His voice saying, “I take delight in you.”  He takes centre stage and we grow to minister before an audience of one, where my one desire is to please Him.  I am not dependent on the praise of men.  The only way we can keep authentic is through intimate communion with our Lord.  We are rewarded with the prize we seek.  If your prize is the praise of men, you wont be content until you receive that.  But if your prize comes from the Lord, you receive that prize in secret!

Servanthood involves costly obedience

As the servant listens to God, he or she hears what God has in store. It is going to involve suffering.  The servant does not shrink back.  When you serve the Lord and you are true to your calling, it will throw you onto a collision course with the world.  We encounter opposition from the world but also from a worldly spirit within the church. The enemies are within as well as without!

As you are faithful to Christ you could lose your friends or your promotion.   In John, our Lord Jesus strengthens the church to remain steadfast in the midst of hostility.  The mood nowadays is to say that if you say you are a Christian you are “primitive and backwards”.  God is giving His people strength and courage.  It is out of relationship with Christ.

There is physical harm inflicted, as well as shame and disgrace.   The Holy Spirit is gearing us up for such a time as this.  When I think of those who have paid the price, I think of Bonheoffer.  In 1939, his conscience did not allow him to register with the German army and he did not want to make his personal position known.  One way out was to move to America and he left Germany .  But the servant of the Lord listens.

Bonheoffer had time to think and pray. He wrote, “I have come to the conclusion that I have made a mistake in coming to America.  I must live through this difficult period with the Christian people of Germany.”  And so he returned home.  That decision to go back to Germany led eventually to his execution just a few weeks before the end of the war.   This is costly discipleship.

And Jesus who is lifted up in our costly obedience will draw all men to Himself.

In this passage, the servant runs the risk of going all out for God.  Will he be shamed and disgraced?  There is a power of shame that keeps us back from following Christ all the way.  No one wants to fall flat on his or her face!  This power of shame can paralyse us.  We go so far and no further.

But God does not want us to be cowed by intimidation or shame or the force of opposition.  A few years ago, my parish was in the midst of a building project.  The architect had drawn up the designs and in the week of the AGM, I felt the Holy Spirit saying, "This is not the design I want."  I had to say to everyone that we needed to go back to the drawing board.  I walked for miles asking the Lord, “Are you sure?”  It would be so much easier if we could go ahead with the plans. But I needed to be obedient.  You died to your fear of shame in order to fulfil the purpose of God.

Servanthood that reflects holy confidence

This servant of the Lord is not going to turn back and by the Spirit of God, neither are we.  Because the Sovereign Lord helps me, I have set my face like flint.  It is the picture of Jesus when He set His face towards Jerusalem because He knew that after the suffering came His vindication.  He had total confidence in the Father. 

He will not let you be disgraced.  You will not end in failure and shame.  I should let you know that by “end” I’m not limiting it to this side of eternity.  Bonheoffer died.  Many missionaries have given their lives.  Their vindication comes in the “end” but that could be after death!

Jesus, our priest, who became one of us, is able to help us in the midst of vicious storms.  We will face fierce storms but the Lord God Almighty, the creator of heaven and earth, the one who can say to the storm, “Peace be still,” He is with us in the boat.  Your life is in His hands and you can have confidence in Him.

If you are in Christian ministry, there will be false accusations against you but the pledge of your conscience is your saviour and God is your defence attorney.  God will vindicate you! You will overcome and in fact, those who accuse you will be as insubstantial as a worn out, moth-eaten garment.

God is pouring out fresh courage on your leaders here in Ireland.  It is a hidden work but it is a deep work.  He is going to bring you together.  Napoleon had this dictum, “An army of sheep led by a lion is mightier than an army of lions led by a sheep.”

If God has called you into leadership, you of all persons, male and female, He is pouring out His Spirit that you might be His bold leaders, His standard bearers.

Three questions: 

  1. Servanthood flows out of intimate communion.  Have you lost your first love?   Your first love is where Christ is high about all else.  He is the most important.
  2. Servanthood involves costly obedience.  Can you drink the cup?  When you drink this cup, it brings salvation and blessing to others.
  3. Servanthood expresses a holy confidence.  Will you trust the Sovereign Lord completely?